It's Time to Listen: Launching an Emotion Revolution in Our Nation's High Schools

This April, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Born This Way Foundation (co-founded by Lady Gaga and her mom, Cynthia Germanotta) launched a national campaign, the Emotion Revolution, to engage high school students in a conversation about how to create schools and communities where emotions matter. Our organizations are partnering because we believe that the combination of a rigorous research orientation around emotion science and social and emotional learning (SEL) with the ability to engage and empower youth, could amplify the national conversation about improving student and teacher wellness and school climate. We want to improve students’ prospects for leading happy, healthy, and productive lives.

We know that emotions matter and matter a great deal in school, especially among high school students. They can either help students or derail them from achieving their goals. Students with more developed emotional skills or emotional intelligence tend to outperform others on a wide range of outcomes. More specifically, research shows that adolescents who are more skilled at recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating their emotions tend to: have greater attention and higher grades and test scores; build and maintain higher quality relationships; make more sound decisions about engaging in risk-taking behaviors (e.g., less drug and alcohol consumption); have greater physical and mental health (e.g., less anxiety and depression and greater well-being); and be more skilled at handling the full range of emotions they experience each day in school from boredom to elation to frustration to satisfaction to stress.
Further, a recent meta-analysis of 213 studies evaluating SEL programming efforts demonstrates its benefits to youth across grade levels (elementary through high school) and across urban, suburban, and rural schools in the U.S., with primary benefits including: increases in students’ social and emotional skills (effect sizes ranged from .12 to .87), improvements in students’ prosocial attitudes and behavior (effect sizes ranged from .17 to .26), better mental health (effect sizes ranged from .21 to .27), and improved academic performance, including an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement as assessed through report card grades and test scores (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). Educators know this intuitively: in one study, 93 percent of the teachers said they wanted training to support their students’ emotional needs.
What emotions are the most predominant ones that high school students experience each day in school? Are they feeling more stress and boredom than excitement and curiosity? And perhaps most important, how are these emotions influencing their engagement, their desire to study, their ability to perform at their best on tests, and their future goals? The answers cannot come solely from a top-down policy, or from guessing. Real solutions require hearing from the students themselves. Only then can we implement evidence-based approaches tailored to create learning environments and communities where students can realistically thrive.
That’s why, with the support of dozens of key partners, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Facebook, we are launching the Emotion Revolution with a national seven-minute survey for high school students so that we can learn about hundreds of thousands of high school students’ current and hoped-for emotional experiences in school. We will then hold a summit at Yale featuring youth leaders from across the United States, Lady Gaga, and Yale President Peter Salovey, where we will unveil the findings, give more than 200 youth the opportunity to speak out about their ideas for creating improved learning environments with key educators, academics, and policy makers, and create momentum around the national SEL movement. In addition, with support from Facebook, we will provide high school youth and educators with free resources – activities to promote greater health and well-being and more positive school climates, developed by youth and SEL experts, to accelerate positive changes in their schools and communities.
What will it take for our nation to take seriously young people’s feelings in school? Listening to students, learning how they are currently feeling and how they hope to feel  in school, and helping them to develop their emotional intelligence alongside their reading, writing, and math skills can help us to create the kind of classrooms, schools, and communities we all want to have: ones that are safe, open, kind, engaging, and supportive.
Toward that end, our immediate goal is to hear from 1 million high school students from public, charter, and private schools. Gathering data from students in public and private schools in each state will strengthen the scientific understanding of how we can most effectively help bridge the gap between how students currently feel and how they want to feel.
We encourage heads and teachers to administer the survey, which can be found at until June 15, 2015. We have created a unique link for NAIS and will provide a confidential report of the findings.  Also on the survey website is an application to nominate a student to be an Emotion Revolution Ambassador. Chosen students will receive tickets to the Yale summit, meet Lady Gaga and other leaders, and most important, have the opportunity to engage with other like-minded high school students who want to contribute to a kinder and braver world.
We hope our initiative will spark a rich discussion about why students’ emotions matter in school – for learning, decision making, health, and achievement of their goals.