“Emotional Intelligence” Gains Traction

Allan Appel PhotoYale has launched a new Center for Emotional Intelligence with a goal to help 300,000 kids in Connecticut—including, after years of working with children around the globe, some of the public school students in its own New Haven backyard.

The new research and training center at 340 Edwards St. officially kicked off Tuesday with a symposium called “Emotions Matter” at Yale’s Kroon Hall.

It marked the next step in the development of a hot idea about how to address bullying, classroom misbehavior, and students’ emotional problems—at a time when New Haven’s new schools superintendent is considering bringing Yale center’s work to the city system. The idea is that schools must focus more on helping kids manage their emotions, and the social or home problems they bring with them into the classroom.

Over 100 people showed up at Tuesday’s conference, including a Facebook official who tied the subject to his company’s new anti-bullying initiative.

“This work is going to transform education,” said Roger Weissberg, a University of Illinois education and psychology professor, who years ago worked with Fair Haven schoolchildren while stationed at Yale. He said it builds on the pioneering work of a generation of scholars including Yale’s James Comer and Ed Zigler, who in the 1960s and ‘70s tested their ideas about community schools, social development, and Head Start in New Haven.

The center is the evolution of a research lab co-founded two decades ago by now-Yale President Peter Salovey. As a psychology professor, Salovey pioneered the emerging field of emotional intelligence, or “EI,” people’s ability to recognize and understand their feelings as well as other people’s feelings, and then how to deal with them. He and his colleagues concluded that emotional intelligence can be taught—and can help kids succeed in school and life.

The center’s launch comes as EI is gaining attention. Click here and here to read recent stories in The New York Times and the New Republic outlining its emergence.

In the past two decades, researchers at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence have developed a so-called “RULER” approach to help students and school staff develop social-emotional skills. The method has been shown to reduce bullying, depression, and anxiety—and boost students’ academic performance, according to Marc Brackett, the center’s director.

The Golden RULER

Melissa Bailey PhotoSince 2005, Brackett and his colleagues have implemented the RULER method in 500 school organizations around the world, but never in New Haven public schools, according to Susan Rivers (at left in photo), Brackett’s longtime colleague and the deputy director of the center.

Rivers Tuesday announced a goal to reach 300,000 Connecticut students over the next three years with the RULER method.

Before a packed auditorium at Kroon, she outlined just what that looks like for students and schools.

RULER stands for:

” • 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.”

Rivers and her colleagues go into schools help everyone involved—kids, parents, teachers, administrators—learn the approach. First, they start with the adults in the building. Then they train the kids.

Kids work with their teachers to set up a “charter,” a founding document laying out how they’d like to feel inside their classrooms every day.

Rivers showed this video outlining how students at Prospect Sierra School in El Cerrito, Calif., drafted theirs. They agreed, by consensus, that they’d like to create an environment that makes them feel “comfortable, confident, respected and safe.” 

Then they discussed how to make that happen: Don’t laugh if someone gets the answer wrong. Support each other’s ideas.

Finally, they talked about what to do if students don’t feel “comfortable” or “safe.”

Through the RULER approach, everyone in the school establishes a common language for talking about emotions, Rivers said. Students learn to stop, take a “meta-moment” and control their emotions; and check themselves on a “mood meter.”

Rivers said some local schools have already adopted the approach. Hamden public schools and Amistad Academy, a New Haven charter school, has been doing so for many years. And a private pre-K program in Fair Haven Heights called the Friends Center for Children has begun to roll it out.

The pre-K opened its $3.6 million new facility this year with a “mood meter” (pictured at the top of this story) on prominent display.

Bridgeport and Stamford public schools just started to roll out RULER, too, Rivers said.

Rivers said she hopes to reach more kids in Yale’s backyard: “We’d love to collaborate with New Haven Public Schools.”

Salovey, who just took office in July, has said he hopes such a collaboration will become a new frontier for Yale’s relationship with the city under Salovey’s presidency.

New Haven school officials have had some preliminary conversations with Yale’s new center about RULER, according to Garth Harries, New Haven’s new schools superintendent.

“We are absolutely interested in strengthening work on personal development of students, and think there could well be an important place for emotional intelligence in that,” Harries wrote in an electronic message Tuesday.

“Some of our principals have been exposed to RULER,” he said. They “view it as an important tool in combination with other efforts”—such as the Comer Method for addressing kids’ social-emotional needs, a new “student success plans” schools prepare for kids.


Arturo Bejar, director of engineering at Facebook, has teamed up with the Yale center to develop an anti-bullying initiative. The initiative has become a key focus of the center’s research in bullying.

Bejar (pictured) focused on the way Facebook users can flag offensive or unwanted photographs. He recounted rolling out a new way to report unwanted photos—one that asks users not only the reason for reporting the photo, but how the photo made them feel.

Recording a user’s emotions—such as “scared,” “annoyed” or “embarrassed”—is key in helping Facebook figure out why people want to take photos down. It turned out most people simply want to remove their names from a photo (“untag” it) because they didn’t like the photo—not because they were scared or feeling harassed.

The threshold to harassment can be very hard to figure out, Bejar said. For example, in one context, “you’re a jerk” can be an affectionate teasing comment between friends. And “you look amazing in that sweater” can be a harsh remark that can crush a teen’s confidence. It’s hard for Facebook to parse the two, he said, without a little more intelligence on people’s emotions.

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posted by: Scot on October 3, 2013  5:32pm

Sounds like a great program! This story is very much in line with what Justin Elicker outlined in his 3rd solution: