Bellevue School District trains 105 staff in RULER emotional intelligence curriculum

Last week, more than 100 Bellevue teachers and staff underwent training in a Yale-developed method of social and emotional learning.

The Bellevue School District initiated a pilot program for the RULER emotional intelligence program for the third- through fifth- grades in fall 2013. It was one of the first 10 schooling entities to adopt the program, according to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Schools have long been accepted and understood by the public as places to foster students’ academic intelligence. The concept of emotional intelligence was popularized in 1995, with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ,” a self-help book built on the work of academics like Yale’s Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer.

RULER — which stands for “Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating emotions” — is a system developed in 2005 for incorporating emotional exercises into academic curriculum. It was co-developed by Salovey/Mayer protege Marc Brackett, current director of the Center for Emotional Intelligence. Brackett was in Seattle last week to train staff in the Bellevue School District and Seattle Public Schools.

RULER is based on the premise that frustrations occur when people can’t understand their own emotions and therefore cannot act on them appropriately. The system seeks to break down emotions and responses step-by-step, largely by converting qualitative feelings into quantifiable data points.

The basis for the system is the mood meter, a four-quadrant graph that places the entire spectrum of human emotion on axes of “energy” and “pleasantness.” Emotions of high energy and high pleasure might include elation or mania, at the extreme corner of the quadrant. High-energy, low-pleasure emotions include anxiety and anger. Low-energy emotions coupled in the low- and high-pleasure quadrants include emotions like depression and calm, respectively.

Teaching students to find their exact point on the graph at a given point leaves plenty of room to discover more specific and nuanced emotional descriptions.

“They can begin to understand emotions like ‘elated’ or ‘euphoric,’” said Dan Sakaue. Sakaue teaches fifth-grade students in the gifted program at Cherry Crest Elementary. “When kids in my class say something like ‘I’m hyper, I’m so hyper!’ I say, well, maybe that’s not quite the right word for it. So we track what they’re feeling at that moment on the mood meter. It’s an opportunity to begin to understand who they are.”

The RULER work can be incorporated into the existing academic curriculum: students might attempt to chart the emotions of literary characters at a particular moment in the narrative, or express their anxieties going into a math test. Sakaue said he is considering ways to combine the mood meter with his classroom’s smart board technology.

He worried people unfamiliar with RULER might regard it as “hocus pocus.” But after using the methods with his students, he considers himself a convert, he said.

“After (last week’s) training, I had one little boy in my class who bugged me three times in one day because he wanted to make sure I gave him the materials so he could work with them at home,” Sakaue said. “I’ve never had a child bug me like that for schoolwork.”

As students build their understanding of emotions through the mood meter, they’re asked to use the knowledge in “meta moments” and “the blueprint.”

Meta moments ask students to stop when they feel a strong emotion, acknowledge it, picture their best self and consider how to proceed appropriately.

The Blueprint is a self-analysis exercise for intra- and interpersonal social situations. Students are asked to think about how a situation made them, or another person, feel; what caused the feeling; how that feeling was expressed; and how the situation could have been handled better.

“We’re not psychologists,” Sakaue said. “We’re not psychiatrists. But the fact that we can use tested and proven material to develop the ‘whole child,’ and not just stop at students’ academic development, is huge.”


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