Improving Classroom Quality with The RULER Approach to Social and Emotional Learning: Proximal and Distal Outcomes

  • Carolin Hagelskamp
  • Marc A. Brackett
  • Susan E. Rivers
  • Peter Salovey
Original Paper


The RULER Approach to Social and Emotional Learning (“RULER”) is designed to improve the quality of classroom interactions through professional development and classroom curricula that infuse emotional literacy instruction into teaching–learning interactions. Its theory of change specifies that RULER first shifts the emotional qualities of classrooms, which are then followed, over time, by improvements in classroom organization and instructional support. A 2-year, cluster randomized controlled trial was conducted to test hypotheses derived from this theory. Sixty-two urban schools either integrated RULER into fifth- and sixth-grade English language arts (ELA) classrooms or served as comparison schools, using their standard ELA curriculum only. Results from multilevel modeling with baseline adjustments and structural equation modeling support RULER’s theory of change. Compared to classrooms in comparison schools, classrooms in RULER schools exhibited greater emotional support, better classroom organization, and more instructional support at the end of the second year of program delivery. Improvements in classroom organization and instructional support at the end of Year 2 were partially explained by RULER’s impacts on classroom emotional support at the end of Year 1. These findings highlight the important contribution of emotional literacy training and development in creating engaging, empowering, and productive learning environments.


Classroom quality Social and emotional learning The RULER Approach Theory of classroom-level change Intervention Evaluation 


