An evidence-based approach to improving youth’s emotional literacy

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 6.27.29 AMFleischer, L. (2010). Developing emotional literacy: Transition planning for youth at risk. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 19 (1),  50-53.

summarized by UMB doctoral students Laura Yovienne and Stella Kanchewa


Transitioning from high school to college or the employment can be a daunting task. for many young people. 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 employment 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 can be associated with 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 prepare 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 depended on 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


SEL programs are represent a promising, evidence-based program that can implemented into school, afters school, and even mentoring programs. 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 educated the youth on SEL in most of the studies that were examined, mentors can, if appropriate within the context of the relationship, also deliver education on social and emotional skills to youth. In  the context of a high quality relationship, mentors could draw on SEL training 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.