Supt. Phil Conrad Introduces Tool to Measure Students’ Social-Emotional Learning; School Staff Using Tool To Assess their own Emotions

Imagine a color-coded grid with 100 words tailored to cover the entire range of how you’re feeling emotionally.

No need to imagine – that’s the Mood Meter, developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to enhance social-emotional learning in schools by tracking and monitoring mood.

Surprised, grateful, or blessed? Disheartened or exhausted? Annoyed or angry? The meter helps the user plot the accurate feeling on the screen.

The meter is part of RULER, a program promoting social-emotional learning. It’s an acronym for five related action steps: Recognizing, Understanding. Labeling, Expressing, Regulating emotion.

RULER’s use in the Bedford Public Schools was the topic of a presentation to the School Committee at its virtual meeting last week.

“We took some training this summer with Marc Brackett,” School Superintendent Philip Conrad said. Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, is co-creator of RULER. This fall, the superintendent said, most of the use of the program is focused at John Glenn Middle School.

Administrators and teachers are trying to apply the process “to ourselves, so when we apply it to our students we are experts at it,” said Jonathan Hartunian, middle school principal. Since last year, he said, a group of teachers has been serving as mentors for colleagues.

“It’s important that we spend the time labeling these things,” the principal told the board. “It’s really important for staff to check our emotions and get on with our day. If we can do that we are going to teach our kids to do that too.”

Hartunian provided participants in the virtual meeting with the mood meter on their screen. There are 10 categories with 10 choices in each. (“I feel relieved — because technology seems to be working,” he said when the screen-share feature kicked in.)

When students complete the screen, “I can see how my class is feeling,” Hartunian continued. “It allows us to check on our students in an anonymous way or one on one. If our students know a teacher cares and feels a connection, they will be more ready to learn.”

Adults experience varying moods too, but the principal pointed out, “I’ve learned through my life to manage these things so I can put my best face forward.”

Educators, he continued, must differentiate between being “emotion judges,” who make quick assumptions and may misdiagnose, and “emotion scientists,” who use emotion as the basis for “curious and thoughtful questions.” Students should understand this difference as well, he said.

Also expounding on the system was the schools’ K-12 director of counseling, Lester Eggleston. “Feedback from the staff has been really good,” he said. “They enjoy the pacing. They are really figuring out how it works in the context of their classrooms. Our hope is by the end of the year they feel really comfortable using it on themselves and others.”

There have been two main presentations to staff with another scheduled for December, he said. “We are going to be working with a consultant on how we integrate into daily school life next fall. Our challenge is going to be how do we expand this at all levels. The ultimate goal is to have a common language where students can articulate their emotions.”

He noted that counselors in the elementary grades are regularly using Mood Meter to check in with students. “The hope is to partner with some additional classroom curricula through lessons. That falls in line with RULER and our social-emotional learning philosophy.”

Egleston said counselors are “approaching this work the same way you would with an academic subject.”

School Committee member Ann Guay inquired about working with students “who have trouble identifying emotion Is this a tool we can use with them?” Eggleston replied, “Absolutely.” RULER is appropriate for all students, he said. “Like you would approach learning to read or write, it is an introduction to understanding and communicating how you are feeling.”

“If you help people to understand that there are other options available to express how you are feeling – there are people who can help them manage those emotions if necessary.”

Conrad added, “If you can have students identify where they are with the meter, then you can select the appropriate strategies. Then we know what to do rather than wondering what to do.”

In answer to Guay’s question, he said there are Mood Meters accessible outside the middle school counseling office and on tables. Work with the technique actually began last year, even with the remote learning environment.

Eggleston noted that he has been using the Mood Meter at some of his department meetings “to figure out where the staff is at.”

Hartunian predicted that on the Monday after Thanksgiving break—a time when one might expect some students to be tired or depressed—teachers will ask their classes about their welfare. Many will perfunctorily say, “Everything’s good.” Hartunian said, “We are trying to get past that.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

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