  1. Aud, S., Hussar, W., Planty, M., Snyder, T., Bianco, K., Fox, M. A., et al. (2010). The condition of education 2010. NCES 2010-028. National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  2. Bloom, H. S. (2005). Learning more from social experiments: Evolving analytic approaches. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  3. Brackett, M. A., & Katulak, N. A. (2006). Emotional intelligence in the classroom: Skill-based training for teachers and students. In J. Ciarrochi & J. D. Mayer (Eds.), Applying emotional intelligence: A practitioner’s guide (pp. 1–27). New York: Psychology Press/Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  4. Brackett, M. A., Reyes, M. R., Rivers, S. E., Elbertson, N. A., & Salovey, P. (2011). Classroom emotional climate, teacher affiliation, and student conduct. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 46(1), 27–36.Google Scholar
  5. Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., Reyes, M. R., & Salovey, P. (2010). Enhancing academic performance and social and emotional competence with the RULER Feeling Words Curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2010.10.002.
  6. Brown, J. L., Jones, S. M., LaRusso, M. D., & Aber, J. L. (2010). Improving classroom quality: Teacher influences and experimental impacts of the 4rs program. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(1), 153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bullock, J. G., Green, D. P., & Ha, S. E. (2010). Yes, but what’s the mechanism? (Don’t expect an easy answer). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(4), 550.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. CASEL [Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning]. (2003). Safe and sound: An educational leader’s guide to evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs. Chicago, IL: Author.Google Scholar
  9. Catalano, R. F., Berglund, L., Ryan, J. A. M., Lonczek, H. S., & Hawkins, J. D. (2004). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591, 98–124. doi:10.1177/0002716203260102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  11. Cook, E. T., Greenberg, M. T., & Kusche, C. A. (1995). People in my life survey: Attachment relationships in middle childhood. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development, Indianapolis, IN.Google Scholar
  12. Cook, T. D., Steiner, P. M., & Pohl, S. (2009). How bias reduction is affected by covariate choice, unreliability, and mode of data analysis: Results from two types of within-study comparisons. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 44(6), 828–847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  14. Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fine, S. E., Izard, C. E., Mostow, A. J., Trentacosta, C. J., & Ackerman, B. P. (2003). First grade emotion knowledge as a predictor of fifth grade self-reported internalizing behaviors in children from economically disadvantaged families. Development and Psychopathology, 15(2), 331–342. doi:10.1017/S095457940300018X.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Graham, J. W. (2009). Missing data analysis: Making it work in the real world. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 549–576.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Greenberg, M. T., Weissberg, R. P., O’Brien, M. U., Zins, J. E., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., et al. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist, 58, 466–474. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.6-7.466.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hakanen, J. J., Bakker, A. B., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2006). Burnout and work engagement among teachers. Journal of School Psychology, 43(6), 495–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hamre, B. K., Mashburn, A. J., Pianta, R. C., Locasle-Crouch, J., & La Paro, K. M. (2006). CLASS: classroom assessment scoring system, technical appendix. Charlotteville, VA: University of Virginia.Google Scholar
  20. Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2005). Can instruction and emotional support in the first grade classroom make a difference for children at risk of school failure? Child Development, 76(5), 949–967.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hamre, B. K., Pianta, R. C., & Chomat-Mooney, L. (2009). Conducting classroom observations in school-based research. In L. M. Dinella (Ed.), Conducting science-based psychology research in schools (pp. 79–105). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hamre, B. K., Pianta, R. C., Mashburn, A. J., & Downer, J. T. (2007). Building a science of classrooms: Application of the CLASS framework in over 4,000 US early childhood and elementary classrooms. Foundation for Childhood Development. Report retrieved on November 28, 2011 from
  23. Hedges, L. V. (2007). Effect sizes in cluster-randomized designs. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, 32(4), 341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Huang, B., Sivaganesan, S., Succop, P., & Goodman, E. (2004). Statistical assessment of mediational effects for logistic mediational models. Statistics in Medicine, 23(17), 2713–2728. doi:10.1002/sim.1847.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 491–525. doi:10.3102/0034654308325693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. LeBreton, J. M., & Senter, J. L. (2008). Answers to 20 questions about interrater reliability and interrater agreement. Organizational Research Methods, 11(4), 815–852. doi:10.1177/1094428106296642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Malmberg, L. E., & Hagger, H. (2009). Changes in student teachers’ agency beliefs during a teacher education year, and relationships with observed classroom quality, and day-to-day experiences. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(4), 677–694.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Marinell, W., & Pallas, A. (2011). Teacher turnover in New York City public middle schools. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  29. Maurer, M., & Brackett, M. A. (2004). Emotional literacy in the middle school: A 6-step program to promote social, emotional, & academic learning. Port Chester, NY: National Professional Resources.Google Scholar
  30. Muthen, B., & Muthen, L. (2010). Mplus user’s guide. Los Angeles, CA: Muthen and Muthen.Google Scholar
  31. National Research Council & Institute of Medicine. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  32. NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2003). Social functioning in first grade: Associations with earlier home and child care predictors and with current classroom experiences. Child Development, 74, 1639–1662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pianta, R. C., & Allen, J. P. (2008). Building capacity for positive youth development in secondary school classrooms: Changing teachers interactions with students. Toward Positive Youth Development, 1(9), 21–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pianta, R. C., Belsky, J., Houts, R., & Morrison, F. (2007). Opportunities to learn in America’s elementary classrooms. Science, 315(5820), 1795–1796. doi:10.1126/science.1139719.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pianta, R. C., La Paro, K., & Hamre, B. (2008). Classroom assessment scoring system: K-3. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.Google Scholar
  36. Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  37. Raudenbush, S. W., Martinez, A., & Spybrook, J. (2007). Strategies for improving precision in group-randomized experiments. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 29(1), 5–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Raver, C. C., Jones, S. M., Li-Grining, C. P., Metzger, M., Champion, K. M., & Sardin, L. (2008). Improving preschool classroom processes: Preliminary findings from a randomized trial implemented in head start settings. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(1), 10–26. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2007.09.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Reyes, M. R., Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., Elbertson, N. A., & Salovey, P. (2012). The interaction effects of program training, dosage, and implementation quality on targeted student outcomes for The RULER Approach to social and emotional learning. School Psychology Review, 41(1), 82–99.Google Scholar
  40. Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Fan, X., Chiu, Y.-J., & You, W. (2007). The contribution of the responsive classroom approach on children’s academic achievement: Results from a three year longitudinal study. Journal of School Psychology, 45(4), 401–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rivers, S. E., & Brackett, M. A. (2011). Achieving standards in the English language arts (and more) using The RULER Approach to social and emotional learning. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 27(1/2), 75–100. doi:10.1080/10573569.2011.532715.Google Scholar
  42. Rivers, S. E., Brackett, M. A., Reyes, M. R., Elbertson, N. A., & Salovey, P. (2013). Improving the social and emotional climate of classrooms: A clustered randomized controlled trial testing The RULER Approach. Prevention Science, 14(1), 77–87.Google Scholar
  43. Rivers, S. E., Brackett, M. A., Reyes, M. R., Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., & Salovey, P. (2012). Measuring emotional intelligence in early adolescence with the MSCEIT-YV: Psychometric properties and relationship with academic performance and psychosocial functioning. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30(4), 344–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rutter, M., & Maughan, B. (2002). School effectiveness findings 1979–2002. Journal of School Psychology, 40(6), 451–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185–211. doi:10.2190/DUGG-P24E-52WK-6CDG.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Seidman, E. (2012). An emerging action science of social settings. American Journal of Community Psychology, 50(1–2), 1–16. doi:10.1007/s10464-011-9469-3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2002). Mediation in experimental and nonexperimental studies: New procedures and recommendations. Psychological Methods, 7(4), 422–445. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.7.4.422.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Shrout, P. E., & Fleiss, J. L. (1979). Intraclass correlations: Uses in assessing rater reliability. Psychological Bulletin, 86(2), 420–428. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.86.2.420.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Solomon, D., Watson, M., Battistich, V., & Schaps, E. (1996). Creating classrooms that students experience as communities. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24(6), 719–748. doi:10.1007/bf02511032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Steiner, P. M., Cook, T. D., Shadish, W. R., & Clark, M. (2010). The importance of covariate selection in controlling for selection bias in observational studies. Psychological Methods, 15(3), 250–267. doi:10.1037/a0018719.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sutton, R. E., & Wheatley, K. F. (2003). Teachers’ emotions and teaching: A review of the literature and directions for future research. Educational Psychology Review, 15(4), 327–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wentzel, K. R. (2002). Are effective teachers like good parents? Teaching styles and student adjustment in ealry adolescence. Child Development, 73, 287–301.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Community Research and Action 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolin Hagelskamp
    • 2
  • Marc A. Brackett
    • 1
  • Susan E. Rivers
    • 1
  • Peter Salovey
    • 1
  1. 1.Yale Center for Emotional IntelligenceYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Public AgendaNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations