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Youth Horizons / Mentoring  / Social-Emotional Learning: The Foundational Skill

Social-Emotional Learning: The Foundational Skill

Written by Maddie Brown, Mentor Coach 

When we think about what we want in regards to children’s education, we often think about excellence in reading and writing, the best possible test scores, acing their science project, and so on. If this is our main (and typically only) focus, we are doing each child a huge injustice. We need to carefully consider a very important question: what do we desire for children to become, to know, and to be able to do by the time they graduate?

             One of Aristotle’s famous quotes continues to reign true centuries later: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Our focus needs to be on the whole-child development, which can be done through Social Emotional Learning (SEL). As a mentor, you have a unique influence on the life of the youth you spend time with. You have the ability to directly impact your protégé and foster the development of their SEL skills.

According to CASEL, SEL is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” In other words, our development of SEL skills deeply correlates with our ability to function in this world and work with people. Furthermore, SEL is rooted in relationships, both relationships with others and one’s relationship with oneself.

SEL skills are broken down into five categories:

  1. Self – Awareness
  2. Self – Management
  3. Social Awareness
  4. Relationship skills
  5. Responsible decision making

Developing these skills serves as a launch pad into becoming a successful member of our society. Youth Horizons believes strongly in equipping our youth with the necessary skills to grow into healthy and successful members of our society, as stated in our mission statement. SEL is the bridge to making that possible. Research proves the development of these skills can be taught, and also shows the dire importance of learning SEL skills.

As you spend time weekly with your protégé, you are able to influence the growth of each of these skills in numerous ways. First and foremost, they will be able to look to you for examples and model the behaviors you display. Developing SEL skills does not need to be complex. Through working on the goal setting book each year, you are helping them with self – management. By affirming their personal strengths and working on their weaknesses, you are cultivating self – awareness. As you listen and problem solve various conflicts they are facing at school, you can help develop social awareness and relationship skills. Be encouraged that the small, mundane things you do have a lasting impact on your protégé.

             The teaching of SEL directly impacts the success of students academically. Research has shown an increase in attendance and graduation rates, higher test scores, reduced antisocial, violent, and drug – using behavior, and improvement with motivation and attachment to school. However, the benefits of SEL go far beyond just academic success.

             When speaking about the importance of teaching SEL, Paul Eaton said, “A modest investment during a child’s early life yields tremendous societal benefits later on. It’s a delightful age, and we owe it to them – and ourselves – to make sure they have all the opportunities to become socially and emotionally adept.”

             Take a moment to think about the qualities that make a good friend, student, coworker, or boss. Those qualities are developed through SEL. Children desperately need to be taught self-awareness, how to manage their emotions, honest communication, empathy, inclusiveness, conflict resolution, and other SEL skills. Directing our focus on the development of these skills will ensure we are setting up the future generation to become healthy and successful members of society.

You have a special calling from God that has brought you into a friendship with your protégé. Through that friendship, you have been given the unique opportunity to influence the life of your protégé. If you would like to learn more about SEL skills, please reach out to your mentor coach for more information. Furthermore, the Personal Growth goal located on page 21 of the goal setting book focuses specifically on the development of SEL skills. In conclusion, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, a Superintendent in Atlanta who works closely in the development of SEL in the school district, says it well, “We must ensure that our little people become big people who have the smarts and hearts to be better people than we ever were.”



Maddie Brown has been a mentor coach with Youth Horizons for 6 months, and has previous experience working in the foster care field as well as currently being a foster parent along with her husband, Cody.  




A Closer Look at Each Skill

Self – Awareness: ability to identify their emotions, recognizing strengths and weaknesses; leads to sense of confidence and ability to manage their behavior, optimism

Self – Management: ability to regulate emotions and behaviors, self – motivation; leads to setting and achieving goals, self – control

Social Awareness: ability to see different perspectives, display empathy, rely on support such as family; leads to understanding social and ethical norms, create a healthy support system

 Relationship skills: ability to maintain healthy connections, communication skills, work cooperatively; leads to positive conflict resolution, healthy relationships, being more employable

Responsible decision making: ability to make positive choices regarding behavior and social interactions; leads to making ethical choices based on safety, social, and ethical considerations

Other Resources:

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning:

The Chronicle of Evidence – Based Mentoring:








An article written by Justin Preston titled “Three things mentors can do to help get youth through college” highlighted eight competencies related to college success:

  1. Behaviors related to conscientiousness, such as self-control, hard work, persistence, and achievement orientation (how an individual approaches and thinks about challenges and tasks);
  2. Sense of belonging, or how well socially integrated a student is at their college;
  3. Academic self-efficacy, or the student’s belief that they can succeed academically;
  4. Growth mindset, a reflection of the student’s belief that their own intelligence is not a fixed entity, but rather something that can grow and improve;
  5. Utility goals and values, which are personal goals and values that a student believes to be directly connected to the achievement of a desired goal in the future;
  6. Intrinsic goals and interest, or personal goals that a student feels to be rewarding in and of themselves (e.g. “I do this because I love it, not because I have to.”);
  7. Prosocial goals and values as demonstrated in the desire to promote the well-being or development of others or of domains that are bigger than the individual;
  8. Positive future self, where the student holds a positive image of themselves or a personal narrative that is self-constructed to reflect what kind of person they hope to be in the future.

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