After two decades of helping New Haven boost homeownership, downtown retail, and college scholarships, Yale has another hand to offer under a new president: boosting kids’ “emotional intelligence.”
Yale President Peter Salovey, who took office this month, helped pioneer the emerging field of emotional intelligence, or “EI,” as a psychology professor.
Meanwhile, New Haven has embarked on a quest to tackle children’s emotional problems as a next frontier in school reform.
A match, perhaps?
In an interview at his Woodbridge Hall office, Salovey said EI could fuel one of several cooperative ventures in a new chapter in Yale’s evolving relationship with its host city. His predecessor, Rick Levin, launched programs that enabled over 1,000 employees to buy homes in town, promised college scholarships to city kids who succeed in school, and revived the Broadway and Chapel Street commercial corridors.
“As we think about New Haven 2.0, Yale’s relationship to New Haven,” Salovey said, “we’ve established homeownership, school reform, the retail climate. All three of these initiatives are going to continue. What will we add to that?”
He offered some possible answers: Building on a new project called New Haven Works to link more city people to local jobs. Maybe creating a fund to support student and faculty entrepreneurs who launch new businesses here in town.
“What if there was a Higher One every three years?” he said, referring to New Haven’s fastest-growing large for-profit employer, a company hatched in a Yale dorm room.
And Salovey talked about emotional intelligence, a subject with which he’s intimately familiar.
In 1990, Salovey coauthored a seminal article about how to identify and measure EI, people’s ability to recognize and understand their feelings as well as other people’s feelings, and then how to deal with them. (Click here to read the article.) He continued to specialize in the subject for the next two decades, founding a center at Yale that developed the so-called “RULER” approach to emotional measurement and learning.
” • Recognizing emotions in oneself and others.
” • Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions.
” • Labeling the full range of emotions using a rich vocabulary.
” • Expressing emotions appropriately in different contexts.
” • Regulating emotions effectively to foster healthy relationships and achieve goals.”
The center has refined techniques to measure how well people carry all that out. Self-reporting—simply asking people to rank their emotional skills—is too “easy to fake” or simply get wrong, Salovey said. Instead, kids are asked, for instance, to look at a picture of a face and describe what feeling it communicates; or to suggest how to cheer up someone who feels sad about something.
Since being tapped as Yale’s president-elect, Salovey turned over the controls of the center—now called the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence—to a longtime colleague there, Marc Brackett. The center has worked with schools around the state and the world in testing the approach. It claims that the approach has dramatically boosted kids’ behavior and their performance in school. The center has worked with schools as close by as Hamden, as far as England.
It has never worked with New Haven’s schools. Brackett said he’d like to see that happen now.
“A major goal for the Center for Emotional Intelligence is to help make New Haven an emotionally intelligent community,” Brackett said. “I think the best place is start is with the 21,000 students [in the schools] and the adults involved in their education, including their teachers and families.”
Meanwhile, the New Haven school system has joined with the United Way and Clifford Beers Clinic to form the New Haven Trauma Coalition in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. The coalition (which also includes the Yale Child Study Center) aims to raise $6.5 million to arrange for every New Haven public school student to get screened once a year to see if they are wrestling with effects of being beaten by an adult or losing a home or going hungry or living around drug abuse or seeing a parent stabbed or a friend shot. Onsite therapists would deal with troubles kids bring with them to school before they cause bigger problems, for themselves and for other kids trying to learn in the classroom.
A key member of that coalition, Alice Forrester, who runs Clifford Beers, has already had experience working with Marc Brackett and the Yale center. Beers has incorporated the RULER approach in how it works with families who come in for therapy. The organization itself crafted an “emotional intelligence charter” after a retreat Brackett ran for it; “this shifted how we interface with each other on a leadership level,” Forrester reported. She said she’d love to see the ideas adapted more broadly in New Haven.
The formation of the Trauma Coalition reflects the sense that to succeed, New Haven’s schools need to focus on not just conventional reading and math literacy, say, but emotional literacy as well. Toward that end the school system has been updating programs introduced by an earlier generation of Yale researchers such as the “Comer Method” of of having teachers and students talk out problems as a group. (Click on the play arrow and on this story for an example of how it works.)
“We would love to collaborate with New Haven” if the school system were interested, Salovey said when asked about the prospect. “I’ve worked in this field many, many years. I’m happy to lend expertise.” He said the research developed by the center could also be applied to groups of adults in workplaces, say, or civic organizations. “We’re a wonderfully diverse city. One of the ways we can better understand each other is working on this skill,” Salovey said. Yale’s medical and management schools are looking at integrating the research into their admissions processes.
EI is not a “cure-all,” Salovey noted. It is one of several different routes to tackling those social and emotional challenges in the classroom. Others include standard conflict resolution and cultural-understanding workshops.
He said he also understands that the public school system, located in a university-dominated city, has historically been inundated with requests to serve as a test site for academics’ research, so administrators “have to be especially careful about saying yes or no.”
Garth Harries, New Haven’s new schools superintendent, said some preliminary “conversations” about the RULER program have taken place between school officials and Yale’s center.
He called it premature to predict whether a collaboration will follow given this time of transition—to a new schools superintendent and a new Yale president.
“One of my big priorities is to expand personal development of students. That could well include emotional intelligence. There are a range” of options, Harries said.