Social emotional learning has become as important a topic in education as science, technology, engineering and math. Unlike those subjects, social and emotional learning sounds warm and fuzzy.
But the staff at Hinsdale High School District 86 says social and emotional learning involves teaching concrete skills.
The skills are valuable because with some students, emotions and drama get in the way of concentration, and that affects learning, said Brad Verthein, director of student services. More than 100 students in District 86 receive services for emotional disturbances, he said.
All freshmen are learning social and emotional learning skills as part of physical education.
District 86 has adopted the “Ruler” approach, developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, which stands for recognizing emotions in yourself and others, understanding the emotions, labeling them, expressing them and regulating your emotions effectively.
The Ruler training can be customized for each school, but it comes with tools, such as a mood meter, which is a square divided into four quadrants of different colors. The upper right quadrant is yellow and describes when someone is energetic and in a good mood. The lower right quadrant is green and with words such as tranquil, content, chill and secure, describes when someone is feeling good, but not very energetic.
The lower left quadrant is blue, representing when someone is disgusted, alienated, disappointed, bored or ashamed. The upper left quadrant is red, with words such as furious, frustrated, shocked, nervous and annoyed, describing someone who is feeling both unpleasant and high energy.
Hinsdale South Principal Arwen Pokorny Lyp said parents of teenagers often hear one of three words when they ask their teenager how he or she is feeling: bored, tired or fine. The mood meter helps students be more specific.
Pokorny Lyp said Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, who spoke to the District 86 staff at the start of the 2017-18 school year, says, “You have to name it to tame it.”
When a person is really mad, it can be helpful to describe how you feel and think about why.
Naming it helps a person realize, “You’re not having a bad day, you are just having a bad moment,” Pokorny Lyp said. “Your whole day doesn’t have to be bad.”
Mia Tritch, a physical education teacher at South, said after attending a Yale Center workshop, the teachers weren’t sure how freshmen, who may be nervous about being in a new school, were going to buy into lessons where they have to talk about their feelings with other students. But they have participated in activities, such as role playing scenarios where conflicts might occur in their lives.
“At first I thought it was kind of dumb,” said Lilly O’Donnell, a freshman from Darien. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to talk about my feelings.’ But I learned ways you could deal with your emotions.”
“I didn’t think we really needed it,” said Nola Colakovic, a freshman from Willowbroook. “I thought I knew how to handle what I was feeling. But as it went on, I learned there were better ways.”
For example, Colakovic said when people are pushing her buttons, she could make a sassy comment. Now she has learned to remain silent for a few moments to distance herself from the situation.
“That actually helped,” she said.
Freshman Emmaus Rassi expected the social emotional lessons to be boring. However, he has found the meta moment technique was useful when his younger brother was annoying him. The meta moment is when something upsets a person. Rather than reacting immediately, students learn to pause and consider how they want their “best self” to respond.
Tritch said she has been teaching physical education for eight years and this is the first time she has seen students step aside and take a moment to calm themselves. The freshmen will continue learning social and emotional skills next year in health class.
Pokorny Lyp said the topics are introduced to all students at her high school during monthly South pride assemblies, and mood meters are included in the students’ planner and displayed in classrooms.
The entire staff is being trained in social and emotional skills and they are expected to incorporate the skills in their lessons on a regular basis, whether they teach English, math or science.
Gina Gagliano, a math teacher at Hinsdale Central, suggests her students download the mood meter app on their phones.
They can replace their lowest quiz score if, for about two months, they record their mood at three different times during the day. Their phones beep when it’s time to note how they are feeling.
The students looked for patterns in their moods, Gagliano said.
On Fridays in the fourth quarter, she also gives students 10 minutes to meditate if they want.
Robyn Corelitz, an English teacher at Central, said her students have thanked her for teaching them how to use the mood meter. Some seniors told her they are taking it with them to college.
“I teach AP seniors and freshmen. I have had both say, ‘This is really helpful, not just for the classroom, but for life,'” Corelitz said.