Focus on the Third Step of the “RULER” Method: Labeling Emotions

by Sandra Clifton on September 5, 2011

One of the most important shifts in education today is an awareness of the positive impact that Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) can for the academic success of our youth. Even Congress has recognized the importance of SEL with a bill introduced this past July, called “The Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2011,” HR 2437. Proposed by Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH), Judy Biggert (R-OH), and Dale E. Kildee (D-MI), the goal of this legislation is to “support evidence-based social and emotional learning programming” because leaders in Congress recognize that children need to develop skills in SEL: self-awareness and self-management; social awareness and interpersonal skills; decision-making skills and responsible behaviors, including personal, social and ethical responsibility.

One creator of school-based curriculum skills, Dr. Marc Brackett, from Yale University spoke in San Francisco this past June at a TEDx conference on the theme, “”Educating the Whole Child (and Adult) with Emotional Literacy.”

Here is Dr. Brackett’s talk:

Dr. Brackett’s steps for SEL are called The “RULER” Method®, which teaches schools how to Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, & Regulate their emotions.

In Brackett’s third step, Labeling, students learn a diverse vocabulary for identifying emotions and expressing more specific descriptors for the wide array of feelings we experience. Labeling their emotions effectively and accurately empowers young people (and educators) to develop a deeper reservoir of self-awareness. While only a handful of descriptors are used for labeling the “eight standard emotions,” researchers in SEL have identified over 4,000 different words for the multi-faceted angles of our emotions. Helping a child articulate the difference between “being mad” and “feeling betrayed” extends a student’s ability to navigate through conflicting inner emotions and tense external situations to arrive at a deeper sense of self-acceptance, contributing to improved social harmony—and increased learning.

Spending additional time in schools to develop a rich vocabulary of emotions is being documented by the Health, Emotion, & Behavior Lab at Yale University, as school case studies are showing that students who learn tools of Social & Emotional Intelligence experience:

  • Enhanced motivation and study skills
  • Higher academic scores in core content areas
  • Decreased hyperactivity in the classroom
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Increased empathy, social competence, and leadership skills
  • Reductions in student referrals for inappropriate behavior, school suspensions, aggression and bullying
  • Enhanced classroom climate, including greater respect between teachers and students, more positive relationships among students, and enhanced pro-social behavior

About the Contributor: Sandra Clifton, Founder & Director of Clifton Corner: An Academic Coaching Center, is a regular blog contributor to the NYC Firm Schools Blog in the areas of social intelligence & emotional literacy

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