Podcast S2. Ep13: Permission To Feel: Emotions Matter - Dr. Marc Brackett

Character Strong · October 2, 2019

Marc Brackett, Ph.D., is the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a Professor in the Child Study Center of Yale University. He is the lead developer of RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning that has been adopted by nearly 2,000 pre-K through high schools across the United States and in other countries. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). As a researcher for over 20 years, Brackett has focused on the role of emotions and emotional intelligence in learning, decision making, creativity, relationships, health, and performance. He has published 125 scholarly articles and received numerous awards and accolades for his work in this area. Learn more at: marcbrackett.com

We talk to Dr. Brackett about his upcoming book Permission to Feel, he shares some first steps that schools need to take as they start looking at their climate and culture, and the importance of system and policy changes when it comes to sustained impact.


“You know, oftentimes people think of emotions as disruptive, disorganized, something that you should ignore or suppress or repress. You know, leave your emotions at the door, I hear a lot when I talk with educators, even. So Permission to Feel is really about demonstrating through all the practices that we've done and the research we've done that emotions matter and they matter for a lot of reasons. They help us to think more clearly. They help us to make more informed decisions. They help us to build better relationships, have greater mental health, and even achieve our dreams.”

Marc Brackett

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Dr. Marc Brackett. Marc is the founder and the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a professor in the Child Study Center of Yale University. He is the lead developer of RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning that has been adopted by nearly 2000 pre-K through high schools across the United States and in other countries. He also serves on the board of directors for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, CASEL. As a researcher for over 20 years, Brackett has focused on the role of emotions and emotional intelligence in learning, decision making, creativity, relationships, health, and performance. He has published 125 scholarly articles and received numerous awards and accolades for his work in this area. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Dr. Marc Brackett. All right. It is so wonderful to have Dr. Marc Brackett on the CharacterStrong podcast. Thank you for taking the time to join us today.
  • Marc: Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you.
  • John: Well, I've been following your work, Dr. Brackett, for quite some time. You're the founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University, and you've done amazing work and research for quite some time around all sorts of things. But one of them that is close to my heart is around social emotional learning and what we're doing to support schools, students, and staff. And you do have a book that's coming out, and I would love to just highlight that today. It's titled Permission to Feel, Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our kids, Ourselves and Our Society Thrive. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about this great work that's coming out soon?
  • Marc: Of course. Well, thank you for having me. I wrote the book because I felt the need to disrupt our nation's thinking about the value and importance of emotions. You know, oftentimes people think of emotions as disruptive, disorganized, something that you should ignore or suppress or repress. You know, leave your emotions at the door, I hear a lot when I talk with educators, even. So Permission to Feel is really about demonstrating through all the practices that we've done and the research we've done that emotions matter and they matter for a lot of reasons. They help us to think more clearly. They help us to make more informed decisions. They help us to build better relationships, have greater mental health, and even achieve our dreams.
  • John: Yeah, I mean, have you noticed in your work a change over the last 20, 30 years in the greater need for schools to be addressing these needs?
  • Marc: We have. As you know, our center does quite a lot of research on children and adults, and what we're finding in particular among high school students, is that about 70% of the emotions that they report feeling each day in school are negative. They're tired, they're bored, they're stressed, and they don't want to feel that way, but they do. And so I think a big question that we all have to answer is how do we get them out of that state of despair in many instances.
  • John: Does the book dig into that at all in regards to what are some of the things, either, one, what is the awareness that we need to be having, and or steps that we could be taking to help with that?
  • Marc: It does. And I think the first thing is that we don't want to pathologize people's emotional lives. And you know, the idea that you're bored and tired and anxious and overwhelmed, it's certainly not a place you want to be your whole life, because that's not good. But the temporary experience of these emotions is important. It gives us information. In my opinion, what happens is that we don't spend enough time in our nation's schools addressing how kids feel and teaching them the strategies they need to better manage their feelings. And I think even above that, we don't spend time thinking about the emotional climate of our schools in the way that we should.
  • John: Yeah. So you've got the connection to not only the individual and the work that we're doing to support students, but also the connection to school-wide climate and culture. It feels like that's connected to that. What are some of the things, I mean on these shorter podcasts, a lot of times we talk about key ideas to get people thinking, but also things that people could practically be considering and or putting into action. Where could a school start when it comes to looking at either, you know, maybe it's two parts, that school-wide lens as well as the individual piece. Where are some places they could start or continue to go as they're digging into that work deeper?
  • Marc: What I've learned over the years is that schools want to fix problems. Unfortunately, and you know, where we have to get back to academics, we've got to worry about test scores. And that mindset just needs to be, I think, eliminated, and importantly, what I've learned over the years is that if we don't focus on supporting our adults, meaning our teachers and school leaders, in learning the skills first, then we're doing a disservice to children because our kids are listening to us, our kids are watching us, and they're learning from the way we behave. So what I've also been asserting for the field of SEL is that it's adult development before child development.
  • John: Yep. So true
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“Many of us walk around doing a lot of judging. Why is he so angry? Why is she this way? Or even judging our own feelings, like I shouldn't feel this way. And that's not the way we should think about our emotion system, and so an emotion scientist is someone who is open to feelings, they investigate their feelings, they are in learner mode as opposed to no mode and they ask really good questions to get at the detail. What I mean by that is that we talk about in our work that you have to name it to tame it. And the only way you can really name your feelings is by getting granular in your own self-awareness.”

