American law schools eventually will either conduct their own studies or will borrow and adapt existing research, and follow the lead of their foreign counterparts and also several American dental, medical, pharmacy, and other professional schools, and implement some type of evidence-based emotional intelligence education and training, also known as social and emotional learning (SEL), as part of the required curriculum. This post concerns one very important aspect of that hopeful prediction – the beliefs of the teachers who implement SEL programs in American law schools.

Law schools implementing SEL will need teachers with the appropriate qualifications, experience, mindset, attitude, aptitude, desire, and beliefs to accomplish the goals of social and emotional learning. Those special educators will need to have comfort teaching content and competencies which involve emotions and feelings. They also must make and keep a commitment to continue their own learning and development so that they can effectively teach emotional intelligence concepts and model its applications. In addition to comfort and commitment, teachers should feel that their law school culture encourages and supports social and emotional intelligence learning and training.

What This Post is About, Who Should Read It, and Why. This “Beyond the Blue Book” series post discusses a new assessment tool which measures the beliefs of teachers about SEL. These teachers work in their regular curricula and use a research-based system to train learners how to understand and manage emotions in order to maintain better mental and physical health and social relationships, and improve performance. Because the emotional lives of lawyers, their clients, and members of legal organizations matter greatly, social and emotional learning and emotional literacy should interest law students, legal educators and administrators of law schools, legal career services staff, lawyers and judges, and legal leaders and professional development professionals in private and public legal services organizations.

As the implementers of any emotional intelligence curriculum, educators in American law schools and trainers in legal organizations will need and should want to have high marks in the three C’s – beliefs about comfort, commitment, and culture. After noting and discussing relevant background and primary concepts and the purpose of the research study, this post briefly discusses one evidence-based SEL program (RULER) and describes a simple tool for measuring the three C’s beliefs recently developed by leading SEL program developers and researchers. Links to related material and resources appear throughout this post.

This post’s final part suggests their need to step up the pace and that American law schools can adapt the teachers’ SEL belief assessment and use it to better understand whom to select as teachers to implement emotional learning content and competency training in the law school curricula, and how their beliefs may impact any SEL program and its outcomes for law students.

Purpose Research Study: Develop an Assessment to Measure Teachers’ Beliefs About SEL. The researchers wanted to develop and validate a tool to assess different components of teachers’ beliefs about SEL. Based on their extensive review of theory and prior studies, they believed that teachers’ responses on such a scale “may affect program delivery and outcomes for any SEL program.” The researchers thought that this scale should benefit not only program developers and researchers, but also the leaders and administrators of schools would desire to implement SEL programs.

Background: What Is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)? SEL means an evidence-based research and instructional program which, through a variety of methods, processes, and techniques, helps learners develop “skills and competencies related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing care and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively.” SEL programs strive to develop competent people who have the abilities to generate and coordinate flexible, adaptive responses to demands and to generate and capitalize on opportunities in the environment.

SEL programs provide their learners special opportunities to acquire core competencies to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations constructively. Broadly considered, the work of SEL programs fosters the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Most of the SEL research-based programs established so far concern primary and secondary education students as learners. Recent reviews and meta-analytical studies have shown that SEL learning provides students “a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance, as reflected in greater engagement in positive social behaviors; fewer behavior problems; less stress, anxiety, and depression; and improved grades and test scores.” Several evidence-based SEL programs exist and have been incorporated into the curricula of several school systems.

Implementation guidelines and standards for SEL learning and instruction have been refined through ongoing research since the 1990s. A number of resources, instructional materials, reference guides, publications, and research articles about SEL initiatives, implementation, work, and programs exist via CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. The interested reader, including law student, lawyer, law professor, and law school dean or administrator can access a large collection of useful information and resources about SEL here.

Background: Teacher Beliefs Generally, Importance, and Effect on Teaching Practices. Years of research about SEL has shown that a number of variables impact the successful implementation of SEL programming. The authors of the featured article described the impact of teachers as “. . . one crucial feature.” Research related to theory outlined below explains why.

