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Give the Mood Meter the Green Light to Manage Emotions
Give the Mood Meter the Green Light to Manage Emotions

A friend moving to a new town leaves one student in blue. A child angry about cleaning his room when he wants to play says that he feels red. And when a teacher plays the upbeat chorus of Pharrell Williams' song Happy, the students start dancing, exclaiming "that's yellow, that's yellow!"

Students at Corbett Preparatory School of IDS are seeing their emotions in color this year after teachers introduced them to the "Mood Meter," a visual representation of what they might be feeling. Part of a broader initiative called RULER that Corbett Prep is implementing for social and emotional learning, the Mood Meter asks students to assign each emotion a color as a first step to managing feelings appropriately.

The Mood Meter is one of the fundamental tools the RULER approach uses to help school communities learn — as the acronym says — to Recognize, Understand, Label, Express and Regulate emotions. Developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, RULER offers research-based methods to help children and adults identify, process and manage emotions. This program adds to and complements the many strategies at Corbett Prep for encouraging a climate of dignity and respect.

RULER goes far beyond the Mood Meter, but the color identification provides a good starting point to anyone who wants to build self awareness, learn to regulate emotions and create an environment that fosters achievement.

With these three simple steps, family members can begin to value emotional intelligence at home. The process first begins with children and parents identifying how they are feeling openly together and, in doing this, they learn to make more thoughtful decisions.

Name your emotion. As Dr. Marc Brackett, the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, "If you can name it, you can tame it." The Mood Meter helps pinpoint emotions with its simple square split into quadrants of red, yellow, blue and green. Each color corresponds to different emotions, which students learn to categorize based on their level of energy and pleasantness. Feeling pleasant with high energy puts you in a happy state of yellow. High energy and unpleasantness, however, shifts to red, which reflects emotions such as anger or fright. Pleasant and low energy is peaceful green, and unpleasantness and low energy show up in the blue quadrant with feelings that may include loneliness or disappointment. Every color is valued and has its purpose. Knowing how to regulate each quadrant is the key. Early Primary Division Leader Marla Vildostegui says the Mood Meter has helped her kindergarten class become more mindful about how their emotions change throughout the day and affect their actions. Their vocabulary improves as well, as they graduate from saying they feel "fine" to using words such as "ecstatic" or "serene." Teaching subtle distinctions between similar feelings empowers students to recognize the full scope of their emotional lives, see how their feelings fluctuate and eventually learn to manage their emotions, Vildostegui says.

Think about how you want to feel. All emotions are valid. But certain emotions are more beneficial depending on what you want to accomplish. Feeling outraged could help you make a passionate argument in a debate, but backfire if you need quiet time to write or study. Michelle Hill, Intermediate division leader, says it helps her to know where her students are on the Mood Meter so she can encourage them to make deliberate shifts during the school day for optimal learning to occur. RULER-inspired charters also hang in Corbett Prep classrooms to remind students of agreements they created together — how they want to feel at school, what they can do to have those feelings and guidelines to prevent conflict. Families can create charters, too.

Shift your feelings. You may know you want to move from red (anger) to green (peaceful) but feel stuck. Having strategies at the ready make it easier. Does a certain kind of music invigorate you? Will a walk outside improve your concentration? Do you feel uplifted when you look at a beautiful photo or read an inspirational quote? The Mood Meter even has an app that lets you log your feelings and prompts you with suggestions if you need a change. With enough practice, it can become second nature.

Schools that use the Mood Meter and RULER report that they have a healthier school climate where students are less likely to bully others and more likely to demonstrate better leadership skills and increased attention. Students may perform better academically as their work habits improve and distractions shrink, and teachers develop more positive relationships with students and experience less burnout.

Attaching feelings to colors is simple enough for the youngest students to grasp, but the exercise benefits people of all ages. Whether your goals are for the classroom, the office or the living room, emotional awareness puts people in control of their feelings instead of the other way around.