Developing High School Students’ Emotional Intelligence With Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
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by Amy E. Lyn, PhD

Emotional intelligence has significant influence over career and personal success. People who are emotionally intelligent are able to identify their emotions, and they are aware of what is going on in their inner world. They have the presence of mind to be able to notice the emotions of others through verbal and nonverbal cues, and to use emotions to build connections. They are able to regulate their emotions, maintain a positive outlook, and fluidly adapt to new circumstances. These individuals tend to be highly influential because their relationship skills are strong, and they know how to empathize and inspire others. Their awareness of personal and group dynamics allows them an advantage in every situation. Perhaps the most important thing to know about emotional intelligence is that it can be improved over time. 

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process by which schools and teachers can influence the development of K-12 students’ emotional intelligence. The values, assumptions, and beliefs around which schools are organized play a significant role in how well SEL is integrated into the day-to-day experiences of students. One example of this can be found in the system’s disciplinary practices. Artifacts like parent-student handbooks and district policies make values, assumptions and beliefs about student discipline transparent. The disciplinary practices carried out by administrators and teachers are required to follow the information laid out in these documents. These practices exemplify the extent to which SEL is integrated into the culture of the school. For example, the use of exclusionary practices such as suspensions and the absence of restorative practices has an enormous impact on a school’s culture, and equally on students’ experiences with SEL.

Another example that epitomizes the organizational values, assumptions, and beliefs held in a high school is the time and energy dedicated to developing and facilitating an advisory block. The quality of a school’s advisory block has great influence on school culture. It is unfortunate when advisory is overlooked and underestimated, or when time is allocated, but resources and teacher development fail to be cultivated. It is difficult to know where to focus our energies in schools; there is always so much to do! However, if we know that emotional intelligence matters not just as much as academic development, but potentially much more, then ensuring an effective advisory block has taken root is essential. 

Yet, SEL is more than how discipline is handled and what goes on during advisory. Integrating SEL into instructional content and practices is critical if we want students to learn positive social emotional skills and dispositions at school. Indeed, they are always learning about their social and emotional lives and are either practicing prosocial behaviors or reinforcing less effective ones. With professional development that boosts teachers’ capacity for integrating SEL into instructional content and practices, and enables teachers to consistently model these competencies, a school’s culture can shift. Beyond the pronounced benefit of developing greater emotional intelligence, in a meta-analysis of 213 school-based SEL programs Durlak et al (2011) found an 11-percentile point gain in academic achievement as measured on standardized test scores. With the combined behavioral, emotional, and academic benefits of SEL, there should be a high priority placed on getting this right in schools.


Durlak, J., Weissberg, R., Dymnicki, A., Taylor, R. and Shellinger, K. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development 82(1), p. 405-432. Retreived from 

About the Author

Amy E. Lyn, PhD

Amy E. Lyn holds a PhD in Adult Learning and Leadership from Lesley University. She is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development for Southern Berkshire Regional School District. Amy serves on the Program Advisory Board for Northcentral University’s School of Education where she is a Core Part-Time Professor and Content Expert for Social Emotional Learning, Curriculum and Teaching, and Remote Learning. Over the course of her career Amy has worked in public education as a Principal, Assistant Principal, and Teacher. She has also served as a School Designer for Expeditionary Learning, and Professional Development Presenter for Responsive Classroom. Amy has been studying and implementing SEL for over 20 years.

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