Emotions in the Classroom

Written by Åke Sjöberg

Members of working group: André Alves, Dani Heath, Gloria Cleries López, Åke Sjöberg, Lucy Wilson

… if it's emotional, that it's a kind of group therapy. Few professors talk about the place of emotions in the classroom. ... If we are all emotionally shut down, how can there be any excitement about ideas? When we bring our passion to the classroom our collective passions come together, and there is often an emotional response, one that can overwhelm. The restrictive, repressive classroom ritual insists that emotional responses have no place. Whenever emotional responses erupt, many of us believe our academic purpose has been diminished. To me this is really a distorted notion of intellectual practice, since the underlying assumption is that to be truly intellectual we must be cut off from our emotions.

bell hooks - Building a Teaching Community – p.155

Drawing by Åke Sjöberg

Have you ever…

…had the feeling that you’re the only one in a classroom or meeting who has a lot of feelings inside? It seems the others are only thinking about what's going on in the room, while your focus is divided between that and what is happening inside you . If so, you are not alone – maybe not even in the room where you feel so alone. People’s emotions are often invisible to others, at least until the tipping point where they break out in, for example, tears or rage.

Your emotions can depend on several things, both internal and external. This toolkit unpacks feelings, emotional expressions and needs, and aims to create a critical awareness of how emotions have been historically gendered and disregarded as a fundamental drive in learning and teaching, and in the understanding of other human beings. This toolkit provides a set of methods for being alert to emotional diversity and heterogeneity in the classroom and dealing with conflict.

In the following, we share two experiences from our working group during the TTTT programme, and the methods of intervention we developed in response. The "Meeting Protocols" sets out all the steps a group should take when checking in and out for a work meeting. The "Emotional Glossary Workshop" is a tool developed to mitigate misunderstandings when using terms connected to emotions. In a third part, we invite exploration of a universe of drawings and mappings related to the Non-Violent Communication Inquiry by Åke Söberg.

Part One: Meeting Protocols

diagram of.... Link to full resolution image

We decided to create a protocol for meetings mainly because of tensions and problems in the working group “Emotions in the classroom”.

In meeting situations, for example, there are different factors that impact the dynamic, such as the participants’ different levels of involvement, expectation, access to information, etc. These partly determine who is able to be more active in the working group and who feels forced to be more passive. The fact that some people in the group have more power does not imply that they wanted this uneven distribution.

We began by trying to work against invisible power structures, for example, the dynamics of “active organizers” (with full access to all information), and “passive participants” (lacking access to information, lacking understanding of who is involved and their different roles, and therefore lacking agency).

We tried protocols in our meetings, making choices about who would chair the meeting, our different expectations, and what emotions we were bringing into the room.

Our Concerns: What triggered this?

The problems we had in our working group:

Aim: What does the protocol try to achieve?

We started working with this protocol to create inclusive meetings that strive against invisible hierarchies and allow for openness and vulnerability, so that contributing would become easier for all participants. There was a feeling by some participants that not all were on the same page. And by using protocols, we hoped to balance the activity/passivity of organizers and participants.

We were trying…

Context: The conditions for the mess

What are the conditions for this mess? We would describe the factors of the problems in our group as follows:

Aims of the Protocol: Why is it worth knowing and using?

The factors described above led us to create the protocol.

Protocol breakdown: step by step


We affirm a chairperson for the meeting. diagram of1....


We begin each session with a check-in round (checking each other's feelings, any questions we may have). The person who speaks passes the word on to another person present. Then we discuss the expectations for the meeting (if they haven't been previously set). This is followed up by a discussion of needs: what we need to answer/do in that session. diagram of2....


We set an agenda. diagram of3....


We have the meeting! After which we also set the agenda and appoint a chair for the next meeting (optional). diagram of4....


We check out. This is similar to checking in, but rather to see if our needs and expectations were met, how we're feeling, and if we have any questions or feel confused or lost. diagram of5....

Part Two: Workshop “Emotional Glossary”

Over the duration of TTTT, from the first workshop week in Brussels in January 2020 to local in-person gatherings in Gothenburg to lockdown’s necessitation of online group meetings – we became aware of uncomfortable power dynamics, points of disagreement and general misunderstandings. Language supremacy, the labour of translation and different interpretations of terms all became catalysts for us to construct an emotional glossary. Our mapping how words can be used for everything from judgmental analysis and to curious descriptions revealed the complexity of how we relate to specific terms.

This group suggests making a glossary to discuss emotions in a collective situation (for instance of TTTT) aiming to question assumptions around the roles of emotions, and address conflict, identifying common misunderstandings arising from our different subjectivities.

Why do we think a glossary of emotions is important as part of a pedagogy? To clarify the distinction between emotions and actions, and to gather our different understandings of emotions and their complicated roles in our communications. For example, when one says “I think” rather than “I feel,” how much can that shut down the conversation? Or conversely, when one says “I feel,” when we mean “I think,” how does that mislabelling change the interaction?