Marc Brackett


  • Marc: And even if we want to get more specific, one of the things I talk about in my book is this idea of becoming an emotion scientist. Many of us walk around doing a lot of judging. Why is he so angry? Why is she this way? Or even judging our own feelings, like I shouldn't feel this way. And that's not the way we should think about our emotion system, and so an emotion scientist is someone who is open to feelings, they investigate their feelings, they are in learner mode as opposed to no mode and they ask really good questions to get at the detail. What I mean by that is that we talk about in our work that you have to name it to tame it. And the only way you can really name your feelings is by getting granular in your own self-awareness.
  • John: That's so good. So practically then, and I just really want to thank you for highlighting the adult piece. We do a lot of work with schools and providing professional development and what we found is that the adult work is not just important, it is the work, like the adult behavior practices is key in so many ways to this work moving forward, and we need to do that work first before even getting down to the student level. Where could I then start? Name it to tame it, I love that. I remember Dr. Clayton Cook, who we work with, saying there's always a reason for every behavior, and so helping us to think differently around it. So what are some ways that I could start if I'm like, okay that sounds great. What can I do to be more of an emotion scientist?
  • Marc: Yeah. I think step one is recognizing that you are the role model as the adult in that classroom, that everything you say and every strategy that you use to regulate your feelings is modeling to students either helpful or unhelpful strategies. I think the second is, in terms of the emotion scientists, be mindful of attributing emotions to other people as opposed to finding out how they actually feel. So oftentimes we misperceive emotion from people's behavior. So I'm a boy and I'm stomping my feet, I'm yelling, and I'm gritting my teeth and you think, oh, he's angry. The truth is that just might be how I'm expressing myself, but I could deeply inside be feeling shame. So those are two I think really critical things.
  • John: That's excellent. Well, in so many of these areas I just want to dig deeper into and realizing the shorter nature of the podcast and trying to maximize these thoughts, and I know that when the book comes out, Permission to Feel, it would be a great resource that people can use to dig deeper. One of the things in the book that really struck me as just important and a key reminder is just the idea that the best social emotional learning approaches, because it's such a wave right now, many schools have been digging into that work for quite some time, whereas others are just starting, and it's the best SEL approaches are systematic, not piecemeal. Could you speak just a little bit about that because I find that a lot of times to be so key, that implementation piece is critical to the success of it.
  • Marc: I think what we've learned over the years, and, you know, failing to be honest with you, when we were just thinking about having a program that teachers delivered in their classroom, was again that critical need for the adult development. But where RULER is now, which is the name of our SEL approach that's in about 2000 schools, is we talk about our theory of change as having four components. The first is shifting the mindsets. So we've got to get everybody on what I call the emotions matter bus. We're trying to get people to be emotion scientists and not emotion judges. The second is that if they recognize that the skill development is a lifelong process, that just because I learned how to take a breath today doesn't mean that breath is going to work tomorrow, and just because I learned to say something positive to myself doesn't mean it's going to work when I'm angry the next time. It's a continuous process of developing the skills.
  • Marc: The third is thinking about the climate, and I mean the emotional climate. So for me what keeps me up at night is not knowing or knowing how people feel who work in our center. And I think what should keep every principal up is thinking about how do the students and teachers who are in my school feel on a daily basis, and trying to figure out ways of reducing more negative emotions and increasing more positive ones. And then finally, all of this is embedded in a larger context of educational policy, school bullying policy, suspension policies, behavior management policies. And until those policies and practices are infused with the principles of emotional intelligence, I don't think we're going to get the outcomes that we all care about.
  • John: Yep. That makes so much sense, and I really appreciate you sharing that theory of change because it really then helps to put kind of those concrete thoughts on it, and that makes so much sense, and it really, one that I hadn't thought of, but makes sense having come from the classroom for 10 years and then the district level for about five years, is just how important that ed policy piece is, because whatever we put down on that is what we pay attention to, what we give time and resources and energy to. And if we're going to get that sustained impact, we're going to need to make sure that that is a part of that process.
  • John: Well, I'm grateful for you and your time. How can people connect with you and or where would you direct people to learn more about the work that you're doing? I mean, there's so much great work that you're doing. You're connected to CASEL, which many people are connected to with SEL. You have the book coming out. Where would you direct people to kind of end the podcast today, to learn more and or connect with your work?
  • Marc: Thank you. So there's two websites that I would recommend. The first one is my personal website, which has all the information about Permission to Fail, which is just www.marcbrackett.com, and the second one is our approach, which is RULER, which is rulerapproach.org, and so tons of resources there and tons of information about our work.
  • John: Wonderful. Well, thank you Dr. Brackett for taking the time. Thank you for the work that you're doing, not just for our schools, but our communities, our country, and beyond, and just grateful for you. Thank you for taking the time today.
  • Marc: And thank you. Appreciate it.
  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we're supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.

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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.