Elementary school uses RULER approach to help students deal with emotions

Whether they realize it or not, the students at Lakeville Elementary are learning a little bit everyday about how to handle their emotions in a healthy way.

Last year, the administration implemented the RULER (Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating) approach, created by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, in its classrooms. The program worked so well last year that the school continued the approach this year. Principal Kristin Guinn, teacher Courtney Morin and teacher Kevin Kalbfleisch presented the approach to the board of education during its Dec. 18 meeting.

“The RULER approach to social and emotional learning really helps us help students learn by addressing their emotional needs,” Guinn said. “The program shows overtime, research shows, that classrooms with more positive emotional climates typically have students that exhibit greater leadership skills (and) are less likely to engage in bully-like behavior.”

An essential part of the approach, which teaches kids about “social and emotional learning,” is the Mood Meter. The Mood Meter allows students to communicate the way they feel, whether that is sad, calm, angry, energetic, etc., and explain that feeling to peers.

Morin gave an example of the Mood Meter at work in her classroom, where students picked where they were on the graph and shared with a classmate afterward. She and the other teachers at Lakeville aim to include a Mood Meter exercise of some kind a few times throughout the day.

“Our feelings have a huge influence on our decision making, but we are often unaware of how our feelings are influencing what we do and what we say,” Morin said. “This Mood Meter is designed to help student recognize emotions in (themselves) and others.”

Guinn said the approach has given her students heightened communication skills, which fosters a “positive” learning environment that can lead to improved relationships and grades. Aside from the student benefit, Kalbfleisch said the approach gives school staff common language to discuss issues and has made students more open to discussing emotions that might be hindering their ability to learn.

“(The students) really enjoy it,” Kalbfleisch said. “They like that they have that option to share or not to share, we never force it on them… I’ve noticed that it’s helping them develop a sense of empathy. So, if they notice a student who is struggling, they’re thinking to themselves, ‘How can I help that student?’”

Many of the board members appeared impressed with the approach and think Lakeville’s efforts are teaching students skills that will benefit them as they grow into teens and adults.

“You’re not just teaching these kids an academic skill, you’re teaching them a life skill,” board President Tom Donnelly said. “You’re teaching them how to succeed in a marriage, in a business, how to succeed when someone is angry with you.”