Feelings are abstractions, but arise from and create concrete subjective realities. To form a common understanding of those realities that would allow us to take responsibility, we devised a workshop during the second TTTT work session “Sparring Partners” that took place online in June 2020. With this workshop, we invited TTTT members to explore the concept of collective definitions – where multiple voices and a plurality of understandings could be accommodated.

Prep : Compiling the list of glossary terms

We put together a list of terms with emotional connotations the group wanted to discuss on a collaborative writing pad.

Workshop structure

Split into small groups

5 participants max

Decide who will moderate the small group.


30 mins

Return to the large group to share and discuss collectively:

20 mins

How to gloss? – sample workshop: “Agitation”

Workshop brief

“Make a definition, a situated definition, a situated glossary. Come up with creative responses to the glossary. We expect the groups to be able to document their approaches, methods, strategies (online pad, their different forms of brainstorming, physical approaches, etc.) We are aware that in the context of this trial workshop, because it is conducted online, the possibilities for creating glossary content are perhaps limited (zoom fatigue!). Please feel free to suggest whatever form you find useful to capture and communicate your ‘findings’.”

Notes, Group 1

The following notes were taken during the example workshop and serve to illustrate the kind of notes that might be taken in an exercise like this.

People might be attracted to the feeling of agitation, it's somehow desirable. But in white-supremacist professionalism it's not desirable to show when one is agitated, had a college whose shoulders went up. When is the showing of agitations considered unprofessional? In a work situation, your position might not be continued. Personal experience when a group’s choice makes a difference in your life. In aristocratic circles showing agitation is not good. It is related to animals, not rational. Especially women and children. They need to play the role of smiling. Representation of masculinity ‘good boy’, ‘good girl’ – if not naughty, not cute, etc).

Agitation is an attitude repressed by white supremacy culture because that allows for oppression and does not allow for a space that can hold conflicts.

astrological water in a microwave shaking acts on you makes you react skin gets agitated rush, nerves are agitated stirring up anxieties feeling oneself my night was agitated impossibility to do something else paralysing state of involvement inside a conflict might lead to escalation showing agitation is weakness in some contexts

Notes, Group 2

In a language context: the intensity of the word changes in different languages:

ES (PE) agitation something that breaks order and normality, for groups or individuals, anxiety

FR agitation : agitation (n.) 1560s, “debate, discussion” (on the notion of "a mental tossing to and fro”), from French agitation, from Latin agitationem (nominative agitatio) “motion, agitation,” noun of action from past-participle stem of agitare “move to and fro,” frequentative of agere “to set in motion, drive forward; keep in movement” (from PIE root \ag- “to drive, draw out or forth, move”). Physical sense of “state of being shaken or moving violently” is from 1580s; meaning “state of being mentally agitated” is from 1722; that of “arousing and sustaining public attention” to some political or social cause is from 1828.

PT agitation : same as French, more sassy

SE agitation : mixing liquids/not for people but for actions yes (agitating a group)

EN agitation : Agitation as stimulation

Agitation as frustration leading to some kind of change. I would like to offer a synonym: stirring?
As a verb, to agitate something, as a feeling to agitate something.

As an act of mixing (for instance, mixing liquids, like when you need to develop)

Agitation as putting things together, ideas, motions, gestures...

In a political context: agitation as protest, instead of rioting, an “agitator” Sse “Agitprop” on Wikipedia

Agitation as nervousness “an agitated person”

In traditional education context: an agitated child, a child out of focus, a disrupted element

In terms of sexuality : a physical uncontrollable feeling

It feels time-based somehow, moving towards something

negative connotation for personal : agitates others, is restless herself or has inner struggles

positive for the group: constructive?

agitation taking place before a conflict? Or the conflict can precede agitation? Seems somehow circular: agitation < conflict < agitation < conflict < agitation…”

Notes, Group 3

Some notes of reflection

What conditioned the workshop

Reflections after the workshop


Both the protocol and the glossary helped raise questions about uncertainties and doubts participants had during the TTTT programme. It responded to the urgency to contextualize the project and this group’s work in a specific socio-political framework, such as HDK-Valand’s institutional grounding, and the institution’s biases perpetuated by the people working in it. In the reflection, the working group stated that it was difficult to work in an abstract and “ideal parallel reality” without acknowledging invisible codes everyone embodies and the experiences as members of this specific educative context. The glossary has been a tool to put words to those abstract patterns and invisible feelings. The glossary is a tool to allow critical thinking and for embracing (or at least attempting to facilitate) a horizontal communication between all the different hierarchies in a classroom and a working group.


  1. IO refers to intellectual outcomes, a term used in the conditions of the funding body Erasmus+. IOs present the results of the project. The range of topics for IOs were originally formulated by the team that co-wrote the application in 2019.