EMOTIONS matter. But learning to manage them matters more so, according to an international expert in social and emotional learning visiting Bendigo this week.
Dr Marc Brackett is the director of the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence and developer of the RULER approach to social and emotional learning.
His message is clear: “building awareness where every kid in the classroom is protecting each other makes a very big difference’’.
The RULER approach is about five key principles – recognition, understanding, labelling, expression and regulation.
The teaching involves a mood meter, which helps individuals accurately explore their feelings and involves the use of multiple senses to build emotional awareness.
The approach is the result of years of research by Dr Brackett and his uncle Marvin Maurer, with whom he co-wrote the book Emotional Literacy in the Middle School many years ago.
“We did not have much success because we were just concerned about the kids and not the adults who were involved,’’ Dr Brackett said.
“It needed to be a top down bottom up approach.
“Your end-point were the kids, you wanted to give them skills they need to succeed in life, but you couldn’t do that in life unless you taught the teachers and leaders who surrounded them and also their families.’’
While most studies evaluated by Dr Brackett and his team focused on children, the RULER approach is based on changing communities.
Following more research, he developed a program that worked with teachers and leaders.
“Then we said, ‘wait a minute, kids go home in the evenings and we need to develop their families’,’’ he said.
That meant not only asking teachers and leaders, but also parents to reflect on their own childhoods and how they were raised to deal with feelings.
Could they name them? Were they suppressed or encouraged to openly express themselves?
“Ruler is really based on rigorous science – how emotions impact four to five aspects of your life,’’ Dr Brackett said.
They are: attention, memory and learning, judgement and decision making, mental and physical health and every day behaviour including relationships.
“Emotions are driving our attention capacities,’’ Dr Brackett said.
“They’re also driving our learning – if you are being bullied, or if you are bored, which are very different experiences, your brain is attending to different stimuli.’’
Dr Brackett is in Bendigo to work with Girton Grammar School, the first Australian education provider to adopt the RULER approach.
Headmaster Matthew Maruff said it was a long search before the school found a program that was the right fit for its staff and students.
“One of the things we say to our team is that teaching skils are the top eighth of the iceberg that you can see, we’re interested in the 7/8 below the water line because that speaks to the person and the way they are with the kids,’’ he said.
Dr Brackett believes many schools should adopt a similar approach, particularly given the increasing issue of bullying.
“I was a kid who was bullied and it would be really tough for me to stand up to a bully... So to tell kids
you’ve got to stand up or put your hand up to protect your friend, it’s too complicated – it doesn’t take into consideration psychology,” he said.
“My thinking is that you shift the whole culture in community and you have much less bullying. It’s like ‘wait a minute I’m a kid, why is it my responsibility?’’’
Mr Maruff said that was the ethos at Girton Grammar School.
“What I’ve found is that adults will often say and sadly sometimes educators do, the kid needs to learn resilience, and I always say, ‘no they don’t’, they’ve got to learn not to be bullied and you’ve got to learn as the adult to take responsibility for the situation,’’ he said.
Dr Brackett will work with Girton Grammar staff and students next week, and hold a keynote address at the school on Monday.