The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence hosted nearly 75 leaders from New England school districts on Tuesday for a full-day workshop on how emotions drive students’ academic performance.
The workshop, held in a conference room on Yale’s West Campus, focused on the key skills that underlie emotional intelligence and provided a foundation for bringing the RULER Approach to schools and districts. Developed in 2005, the RULER Approach — which stands for Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating — aims to provide a healthy emotional education program for schools to teach students stress management and other emotional and social skills not taught in a traditional classroom setting. Attendees at the conference included superintendents, counselors, administrators and leaders of school-related organizations from states including Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“Schools are preoccupied with standardized testing and place so much emphasis on college preparation,” said Marc Brackett, the director of YCEI who presented at the workshop. “My primary goal is to make that not the case and to work with legislators and policy-makers to make the other side of the report card matter,” he said.
The RULER program comprises five components: recognizing emotions in oneself and others, understanding the causes and effects of emotions, labeling them accurately, expressing them appropriately, and regulating emotions effectively.
According to Brackett, emotional intelligence, or EQ, is required to know how to recognize the range of emotions people experience and have a toolbox to manage emotional highs and lows.
“Those with low emotional intelligence tend to develop ineffective strategies for dealing with negative emotions and stress including eating, sleeping, blaming [others] and using drugs,” Brackett said. “These strategies do not entail much effort, whereas healthy strategies, such as mindfulness or exercising, require deliberate effort.”
Without the same social awareness as adults, children face emotional and social challenges the way their temperaments and upbringings dictate. Students with higher EQ are less likely to engage in aggressive behavior or bully others, and they are less prone to anxiety and depression.
According to MaryAnn Holland, director of the College Office at Achievement First’s flagship high school in New Haven, teaching kids the ability to control their emotions at a young age can help them make good choices that lead to long term positive effects. However, schools do little in early childhood education to teach students how to take care of themselves, he added — a deficit that carries lasting effects through college.
“Forty-nine percent of college students feel anxious and depressed,” Brackett said. “The number one reason for kids dropping out of college is loneliness.”
Connecticut State Senator Gayle Slossberg, vice chair of the Legislature’s Public Health Committee, pointed out at the workshop that, due to the detached nature of digital communication, today’s youth will not learn to recognize and judge one another’s emotional responses as well as previous generations forced to interact face-to-face. She added that students can be intellectually brilliant but that their EQ ultimately determines their happiness and success.
Lori Villani, director of Student Services of Cohasset Public Schools in Massachusetts, said students in her district are so stressed from all of the demands that are put on them today that the district is trying to find a program that will allow students to negotiate their social landscape. She said she hopes that RULER will help kids learn how to take care of themselves and recognize when they are feeling stressed.
“The RULER program is a comprehensive one,” said John Turner, the head of the Foote School, a private middle school in New Haven. “If a school’s going to step into it, it’s a pretty big commitment. It has to be the thing you focus on as a school,” he added.
The Center for Emotional Intelligence is located at 340 Edwards St. and conducts research on emotional intelligence to educate people of all ages on developing emotional and social management skills.