The authors cited a line of research beginning in the 1990s, and stated “Because teachers are the primary deliverers of SEL programming, their attitudes about and support for SEL can affect the adoption, sustainability, and impact of such programs.” The research stream fostered by a major research review cited by the authors (Pajares, 1992) has established that teachers’ beliefs, a combination of strong affective and evaluative components, indicate their perceptions and judgments. One’s beliefs exert as much or even more influence than knowledge in determining how that individual characterizes phenomena, organizes and defines tasks, and makes sense of the world. These decisions drive energy and attention, and affect teachers’ behavior in their educational settings.

Background: Purpose of Scale and Beliefs About Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) – The Three C’s. The SEL researchers wanted to develop a scale which assessed different components of teacher beliefs about SEL. They believed that results from teacher responses to such a scale would help administrators gauge school readiness and teacher preparedness and openness towards implementing it and further that could affect SEL program delivery and outcomes.

The researchers considered a large universe of reviews and research studies for the theoretical background of their scale which taps into teacher beliefs about SEL. They clustered their review results into four broad areas. This part identifies and briefly discusses the content areas of teacher beliefs captured in the three factors of the assessment developed in their study.

Research has linked the degree of confidence with teacher attitudes delivering SEL programming. “In general, teachers are more likely to continue using a program when they feel comfortable with and enthusiastic about teaching it. Research shows that teacher confidence and animation –  COMFORT – in delivering program content “are associated with adherence to a program’s protocol.” The next variable concerns teacher professional development.

Teacher COMMITMENT affects SEL program effectiveness. Research suggests that teachers must commit to developing their ability to integrate SEL into their courses and classrooms. Professional development, that research shows, “increases significantly the likelihood of implementing a new school program.” Development means learning not only about SEL, but also how to teach and model the skills which it promotes. The final factor concerns teacher beliefs about school leadership and culture.

How teachers feel about the CULTURE of their school affects the impact of SEL programming. Leadership plays a large role in determining school culture. Research has also shown it “affects implementation at the time of a program’s adoption and continues to affect sustainability over time.” The authors noted specifically that “In fact, intervention effects are the strongest when [leader] support and implementation quality are high.”

Background: The RULER Approach to Social and Emotional Learning. Many SEL programs have been implemented. The RULER Approach, a scientific research evidence-based program affiliated with Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, utilizes instruction, practice, learning tools, skill-building, coaching, and a train the trainer approach to integrate social and emotional learning and skills into school systems. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators, all targets of its various learning and skill building activities, play important roles in this SEL program. An achievement model of emotional literacy using a research-based theory of emotions as drivers of learning, decision-making, creativity, relationships, and health anchors the foundation, purpose, and activities of this program.

Yale’s RULER program model provided the theoretical basis for scale to assess teacher beliefs about the program design, development, and implementation of SEL. The RULER involves the four branch model of ability emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence combines feelings with thinking, and thinking with feeling.  Four related, but different, abilities comprise this model:

· Identifying Emotions- emotions contain information, or data, and this is the ability to accurately recognize how you and those around you are feeling.
· Using Emotions- the ability to generate emotions, and to use emotions in cognitive tasks such as problem-solving and creativity.
· Understanding Emotions- the ability to understand complex emotions and emotional “chains”, how emotions transition from one stage to another.
· Managing Emotions- the ability which allows you to intelligently integrate the data of emotions in yourself and in others in order to devise effective strategies that help you achieve positive outcomes.

Educators in a curriculum which uses the RULER approach systematically teach the skills of emotional intelligence – those associated with [R]recognizing, [U]understanding, [L]labeling, [E]expressing, and [R]regulating emotion. The program uses a research-based field-tested approach. It endeavors to make community-based application of innovative, ongoing research which shows that these skills play an essential role in effective teaching and learning, promoting healthy relationships and sound decision-making, promoting and maintaining physical and mental health, and reducing problem behavior in school and beyond.

SEL Teacher Beliefs Scale Development and Results. The researchers reviewed key theoretical and research articles about the factors which affect SEL program development and implementation and teacher beliefs. They organized the literature review and research results into content domains of teachers’ beliefs which may impact SEL program implementation. Using a Likert* scale with a range of five possible response points for teacher responses, a survey with three independent factors and twelve randomly ordered items (four for each factor) resulted from exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses.

Brief descriptions of the factors [the three C’s], the substantive content of their items for the Teacher SEL Beliefs Scale, and reports of selected results from validity studies using that scale [reports] in phase 2 of the research study follow.

  • Comfort (comfort with teaching SEL) – The teacher reports about their feelings of confidence and comfort in providing instruction about social and emotional learning and on social and emotional skills to learners; taking care of learner social and emotional needs “comes naturally” to the teacher; and the teacher regularly provides lessons on social and emotional learning as part of regular teaching practices [comfort correlated significantly with two dimensions of teacher burnout, i.e. less depersonalization (more likely to see their students as individuals and modify teaching to meet student needs), greater commitment to SEL training and sense of personal accomplishment; and positively with several aspects of program, e.g. buy-in, year-end confidence in teaching, perceptions of program effectiveness]
  • Commitment (desire to develop SEL skills) – The teacher reports about wanting to improve ability to teach social and emotional skills to learners and whether all teachers should receive training about teaching those things; attending workshops to learn how to develop learners’ social and emotional skills and teacher’s own social and emotional skills [commitment correlated moderately with teaching efficacy, i.e. ability to modify methods as needed to have a positive effect on learner, and student enjoyment];
  • Culture (school support for SEL) – The teacher reports beliefs about the school environment and culture regarding promoting and supporting social and emotional learning and development of social and emotional skills; the environment created by the administrator about social and emotional learning and skill development; and the degree of encouragement about social and emotional learning and skill development offered by the administrator [culture correlated positively with administrator support and negatively with teacher exhaustion]

Discussion and Implications for the Legal Academy, Law Students, and Lawyers. Researchers who study about and develop social and emotional learning programming have developed a new assessment tool which can differentiate teachers’ beliefs about social and emotional learning into three distinct domains – comfort, commitment, and culture. Evidence of the tool’s validity and predictive value has been produced, too. Why do teachers’ beliefs about social and emotional learning matter?

The authors of this post’s featured article stated “Teachers’ beliefs influence the type of learning environments they create, as well as their students’ academic performance and beliefs about their own abilities.” Educators who highly endorse the three C’s hold higher expectations for their students. Research shows that those beliefs play out in their work in the learning environment, and will correlate with them having better performing learners.

Teachers high in the three C’s treat their learners differently. They adapt to student needs and strengths. They personalize their teaching efforts. And, because those three teacher beliefs can impact the quality of the implementation of SEL programming, leaders and administrators “should be especially interested in assessing these beliefs.” The Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Scale for Teachers can help educators and administrators better understand teacher comfort and commitment to SEL and also perceptions about the support offered by school culture. The SEL scale can provide insight about a school’s readiness to adopt and who should teach social and emotional learning programming. Finally, the results of the assessment can show various aspects, e.g. timing, type, and amount, of training needed by the educators to provide their learners the best SEL programming possible. What about legal educators?

American law schools need to implement social and emotional learning in their curricula now. Earlier posts in the “Beyond the Blue Book” series and related posts on Psycholawlogy discuss this important and very substantial concern. With increasing law school tuition, rising unemployment and underemployment in the recent law school graduate ranks, the rising incidence of drug and alcohol abuse and dependence, and the turbulence in the legal marketplace, the need for social and emotional learning – “the development of skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing care and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively” – by students in the American legal academy has never been more important.

Beyond cavil, some of the best and brightest people teach in and lead American law schools. This post has provided information and access to evidence-based tools and resources, many never mentioned before in legal commentaries, which provide a jump-start for designing, developing, staffing, and implementing social and emotional learning programming for American law students. Law schools should look to established SEL programs, like RULER, adapt accordingly, and implement social and emotional learning so that American law students can catch up with their counterparts in foreign law schools and American medical, dental, pharmacy, and other professional schools.

Not only do learners in American law schools need SEL, one member of the academy has deftly argued that their educators need social and emotional learning programming, too (Brown, 2014€). This post has discussed their importance, and we know now how to assess and measure their beliefs about the three C’s of social and emotional learning – comfort, commitment, and culture. Legal educators will implement social and emotional learning programs in American law schools. Their beliefs about SEL’s three C’s will influence program delivery, evaluation, and outcomes. Considering the economic, personal, health, and professional considerations of legal education and the legal marketplace mentioned above, little room exists for encouraging or tolerating any attitude or behavior resembling “here’s a dime . . . call your mother . . . . “§ in our law schools.

