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How do you feel? Ask a kindergartner

Even though school is out for summer, it’s no time to stop learning. I figured out that lesson just this past week as we were putting the finishing touches on our latest segment of the Our City, Our Schools series on social and emotional learning.

Hundreds of Seattle public school students are learning how to manage their emotions with a program called RULER, an acronym that asks kids to Recognize, Understand, Label, Express and Regulate their emotions. The process is fascinating.

I met a group of kindergartners at Graham Hill Elementary who used a four-color mood meter to indicate their energy level and emotions and then, with the help of their teacher, figured out strategies to move from an unhealthy emotion towards a healthier one. At South Shore K-8 School, I saw a counselor help a 6-year-old student understand his emotional state to the point where he explained the RULER approach to me: “It helps me to be a kind person.” At Olympic Hills Elementary, I saw students apply lessons they learned about their own emotions to understand more about a character’s motivation in books they were reading.

Watch the Our City, Our Schools segment on boosting emotional smarts.

With some assistance from the city of Seattle’s Families and Education Levy, nearly two dozen schools among Seattle Public Schools’ 90-plus schools have a RULER program in place. Another two dozen schools will begin working with the RULER system this fall.

RULER focuses on a simple problem that adults run into, too: if you’re distracted by an emotional imbalance, you won’t be able to focus as well on your work. In today’s “lean in” workplace, it would be easy to discount mood meters or emotional intelligence as unimportant distractions. But just ask a kindergartner and you’ll discover quite the contrary—if you want to measure how balanced your life really is, start with a RULER.

Brian Callanan is the public affairs host for Seattle Channel.