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Program Profile: The RULER Approach

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on September 14, 2015

Program Summary

The program is a multiyear classroom curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade incorporating professional development for teachers, school staff, and leaders with literacy-based, skill-building, social–emotional learning programs. This program is rated Promising. The program had significant effects on emotional support, positive classroom climate, and emotion-focused interactions. However, there were no significant effects on negative classroom climate and classroom supportiveness.

Program Description

Program Goals
The Ruler Approach (RULER) brings together comprehensive professional development with student literacy-based, social– emotional learning, and skill-building elements to promote positive youth development. RULER is a multiyear program for kindergarten through eighth grade. Within the standard academic curriculum, RULER incorporates teachings on emotions and skill building through identifying and controlling those emotions within the learning environment.
Program Components
Teachers are trained for a day and a half on RULER lessons and on developing their skills and knowledge of learning environments. Additionally, teachers work with a certified program coach for five sessions during the school year. RULER contains lessons and activities for:
  • Recognizing emotions in oneself and others
  • Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions
  • Labeling emotions with an accurate and diverse vocabulary
  • Expressing and Regulating emotions in socially appropriate ways
This group of skills is referred to as the RULER skills (Rivers and Brackett 2011).
RULER is based on the achievement of emotional literacy through the comprehension of the RULER skills and their applicability in social interactions, personal growth, and learning. This is achieved through experience and gaining emotion-related knowledge and skills, being in a safe and supportive environment, practicing the RULER skills with feedback, and having exposure to adults who use the RULER skills.
Program Activities
RULER comprises 12 units focused on a different "feeling" word (i.e., elation, shame). Each unit is delivered over a 2-week period, and contains five lessons or steps that follow a basic structure to introduce the feeling word. Each step lasts 15–20 minutes and is integrated into the regular classroom curriculum. Beginning with Step 1, teachers introduce the unit's word with a personal connection. In Step 2, students connect the feeling word to the academic material. In Step 3, through the use of a creative art activity, students demonstrate the meaning of the feeling word. In Step 4, students discuss the word with their families and write a paragraph about the conversation. Finally, Step 5 includes classroom discussions of different strategies for managing the feeling.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Emotional Support

Rivers and colleagues (2013) found that treatment classrooms using the RULER approach were observed to have significantly higher levels of emotional support than control classrooms.
Positive Climate
Classrooms using the RULER approach were observed to have significantly higher levels of positive classroom climate than control classrooms.
Negative Climate
No significant differences were observed between treatment and control classrooms in terms of negative classroom climate.
Classroom Supportiveness
No significant differences were found between treatment and control classrooms on teacher reports and student reports of classroom supportiveness.
Emotion-Focused Interactions
Teachers reported significantly more emotion-focused interactions in treatment classrooms than in the control classrooms.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Rivers and colleagues (2013) conducted an evaluation to examine the impact of the RULER Approach (RULER) on classroom emotional climate. The study was conducted with 155 fifth- and sixth-grade English language arts classrooms in 62 schools in the Catholic Schools of Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., during 2008 and 2009.

A total of 105 teachers and 3,824 students were included. Randomization was conducted at the school-level and schools were evenly dispersed into treatment and control groups. Treatment schools received 12 RULER units and treatment school teachers received a 1½ day training on RULER at the beginning of the school year. They then received five sessions with a certified program coach throughout the school year, in addition to three optional booster sessions.

Control schools delivered the regular school curriculum. Just over half of the control schools reported using a program to address social or emotional skills other than RULER, including Olweus Bullying Prevention or Learning for Life (

Program impacts were examined using an intent-to-treat analysis and accounted for nesting of classrooms using hierarchical linear modeling. Measures of program impact included observational assessments, teacher surveys, and student surveys. Observational data was collected using videotaped classroom sessions. Three times each school year, teachers completed surveys and mailed them back with their videotapes. Coders reviewed the videotapes and assigned scores to the emotional support domain and its four dimensions: positive climate (degree of warmth and connection), negative climate (degree of negativity), teacher sensitivity, and regard for student's perspectives. Teacher surveys included the Classroom Supportiveness Scale (perception of prosocial student behavior toward others) and the Emotion-Focused Interaction Scale (teacher engagement in emotion-focused interactions with students). Research aides helped to administer the student surveys. Student surveys included the Classroom Supportiveness Scale (perception of prosocial behavior towards others).
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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In the evaluation by Rivers and colleagues (2013), treatment school teachers received a 1½ day training on RULER at the beginning of the school year and had five sessions with a certified program coach throughout the school year. Three optional booster sessions were offered as well.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Rivers, Susan E., Marc A. Brackett, Maria R. Reyes, Nicole A. Elbertson, and Peter Salovey. 2013. "Improving the Social and Emotional Climate of Classrooms: A Clustered Randomized Controlled Trial Testing the RULER Approach." Prevention Science 14:77–87.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Rivers, Susan E., and Marc A. Brackett. 2011. "Achieving Standards in the English Language Arts (and More) Using the RULER Approach to Social and Emotional Learning." Reading & Writing Quarterly 27:75–100.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

School-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs
Designed to foster the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies, in order to provide a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance in students, which can result in more positive social behaviors, fewer conduct problems, and less emotional distress. The practice was rated Effective in reducing students’ conduct problems and emotional stress.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Multiple juvenile problem/at-risk behaviors
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Internalizing behavior
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Program Snapshot

Age: 10 - 13

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, White

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Classroom Curricula, Leadership and Youth Development, School/Classroom Environment

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Susan E. Rivers
Research Scientist, Scholar Professor
Department of Psychology, Yale University, FASPSY
2 Hillhouse Avenue, P. O. Box 208205
New Haven CT 06520-8205
Phone: 203-530-9125