Park Avenue Elementary School applies a new approach to social and emotional learning


Park Avenue Elementary School applies a new approach to social and emotional learning

March 2, 2021

Park Avenue Elementary School has begun applying a systemic approach to social and emotional learning called RULER. The tool helps instill the principles of emotional intelligence in students, faculty, and administration using a visual/verbal method developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

“Although we have been developing our use of RULER since before the pandemic, we feel that a lot of the growth it can facilitate is particularly applicable for many, considering the events of the past year,” said Park Avenue Principal Vasilios Biniaris. “We decided to institute RULER in our school because ongoing social and emotional development is always important, and this method is useable by anyone.”

Indeed, RULER aims to inform how leaders lead, teachers teach, students learn, and families support their students, and at the core of what the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence does is conduct research and offer training to support people of all ages in developing emotional intelligence skills. The Center maintains that the well-being and sustainability of our society depends on each person using their emotions wisely.

“At Park Avenue, RULER has not been introduced as a formal program, but as more of an approach to gradually infuse social and emotional components into the District’s culture systemically,” said School Counselor Jeanette Myrick.

The ultimate goal is to create a positive learning climate where individuals feel that it is safe, healthy, and necessary for them to be able to identify, label, and express their emotions.

“Even more importantly, we want them to know that all emotions are okay,” said Ms. Myrick.

RULER is an acronym for the 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence:

  • RECOGNIZING… emotions in oneself and others
  • UNDERSTANDING… the causes and consequences of emotions
  • LABELING… emotions with a nuanced vocabulary
  • EXPRESSING… emotions in accordance with cultural norms and social context
  • REGULATING… emotions with helpful strategies

Developing these skills relies on four core tools, two of which are featured prominently in the lobby of Park Avenue: The Charter and The Mood Meter.

“Every teacher at Park Avenue, and the Kindergarten teachers, received a copy of the Mood Meter for their classrooms,” said Library Media Specialist Scott Sibila. “It’s a color-coded graph that presents descriptive words for expressing your emotional state, set along two axes. Energy is measured along the Y-axis, and pleasantness along the X-axis.”

Students can use the Mood Meter to assess themselves day-to-day and even hour-to-hour.

“They might be feeling high energy, maybe they are frustrated, or maybe they recognize that, ‘yea, I’m feeling a little sad today’,” said Mr. Sibila. “It’s a little pause to recognize where you are in a moment, evaluate it, and see what you need to do to elevate your mood.”

Worried, thoughtful, joyful, jealous, distracted, comfortable – there are very powerful words on the Mood Meter. Developing this common vocabulary for people to use around the topic of emotional health is another part of this. Teachers from Kindergarten through fourth grade each have 12 different words for expressing feelings and emotions, which are introduced in each grade. 

“The list is cumulative and developmental. It grows as students proceed from grade to grade, adding more complicated, nuanced terms,” said Ms. Myrick. “It’s comprehensive, and by the time they go to Middle School they have this robust and useful vocabulary of 60 terms to take with them.”

Research shows that RULER skills help people of all ages to use their emotions wisely, opening up opportunities for success in school, at work, and throughout life. Ms. Myrick said that simply encouraging students to address their emotions – letting them know that it is not only okay, but beneficial – is the foremost goal of RULER at Park Avenue. 

“That’s why we’re approaching this as a mindset, a practice toward cultural and personal development rather than a rote program,” said Ms. Myrick. “We want this kind of exploration, reflection, and communication to become automatic, something we do without thinking, part of our Warwick Schools DNA.”

As Principal Biniaris said, the importance and impacts of helping students and others develop the skills of emotional intelligence cannot be overstated. One study of the Yale RULER showed a 10% increase in academic performance, and another showed a 12% improvement in classroom climate, both after just one year of implementing RULER.

The Park Avenue RULER Charter is on full display in the school’s lobby, alongside its large Mood Meter. They are the first things students see as they begin their school day, and the last things when they leave.  


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