How Can We "Arm" Teachers to Best Help Our Children?

classroom in LA

Tools For Building Safe, Secure, and Inclusive School Communities

As a therapist married to a teacher, I have been asked about, and certainly been thinking about, the issue of arming our teachers. Every way you turn right now there is angry debate about guns. Many children and parents feel both helpless and afraid.

One way to combat this feeling of helplessness is to get involved with your child’s school and advocate for programs that provide Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

SEL is an approach to learning that teaches kids how to understand and regulate their emotions, increase empathy, and get along better with each other. It is also referred to as Emotional Intelligence, or EQ.

One of the benchmark approaches to social and emotion learning is called RULER, which was developed by The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence after decades of research in schools across the country. The acronym RULER stands for the following:

RULER in West LA

Recognizing emotions in yourself and others,

Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions,

Labeling emotions accurately, 

Expressing emotions appropriately, and

Regulating emotions effectively.

The RULER approach has been shown to improve students’ EQ and social skills, as well as attention, productivity, academic performance, and leadership skills.

Importantly, RULER also reduces anxiety, depression, and bullying–the biggest mental health issues we are seeing in our schools right now.

RULER is in its third year of implementation at The Willows Community School in Los Angeles. Christina Kim, Director of Student Life, says of RULER, “It has made a tremendous positive impact in our school community.”

Social and emotional learning is a way to “arm” our teachers with important skills and tools to improve their own lives, as well as to help them regulate what is going on in the classroom.

Kim tells us, “Developing emotional intelligence helped our teachers understand how to regulate their own work day, as well as find ways to regulate emotions so they are able to take care of themselves, as well as their students.” She continues, “One teacher (said)… that RULER has given him better tools for how to respond to students both inside and outside class, when they share with him how they’re feeling.”

Social and emotional learning in the classroom is also a way to support parents.

Kim reports that, “parents appreciate…specific RULER-based strategies that can be used to help their children both at school and at home.”


project happiness in los angeles

Another program that is being taught in schools to teach emotional intelligence is Project Happiness, which was developed by mom Randy Taran when she saw that her teenage daughter was becoming depressed. She wanted to make it possible for teenagers to gain the skills necessary to improve their moods and to get along better with their peers. The program she created grew and grew and has now reached over three million people in 120 countries.

Project Happiness now extends beyond school campuses; there is an online program, and groups across the country called “Circles”, where adults study the Project Happiness materials. Together they implement the weekly program of Mindful Monday, Grati-Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursday, Freedom Friday, Social Saturday, and Soul Sunday.

There are other programs that can be used to teach EQ in our schools. The Hawn Foundation (MindUP), Roots of Empathy, The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), The Center for Social Emotional Learning, CSEE, and Six Seconds, The Emotional Intelligence Network all have programs for teaching social and emotional learning.

The benefits of emotional intelligence extend far beyond the school experience. A study last year at the University of British Columbia found that emotional intelligence programs continue to benefit students years later.

Graduation rates from high school and college were higher; drug use, arrest rates, and behavior problems were lower. Importantly, incidence of mental health disorders was 13.5% lower in adults who were taught emotional intelligence skills in school.

school bus in West LA

 There is a way we can make a difference in our schools. However we feel about the gun debate in this country, we can unite to make a positive difference in the classroom. 

By advocating for a social and emotional learning approach in our schools, we can increase the ability of our youth to understand and regulate their own emotions, and to get along with one another. We can support parents and teachers in their efforts to produce emotionally healthy young adults.

Let’s show our country’s youth that we want to bring something that is positive and life-affirming into our schools–the skills and tools to feel better and to relate better to our fellow man.

Are You Or Your Child Experiencing Feelings of Depression? Could You Use Some Extra Help?

You are not alone! Many people struggle with these same feelings. Therapy can teach you the skills and give you the tools to manage your emotions and improve your relationships. I offer free phone and in-office consultations. Give me a call at 323-999-1537 or send me an email at, and let's have a chat about how therapy can help you feel better.

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