Wednesday, February 19, 2014

RULER or Roughhousing: what's better for bullying prevention?

Two recent articles present two different strategies for reducing bullying.

In one, an opinion piece in this past week's Education Week entitled Preventing Bullying With Emotional Intelligence, authors Marc A. Brackett and Susan E. Rivers of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence present their program, RULER, as the panacea for bullying.

The authors begin by citing "the results of six meta-analyses" which "confirm that current anti-bullying programs are not working." They then state that these programs aren't working because they fail to address the "underlying causes." These, the authors inform us, "likely include a lack of emotional intelligence—a set of skills for understanding, communicating about, and regulating feelings."

"Likely" quickly becomes universal certainty:

What all children need instead is an education in emotional intelligence. This will help prevent children from resorting to pushing, picking on, or hurting peers as an emotional release. And for the moments when bullying is inescapable, it will help targets of bullying and bystanders develop the skills they need to manage their fear and anxiety, communicate their needs, and get support.
And emotional intelligence quickly becomes
the ability to recognize emotions in the self and in others; understand the causes of emotions and their consequences for thinking and behavior; label emotions with a sophisticated vocabulary; express emotions in socially appropriate ways; and regulate emotions effectively.
...which, via , acronymity, turns out to be none other than RULER.

But wait, there's more:
Fortunately, emotional intelligence can be taught just like math or reading. It is easily integrated into the standard academic curriculum and can improve classroom instruction and school climate. The result includes a better school, with happier and more effective educators and students and a decline in bullying. But there is a catch: Adults need training, too.
And, fortunately for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, training costs money. For the cheaper option, onsite training at Yale, you've got:

Phase 1 $1800/ participant
Phase 2 $1500/ participant

For Phase 3, "different packages are available to support your rollout."

The rest of the article is an infomercial for RULER, which I blogged about earlier. It includes:

--An emotional intelligence charter: "Written collaboratively, the charter provides the backbone for creating an emotionally supportive learning environment."

--A mood meter, which "builds emotional self-awareness, helping everyone gauge their feelings throughout the day, set goals, develop self-regulation strategies, and realize learning objectives."

Research, apparently, supports all this:
A recent meta-analysis on social- and emotional-learning programs like RULER confirms that teaching emotional intelligence is the common feature among schools that have safe, caring, and productive learning environments. The best outcomes occur when lessons are taught regularly and with high quality. Indeed, in these schools, not only does bullying decrease, but mental-health indicators and academic scores also go up.
And, therefore, taxpayer dollars should supplement participant dollars:
We believe evidence-based SEL programming deserves federal funding. One House bill, the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2013 (HR 1875), would give the U.S. Department of Education the authority to allocate funds and establish programs to address children's social and emotional needs. If it passes, and we are hopeful that it will, it will provide federal support for teacher-preparation programs which integrate social-emotional learning into their curricula.
After all, the stakes couldn't be higher:
Neglecting the emotional education of children and adults risks leaving children at the mercy of every emotion they feel and every aggressor who comes along. This neglect has created a gap in our educational system, one through which bullies and their targets have slipped. 
A second article, forwarded to me by a reader of this blog, proposes an alternative approach to bully reduction--namely, ridding schools of recess rules. Naturally, this hasn't happened here in the litigious U.S., but down under in New Zealand.

Again, a university--actually two of them--was involved, but their venture was more experimental than self-promotional. In a two-year-long experiment at Swanson Primary School in Aukland, all recess rules were completely eliminated, and kids were allowed to (shudders!) play tag, climb trees, ride skateboards, slide on mud, and play around in a pit containing wood, tires and an old fire hose. The result?
The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.
As one observer reports:
"The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It's during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school."
So take your pick: pay thousands to Yale for training in emotional intelligence charter drafting and mood meteorology, or eliminate boredom and let kids run around without adult interference.


forty-two said...

Reminds me of something I read in Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard: that people often commit what the authors call the "Fundamental Attribution Error", and assume that a given problem is a problem with the *people*, instead of looking to see if there's a problem in the *environment*.

I actually value the skills taught through RULER - I think they make for a better life - and I plan to teach them to my dc (and I get some good ideas for how to do it from things like RULER and the like). But I'm not sure they'd do much without an accompanying change in the school environment. And it doesn't surprise me much that changing the school environment itself solves a lot of the school bullying problems - an environment problem instead of a people problem.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if these Yale professors have any idea how brutally the students mock these social/emotional learning lessons -- even when they are delivered by trained social workers. Individual work with individual students on these issues can be helpful; in-class sessions, not so much.