Posts in Psycholawlogy’s “Beyond the Blue Book” series include the following:

Beyond the “Blue Book” – Emotional Intelligence Training, the Pace of Legal Education, and Suggested Remedies

Beyond the “Blue Book” – Two Important “Soft Skills” Which Can Predict [Lawyer] Success in the 21st Century Workplace

Beyond the “Blue Book”: Emotional Intelligence [EQ] Assessment as a Future Gatekeeper of Lawyer Effectiveness?

Related posts on Psycholawlogy which might interest you include the following:

Lawyers, the RULER, the Mood Meter, and Emotional Intelligence

Trait Emotional Intelligence [EI] and Lawyers: EI As a Shield Against Burnout and Job Dissatisfaction

Legal Education and Empathy Assessment: Implications for Mental Health, Well-being, and Future Performance

Emotional Intelligence and Orthopedic Surgery Residents – New Study Shows One Way to Go: Up. . . Up. . . Up! – Suggested Lessons for Legal Educators and Lawyers

All-Star [Lawyers] Players – The Top Five (5) EQ-i 2.0™ Attorney Emotional Intelligence Work Success Factors

Thank You.  Thank you very much. Dan DeFoe JD MS – Adlitem Solutions | Organization Development for Professional Services Firms and the Legal Profession: People. Projects. Practices |Web – | Email: | Blog – | Services – Organization Development Practitioner combining and leveraging 25+ years of diverse legal experience, 7+ years of allied health training and work experience, a Master of Science in Organizational Development Psychology, and educationally qualified or earned certifications in industry-leading normal (Myers-Briggs MBTI) and special business (Hogan Assessments) personality; ability (MSCEIT) and self-report (EQi 2.0 [derived from Bar-On model]) emotional intelligence; leadership (Certified Intentional Leadership Coach); and stress management assessment and tools (ARSENAL best practices system for stress resilient emotional intelligence) to partner with client organizations, their leaders, and member to discover needs and opportunities for growth and to design, develop, deliver, and evaluate custom interventions for individual, team, project, or organizational solutions. | Mission:  “America’s leading resource for normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, and related coaching, continuing education programs, training, and workshops for judges, lawyers, law schools, bar associations, healthcare, medical, and other professional services providers and their organizations and leaders.”  Please visit Adlitem Solutions and Psycholawlogy again soon. Thank you very much.

Complimentary Assessment: Contact me via email at to arrange a time for a no obligation discussion and assessment of your firm’s or firm members’ interests or needs regarding emotional intelligence workshops, training, continuing education, or coaching. See this related post at PsycholawlogyEmotional Intelligence Memo to Management: EI as a Buffer of [Lawyer] Stress in the Developmental Job Experience – for more information about taking first steps.

Visit Psycholawlogy using this link, and access posts about the ability-based emotional intelligence model as measured by the MSCEIT emotional intelligence assessment.

Featured Article Source: Brackett, M. A., Reyes, M. R., Rivers, S. E., Elbertson, N. A., & Salovey, P. (2012). Assessing teachers’ beliefs about social and emotional learning. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30(3), 219-236 (copy currently available here). A copy of the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Scale for Teachers currently available here.

Additional Sources: € Brown, Heidi K., The Emotionally Intelligent Law Professor: A Lesson from the Breakfast Club (May 10, 2016). University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, Vol. 36, p. 273; Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 454. Available at SSRN: | 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 (copy currently available here) | Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62(3), 307-332 (copy currently available here) |

*See here for basic information about Likert scales

Image Credits: Law Professor Kingsfield here [read about The Paper Chase movie here] [§ read about the “dime” phone call here]     | Three C’s here | Ruler faces here | Light bulb here | Dime here

Dan DeFoe

Owner and Lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions
I'm an attorney with 20+ years of experience and have an MS degree in organizational development psychology. I provide normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, assessment interpretation and feedback, and professional development planning and training activities for lawyers, judges, other legal services providers, and their organizations.
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