Social and Emotional Learning A New Approach to Improve Student Achievement



As evidence mounts of the connection between students’ emotions and learning, Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES hosted a two-day institute last week with renowned researcher Dr. Marc Brackett of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. The event marked the launch of the center’s Lower Hudson Valley satellite, which will be managed by PNW BOCES’ Center for Educational Leadership.

Almost 200 administrators and teachers from 18 school districts and 30 schools attended the workshops at BOCES’ Yorktown campus to hear Dr. Brackett outline his research on the connection between emotional intelligence and student learning, and his RULER model that can be applied to improve student achievement.

RULER is an acronym for: Recognizing emotions in self and others; Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions; Labeling emotions accurately; Expressing emotions appropriately; and Regulating emotions effectively.

“Dr. Brackett is an amazing presenter. There is compelling evidence connecting a student’s emotional state with cognition, so we can improve student achievement when we address social and emotional issues,” said Dr. Tim Kaltenecker, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Byram Hills School District, who was among the attendees.

Meg Johnston, a fifth grade teacher in Byram Hills’ Wampus School, is eager to apply Dr. Brackett’s techniques at school. “In the classroom, I see students’ moods and how they affect student learning. Now I have techniques to help them identify their moods and change them,” she said. Regulating techniques vary greatly from one student to the next, ranging from meditating or deep breathing, to doing something physical like getting a glass of water.

Byram Hills will introduce Dr. Brackett’s techniques to the Grade 3-5 Wampus School as well as H. C. Crittenden Middle School next year. “It’s going to be applied to whole classes and then throughout the school, including faculty,” Johnston explained.

“The training involves taking RULER participants through each step to help them figure out what is causing their mood and how they can alter it to get into a better place for learning,” Johnston explained.

Nationwide, 75 percent of high school students are feeling stresses and worry in school, Dr. Brackett said. The RULER techniques can help them feel more emotionally equipped to learn and be creative and productive.

Aside from stress and anxiety, “The use and abuse of drugs is something that is very concerning to everyone,” explained Renee Gargano, program developer for the Center for Educational Leadership at BOCES, which hosted the workshop. “Being in touch with one’s emotions and having students learn strategies to recognize their emotions and cope in a healthy manner, is more important than ever before.”

Dr. Brackett’s research reveals evidence that RULER students perform better academically. The method also improves school climate; increases students’ emotional intelligence and social skills; decreases anxiety and depression; reduces bullying; enhances leadership skills and attention; improves student-teacher relationships; and reduces teacher burnout.

“We’ve been following the groundbreaking work of Dr. Brackett and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence for several years,” said Gargano. “Realizing the importance of this work we wanted to create a satellite location to make this training and the RULER model more accessible and cost effective for school districts.”

As the satellite agency, the Center for Educational Leadership at BOCES will oversee the management of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence in the Lower Hudson Valley, and will offer ongoing support to participating districts, which also have access to extensive online support. Gargano said that Dr. Brackett will be back in September for two more days of training with the same participants. “We broke up the training to allow schools to take the summer to develop their programs and do some planning,” she said.

That’s exactly what Chappaqua schools will be doing. “All of our K-12 administrators will be discussing social emotional learning at their summer retreat in July,” said Chappaqua’s Director of K-12 Literacy, Mary Ford. “In Chappaqua, social emotional learning will be a focus of our work in 2017-2018. We will be bringing Marc’s RULER approach to our high school and have a team of teachers and administrators who were trained at BOCES last week to support that work.”

At BOCES itself, Lisa Hammel, coordinator of Local School Building Programs, said staff will be the first to receive RULER technique trainings. “I think it’s going to be extremely useful to us, especially in developing a climate for learning and managing behavior. The first year will be a roll out for staff to up our own emotional IQ … not being reactive to student difficulties. And then we’ll be rolling it out to students to manage and understand their own emotions,” she said.

With many more schools eager to participate, Dr. Gargano said that The Center for Educational Leadership will start a second cohort of RULER trainees next spring.