Building Social and Emotional Learning through Reverse-Mentoring

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “Social and emotional learning (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.” At Youth Empowering Parents (YEP), we’re attempting to incorporate SEL into everything that we do so youth can build the soft skills they need for their futures.

What are the Benefits of SEL?

Within the literature, the common consensus among scholars is that young people who receive SEL training perform considerably better than those who do not, and the positive impacts are present up to 18 years afterwards. Some benefits include:

  1. Academic Achievement: Students who enroll in SEL programs demonstrate greater reading, writing, and math skills at some grade levels, ultimately resulting in better standardized test scores and overall grades. One study even finds that students have shown improved test scores by 11 to 17 percentile points after engaging in SEL practices. Reasons for increased academic achievement may result from the interpersonal, instructional, and environmental support they receive in such programs.
  2. Behaviour: SEL programs help students build positive social behaviour and improve their attitudes toward themselves, classmates, teachers and school overall. A study found that enrollment in SEL programs can lead to lower school dropout rates and decreased levels of teacher-child conflict, which can ultimately reduce the chances of developing high-risk habits such as substance abuse, violence and criminality.
  3. Well-being and Relationships: SEL programs conducted among young children can lead to greater social-emotional competence and skills, improved mental health, and lower levels of distress. In fact, CASEL finds that, upon completing an SEL program, students on average experience a 24 per cent improvement in social behaviors, as compared to students in traditional school services. SEL programs are also associated with stronger relationships in school and the home/family.
  4. Broad Outreach: SEL programs have proven beneficial when conducted both in school and during after-school (extracurricular) activities. They are also helpful for a diverse range of students, including those with and without behavioural problems.
  5. Has long-lasting effects: The longer and more intense the SEL program is, the greater the effects going forward, especially when conducted during the preschool and kindergarten years. The skills children learn here are valued in the workplace and economy, and can be the key to success in the labour market. In this, SEL is a strong determinant of academic, employment, and earning capabilities.

Who’s Left Behind?

Children are awarded different experiences both in the home and at school, ultimately impacting their social-emotional skills and therefore their future trajectories. While all children can take something away from SEL programs, certain children benefit even more from this type of education, including low-income kids and those with problem behaviours.

Low-income, impoverished children

Even at 9 months of age, a learning and development gap appears between high- and low-income children. Overall, low-income children have lower quality care and fewer accesses to resources that would otherwise help stimulate their cognitive development. This could mean a broad range of things, such as having limited access to high-quality day-care centers or after-school programs, and less attention from parents due to the prioritization of paid work labour over domestic labour. SEL is important for low-income children because it gives them the opportunity to close the learning gap and achieve their fullest potential. Without SEL, low-income students may fall even further behind their classmates, so it’s imperative that they receive these programs.

Children with problem behaviours

Problem behaviours may arise in children when they have poor self-regulation and social-emotional skills, causing them to exhibit behaviours like defiance, violent outbursts, or meltdowns. When these go unaddressed, it can lead to future delinquency, substance abuse, and aggression during adolescence. Since these are the very skills that SEL programs target, and the very behaviours that SEL works to eliminate, children with problem behaviours would greatly benefit from such practices both in school and during extracurricular activities. One study even finds that implementing SEL programs among first grade students can lead to a reduction in externalising, internalising, and hyperactivity problems.

How Do We Implement SEL at Youth Empowering Parents?

Through reverse mentorship programs, wherein young people are given the responsibility to teach adult learners everyday skills, Youth Empowering Parents cultivates an environment of mutual learning, relationship- and empathy-building, and effective communication. We acknowledge that youth have important skills and knowledge surrounding the newest trends or technology, and thus have created one-on-one lessons that enhance their social-emotional competencies in fun and meaningful ways.

For example, we’ve implemented a program at a low income school in Toronto, Canada, whereby students who were previously struggling in school were able to assume the role of dance teachers to their own educators. The results were astounding; these students stopped skipping classes, were able to build a rapport with their teachers, and were more willing to participate in school activities both during school hours and in extracurriculars. Through encouraging healthy relationships, communication, and confidence, they finally felt as though they had something to bring to both their classroom and community.

SEL programs have been shown throughout the United States and Canada to be one of the most effective means of child development. Here at YEP, we hope to add positive experiences and build social-emotional skills among youth that can be transferred into future academic and job-related endeavors. SEL programs should be introduced into early childhood education and be mandated in policy in order to create meaningful experiences and a more empathetic, responsible society.

Join Youth Empowering Parents on February 15, 2021 for a virtual event titled “Re-thinking the capabilities of children: What happens when students become teachers?” Sign up by visiting https://yepeducation.eventbrite.com/

One of only a handful to receive the United Nations’ Innovation Award, we’re turning young people from ‘educated’ to ‘educators’. www.yepeducation.com