Developing Emotional Literacy: Transition Planning for Youth at Risk

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 9.48.52 AMFleischer, L. (2010). Developing emotional literacy: Transition planning for youth at risk. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 19 (1), 50-53.

Summarized by UMass Boston doctoral student Laura Yovienne.

Transitioning from high school to the “real world” can be a daunting and very anxiety-provoking task. Typical transition classes and planning tend to focus on learning the seemingly “more practical” skills for independent living, self-support, and career development. Although practical guidance on planning for college and careers is certainly important, the “social curriculum” that focuses on the emotional transition to adulthood is being neglected (Elbot & Fulton, 2008). Thus, the author poses the question: “What if transition planning that focused on the development of emotional literacy, identity, and character were an intrinsic part of the high school curriculum?”

Transition in the education realm refers to the “significant shifts that students encounter before, during, and after their school experiences.” These changes can be associated with the changing from one grade or school to another, but of particular interests are the developmental shifts that occur from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to early adulthood, in the realm of social-emotional learning (SEL).

What is social and emotional learning (SEL)?
Research on social and emotional learning emphasizes the importance of promoting a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity in order to best prepare today’s youth for what is to come. Furthermore, SEL is “the ability to negotiate the personal and interpersonal world based on being grounded in self-awareness, a maturing identity, sense of belonging, and the capacity for the effective and successful management of one’s emotional world.”

In a rigorous study of over 700 school-based programs, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) examined children’s outcomes in social and emotional interventions. Most programs utilized teachers and other school staff to deliver the SEL type curriculum.
Programs focusing on SEL were found to:
– improve students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, and positive social behavior
– reduce conduct problems and emotional distress
– improve students’ achievement test scores
– these findings were found to be effective in all school settings for students with and without behavioral and emotional difficulties, as well as for students with diverse identities

These findings suggest that SEL programs are among the most successful youth-development programs, which promotes the implementation of such evidence-based programs during and after school. The author argues that the fostering of social and emotional skills are necessary to “negotiating and managing the myriad of emotional and social changes that people experience” and that this “is essential to a healthy adult life. ”

Implications for mentoring:
While teachers and school staff were utilized to educate youth on SEL in most of the studies that were examined, mentors can also act as an important vehicle for delivering education on social and emotional skills to youth. Mentors have the opportunity to provide the context of a high quality relationship in which they can be trained to help teens foster important SEL skills (i.e., feeling of belongingness, personal mastery, independence, and generosity), which have been shown to help ease the negative effects associated with difficult life transitions.