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RULER Program Positively Impacts Student Behavior and Achievement

Built upon decades of research demonstrating the impact of emotions on important life outcomes, the RULER Program develops emotional intelligence skills in children and the adults who are involved in their education at school, at home and in their communities.

The program is an initiative of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, founded by renowned researcher and Yale University President Peter Salovey.

Salovey shared that when he and colleague John Mayer began addressing emotional intelligence in the late 1980s, “the idea [in the research community] was, you might have emotions, but they don’t actually predict anything.” He added, “I got really motivated to study emotions to show that not only do emotions matter, but they matter in positive ways.”

The Center’s early research helped refine and measure the concept of emotional intelligence, defined as the ability to recognize, understand, utilize and regulate emotions effectively in everyday life.

Deputy Director Susan Rivers described the Center's guiding principles: "We study how the emotions that we feel impact what we do, what we think, the decisions we make, how we interact with that we can be more productive, more effective, a better friend, a better parent, a better teacher, a better student."

Rivers and Center Director Marc Brackett developed RULER in 2005 as an evidence-based approach to teaching emotional intelligence. Since then, the Center's focus has shifted to improving classroom and school climate—and in turn, students’ capacity to fully benefit from the educational experience.

“The emotional climate of a classroom seems to be the best predictor of student engagement, student performance as well as student behavior,” Brackett explained.

RULER’s field-tested approach can be integrated into the curriculum and across the entire school. Rigorous evaluations of the program have shown that it improves student achievement and social skills, and that it helps classrooms become more supportive and student-centered.

Additional student outcomes have included:

  • Better school climate
  • Increased emotional intelligence
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Reduced likelihood of bullying; and
  • Better leadership skills and attention.

In addition, as a result of RULER, teachers have better relationships with students, less burnout and better relationships with administrators. They also feel more positive about teaching.

Watch the video below (run time 5:11) to hear more about RULER’s goals and effectiveness.



Program participants have confirmed these positive outcomes. Said an assistant principal at RULER participant NYC Lab School, “The best thing RULER has brought to our school is a shared language. It’s helped to build a greater sense of community for our staff and students. A number of teachers who wouldn’t normally address students’ emotions in the classroom are now doing it, and it’s made them more reflective and thoughtful about students of concern.”

Teacher Brenna Feerick at Blessed Sacrament School in Brooklyn, NY, shared how RULER has reduced bullying and teasing at her school. “I don’t feel that there is a bullying problem here…today. Students treat each other with common social courtesies. They’re empathetic, they’re sympathetic, they’re respectful…they’re just generally nicer to one another.”

Watch the video below (run time 3:38) to hear more about the program’s impact at Blessed Sacrament:


How does it work?

The program's name is an acronym for targeted emotional skills including Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, and Regulating emotion. K-8 teaching materials fully integrate with the existing curriculum and align with Common Core State Standards. (Preschool and high-school programs are currently in development.)

With key program facets such as the “Meta-Moment” and “Mood Meter,” students gain practical tools for identifying and expressing their feelings.

The Meta-Moment encourages both students and adults to pause and think before acting, asking themselves, “How would my ‘best self’ react in this situation? What strategy can I use so that my actions reflect my best self?” The Mood Meter helps students and educators become more aware of how their emotions change throughout the day and how their emotions affect their actions. (Above, a student completes a Mood Meter activity. Photo courtesy of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.)

A 10-year-old student explained, “I like the Mood Meter because I can tell my friends how I’m feeling. Last week, I was working with a girl in my class and she was talking for a long time and I was really mad. I went to the mood meter and expressed my feelings to one of my closest friends, and that helped me change my mood. I needed to tell somebody that I was really mad and get that over with so I could just be calm.”

To better understand how RULER seamlessly integrates with academics, watch the video below (run time 2:48), in which second-grade teacher Carly Lustig (Oceanside School District, NY) uses a read-aloud to help students understand the “feeling word” bullied. Lustig noted that RULER aligns well with the Common Core’s emphasis on gathering textual evidence for one’s inferences and conclusions. For example, evidence for a character’s feelings might include body language, the way s/he is speaking and how s/he reacts to others.

Students are now “able to express themselves and tell why [a character is] feeling that way,” Lustig said. “In their writing they’re going back and…they’re really able to pull out the evidence from the text.”



What’s involved in implementing RULER?

  1. This first year begins with a four-day training that grounds teachers, staff, students and families in the Anchors of Emotional Intelligence, RULER’s fundamental tools for enhancing individuals’ ability to regulate their own emotions and empathize with others’ feelings.
  2. The second year-long program phase, including a three-day training, helps teachers integrate RULER into a wide range of subject areas via the Common Core-aligned Feeling Words Curriculum. This ensures that emotional intelligence is embedded in each student’s daily experience.
  3. RULER-trained school staff then teach the rest of the school what they’ve learned. As teachers are trained, they in turn teach their students, and as new teachers arrive, RULER Trainers teach them. RULER Trainers also get ongoing feedback, advanced training and an online community where they can access ongoing professional development and connect with others implementing the program.

Currently schools in New York, Ohio, Washington state, California, Connecticut and even Australia are using RULER. Interested in learning more? Read about RULER in the news, and find out how to bring the program to your school.


Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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