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Marc Bracket, Ph.D. Director, Zigler Center, Emotional Intelligence
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.
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In his early thirties, Marc Brackett, Ph.D.—associate research scientist and associate director of the Health, Emotions and Behavior Laboratory at Yale and the psychology director of the Zigler Center Emotional Intelligence Unit—can lay claim to what others may achieve only after a longtime career. An author and co-author of over three dozen scholarly publications and a writer of innovative curricula on emotional intelligence (EI) for grades K–12, Dr. Brackett found himself two years ago when he was in the U.K. invited to address Parliament about his work. Last year, he notes in an almost matter of fact manner, he personally trained 30,000 teachers and worked with numerous school systems and corporations on assessment, training and leadership development. These are just starters.

This past spring Dr. Brackett won the Joseph E. Zin Award for “outstanding young researcher of the year,” given by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, for “contributions to the field of social and emotional learning in schools.” He could also have won an award for most imaginative acronym: he is the co-developer of RULER, an “intra and interpersonal model” for teaching adults and children emotional literacy by way of developing skills of Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating emotion. More? Dr. Brackett is also the research director, writer, script and music advisor, and field tester for “Moodster,” a new TV series of 15-minute segments, designed to teach youngsters from pre-K through high school how to assess—and contain—their own negative emotions (anger management was the subject of the pilot for four to six year olds). The segments, already tweaked (on some emoticons the eyebrows were too high) and modified with other cultures in mind, will air soon (Dr. Brackett is fluent in Spanish). Would you believe he’s also a fifth degree black belt in Karate?

Dr. Brackett allows as how he may have trouble “letting go” some of his fascinating projects, but so far he seems to thrive on an unbelievable schedule, perhaps because he regards what he does as a calling. It wasn’t always so, he says, referring to when he worked for two years right after college in a martial arts studio. It was his “fantastic uncle, Marvin” (now 81), however, who had taught school in the Catskills in the sixties, who inspired and encouraged him to go into education. Dr. Brackett cites as his Yale mentors Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey, co-founders of the theory of EI in the 1990s.

His research, he says, falls into three domains: basic research, with the standard experiments; grade and context-appropriate curriculum development (his work with District 75 in New York City involved him in 60 schools, 350 sites and everyone—principals, supervisors, teachers, staff, including janitors, lunchroom aides, et al.); and intervention research, which he prefers to call prevention (he describes himself as a “preventative scientist”). A recent award by the William T. Grant Foundation for $2 million for randomized controlled experiments in EI was the largest such grant ever given by the Foundation.

We know that emotions matter in teaching and learning, Dr. Brackett says, but can we teach people to be “more emotionally skilled,” especially in dealing with negative emotions? What strategies work and under what conditions? His imagination is at one with his sense of reality. He knows: parents work, kids want to play after school. Enter an inspired idea—Friday Night at the Movies, offering pizza and child care, and, for parents later on at home, webinars where they can log into discussions about EI and their kids.

At the heart of Dr. Brackett’s research is the goal of controlling negative emotions, such as feelings of disappointment, frustration, a sense of alienation, which can interfere with learning and healthy development. Self-awareness can lead to social awareness, he discovered studying martial arts. Key to both kinds of awareness is that teachers first identify and describe their own moods before they work with “mood indicators” and problem solving “blueprints” in the classroom. How might sixth-grade teachers deal with alienation? Teachers writing about personal experience with alienation is the start (Dr. Brackett provides the protocols). Then they can integrate their findings into an EI curriculum. And then integrate the EI curriculum into the regular academic curriculum. So, after discussing what it means to feel alienated, for example, a social studies teacher might lead her or his students into a wider discussion of how the Jewish people felt about anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. And then students could be directed to interview their families about their own experiences with alienation—this is, says Dr. Brackett, their “favorite part.”

Does EI improve students’ personal lives and academic performance? No question. There is also the benefit of children taking charge of their school lives, together. One of the “anchors” of emotional literacy his research has led to, says Dr. Brackett, is the classroom charter – how do kids themselves want to handle acting out, rage, gossip, for example? Let them devise the rules, write them up, sign a contract. Such a declaration of independence, needless to say, has a history in this country, and, like the American Revolution, can provide a model for other countries.#



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