Developing Individual Moral Codes May Help Students Implement SEL Skills in Daily Life

Research shows social and emotional learning improves attitudes students have about themselves and others, increases positive classroom behavior, and raises standardized test scores, while lowering conduct problems, aggressive behavior, and emotional distress, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

In many SEL programs we try to teach students about empathy so students are moved to do good for others and themselves. In the article “Teaching Students to Turn Empathy into Action,” director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University Maurice Elias says SEL learning should teach children “to be helpful and especially to act when it may not be convenient or popular.” However, he remarks on findings from a recent op-ed in the New York Times about empathy that suggests just teaching empathy isn’t enough to motivate children to make a change.

The question experts are asking is why, if these students are undergoing an increased amount of training in empathy, is there not a boom in people helping the homeless, standing up for victims of bullying, or organizing a movement for groups suffering from discrimination?

David Brooks, author of the New York Times article, says research supports his belief that students must be armed with the following two conditions to “impel action in the face of need”:

1. The individual must feel positive about him or herself.

2. Action seems to follow from a moral code held by the individual.

Brooks says schools should: “Help people debate, understand, revere, and enact their codes.” This research suggests SEL programs would be more effective if students are asked to develop their own moral codes instead of borrowing the school’s. In this model, students will continue to honor the school’s Code of Conduct and use it as a framework to design their personal moral code.

Do you think students would be more effective in exercising their social and emotional skills if they were able to make a personal connection to the cause? Could a personal code of ethics create hosts of change?


“Teaching Students to Turn Empathy into Action,” Maurice Elias. 11 October 2011. Edutopia. Accessed on 11 October 2011. <>

“The Limits of Empathy,” David Brooks. 29 September 2011. The New York Times. Accessed on 11 October 2011. <>


Share this Article with Your Friends:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • RSS
Add Comment Register

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Email Newsletters with Constant Contact