Wyoming — It was third-grader Michael Mathis’ first day at Parkview Elementary School, and his new classmates were excited to meet him.
As the students walked into teacher Beth Weld-Wallis’ classroom to begin the morning, they added their names to the Mood Meter, a color-coded graphic to indicate how they are feeling.
Yellow, for example, means you feel high-energy and pleasant.
“I’m on the yellow because we have a new student,” said Chloe, who affixed her name tag on the yellow portion of the graphic.
Students welcomed Michael as they sat on the classroom rug and introduced him to the Class Charter, a document hanging on the door they created at the beginning of the school year.
“We want to feel respected, comfortable, happy, encouraged and like we belong!” read third-grader Darwin Coutchie as he pointed to the words.
And how was Michael feeling?
“I’m on the green because I moved to a new school and I’m going to make new friends,” he said. He learned from his new peers that green means low energy and calm. He felt extra good when he got to choose a birthday present from a prize chest, celebrating his December birthday that occurred before he joined the class.
Five Tools of Emotional Intelligence
Learning about emotions is routine for the students at Parkview. From the charter to the Mood Meter, to a Meta Moment station where students pause to work through emotions when needed, Weld-Wallis has embedded RULER into her classroom. RULER stands for the five tools of emotional intelligence: recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating.
“This is as much a curriculum as it is a mindset,” said Weld-Wallis, who advocated for Wyoming Public Schools to implement RULER, an evidence-based approach to social and emotional learning developed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
A six-year Wyoming teacher, she previously taught for four years at an elementary school in New York Public Schools that used the same approach. Students there knew how to recognize, understand and label their emotions.
“They had done this program since they were kindergartners, so by the time they were in third grade they were kind of doing it without me realizing they were doing it. It was very seamless,” Weld-Wallis said. “It’s just a way of living. I really embraced that for myself as a teacher and I’ve seen the benefits with my students, there and here.”
The tools allow students to grow in their emotional intelligence, which benefits them throughout their lives. There’s also a component called Blueprint that teaches conflict resolution by using “I feel” statements.
“It’s not to be confused with a classroom management tool,” she said of RULER. “This isn’t a way to control students. It’s a way to help them express themselves and feel comfortable and safe.”
Jason Maas, director of Student Services for Wyoming Public Schools, said administrators chose to implement RULER because it’s a research-based, systematic approach to social-emotional learning. The district is in its third year of grades K-6 implementation, with plans to begin training at Wyoming Junior High as well.
“RULER is intended to be embedded throughout your whole school day. Once you learn how to recognize your emotions, you can do that in gym class, at recess, on the school bus,” Maas said. “We needed something that taught skills and did it really organically through the school day – not a confined lesson.”
An Approach for Everyone
Along with Weld-Wallace’s advocacy, school psychologist James Los, the district’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support coordinator, and a group of interns researched social-emotional programs. RULER came out as the best fit for the district.
The theory is that emotional intelligence leads to improved well-being.
“Emotions matter and emotions are not good or bad. You begin to teach kids to recognize when they are feeling a certain way and label (emotions) a certain way,” Maas said, referring to the Mood Meter.
“Each one of those emotional zones is really good for something, but (how one feels) might not be really good for a math test or a basketball game, so you have to be able to recognize which emotional set is best for you if you want to play sports today or take a math test or be a good friend today.”
‘This is as much a curriculum as it is a mindset.’– Third-grade teacher Beth Weld-Wallis
Students learn to acknowledge how they feel and learn to work through them so they are ready for that test or ball game, Maas said. He also noted it’s an approach everyone can use.
“RULER will make you a better spouse, a better parent. The emotions-matter mindset is the key to the RULER approach. Your emotions matter and a lot of times in our society we cover up our emotions. We don’t talk about our emotions. We pretend they don’t matter.”
In Weld-Wallis’ class, Darwin said he understands why learning about his emotions is important – it helps students do what’s on the class charter: make new friends, be nice, share and listen, give compliments and encourage others. Following the charter helps them follow Parkview’s rules.
“We all signed this. That means we will do this,” Darwin said. “The rules in the school are to be safe, responsible and respectful. That’s why I think we should follow these rules.”