Hewitt News

Fostering Emotional Intelligence with the RULER Approach 
Maureen Burgess, Assistant Head of School for Learning and Innovation


"I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel." --  Maya Angelou

How are you feeling today? How are you feeling right now? These deceptively simple questions are at the heart of Hewitt’s academic philosophy and our commitment to emotional intelligence as a set of relational and intellectual skills central to the success of our girls and young women.

Hewitt’s academic philosophy is based on four pillars — presence, empathy, research, and purpose — that guide how we teach, learn, and interact with one another. These four pillars also inform our belief that effective, inspiring, and student-centered education is fundamentally relational. We believe deeply in the power of emotional intelligence as the foundation of a relational education, and research shows us that emotional intelligence benefits our students not only in academic settings, but also in the personal and professional relationships they will develop throughout their lives. Through our assessment of the research on emotional intelligence, Hewitt chose to implement the RULER approach for our entire community. 

In July 2018, a team of Hewitt educators attended a training at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence for its signature social-emotional learning program, RULER (an acronym for recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions). The RULER approach fosters emotional intelligence skills in all community members “with the goal to create a healthier, more equitable, innovative, and compassionate society.” The program builds on extensive research on how the physical experiences of emotions are interpreted by the brain, which in turn informs decision making, receptivity to learning, and mood. The RULER approach reminds us that our ability to notice, name, and regulate a full range emotions allows us to enjoy healthy relationships, learn effectively, and thrive in a range of life situations. 

To support teachers committed to fostering emotional intelligence in schools, RULER provides four tools that align with Hewitt’s academic philosophy and school values. First is the mood meter, a visual aid which teaches us how to acknowledge and name our feelings in a given moment; second is the charter, a collaborative document which outlines how we collectively want to feel in our classrooms and what behaviors will help us to create our ideal learning environment; third is the meta-moment, a self-awareness practice that teaches us to notice when we are experiencing an emotional trigger and to pause before we choose how to respond; finally, the blueprint provides a pathway, grounded in empathy, for exploring and resolving moments of emotional challenge and conflict.

Hewitt’s entire professional community participated in workshops over the past year to prepare to engage our students and families in this deeply mission-aligned program. Our faculty and staff explored their personal lexicon of feeling words in order to see how they moved across the mood meter throughout the day, wrote charters together on how we collectively want to feel at school, and practiced using our best selves to make wise choices in the heat of the moment. In August 2019, after a year of immersing ourselves in these tools, faculty planned the first stage of the RULER implementation with our students in all three divisions, starting with the mood meter and charter tools. 

Since the opening day of school, mood meters have become a standard resource in every Hewitt classroom, and our girls and young women have embraced the purpose of RULER, as their diverse classroom charters attest. As one third grade teacher learned with his students, the mood meter is the “inside work” (knowing your feelings) and the charter is the “outside work” (how we have decided to behave to support an emotionally intelligent classroom). As RULER becomes an increasingly critical part of our teaching and learning, faculty and staff are continuing their own professional learning through RULER’s online platform for educators and through divisional and department meetings. This work will prepare them for a deeper dive into how to use the meta-moment and blueprint tools to navigate “big” feelings, moments of disagreement or conflict, and collaborative learning with our students.

At Hewitt, we are committed to talking about emotions and feelings because our daily practice tells us what research confirms: emotions matter. Emotions matter because students thrive and learn deeply in spaces that allow for their emotions to be felt, understood, and heard. Emotions matter because the adults guiding our students are full, complete human beings who do their best work when they feel like they belong, are valued, and are supported. Emotions matter because a healthy community is one that embraces naming, expressing, and regulating feelings as a way to practice self-awareness and empathetic decision-making. And finally, emotions matter because our girls and young women matter, and at Hewitt we know that by providing them with the language and strategies of emotional intelligence they will live vibrant, meaningful lives in a healthy and just community. Together, we are feeling excited and energized as a learning community that deeply embraces RULER’s motto: emotions matter.

For more information about the research behind the RULER approach, please visit Evidence for RULER or explore resources from Marc Brackett, founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

A lower school student starts her day by placing herself on the classroom mood meter

A lower school student starts her day by placing herself on the classroom mood meter

This lower school classroom charter includes photographs of students modeling how they want to feel in their shared space. 

This lower school classroom charter includes photographs of students modeling how they want to feel in their shared space

Middle school digital arts students created %22selfie%22 mood meters using Photoshop

Middle school digital arts students created "selfie" mood meters using Photoshop

Upper school students worked together to develop grade-wide charters

Upper school students worked together to develop grade-wide charters, then created visuals to display in their advisory classrooms