By Guest Blogger, Stacey Daraio, Temescal Associates
In a previous post, you wrote that there is a growing consensus that SEL and character building are important parts of a young person’s education and preparation for life and that this has resulted in a call for measurement and related tools.
This is reminiscent of the same call in the early 2000’s when youth development was gaining traction. We are asking the same set of questions about measurement as we did then.
What are realistic outcomes for SEL and character building and at what point do you measure them? SEL and character skills show themselves in a set of complex contextual situations and the skills are in development over time and will vary from situation to situation. An example is self-management. First, a situation needs to arise that calls for this skill. We do poorly on a test that we study hard for, we are treated in a manner that we don’t think is fair or equitable, we didn’t eat breakfast, etc. The situation provokes an emotional response in us. We have to learn how to manage through the emotion and understand the concrete steps we can take to regulate ourselves so that we can be in relationship to the hurt AND maintain our relationships with others.
This is a heavy lift, not just for young people, for adults as well. We may be able to work through the bad grade on the test, but we may lash out at being treated unfairly and yell, or throw something, or hit someone. Do we now say that we do not possess self-management skills because we are not able to use the skill consistently? Self-management, like the other SEL and character skills, is a skill that we continue to learn about throughout our lifetime and there are moments, even as adults, that we are unable to manage ourselves based on what is happening at the time.
What are realistic outcomes for SEL and character building and at what point do you measure them? We need to apply the lessons learned from over a decade ago. We know that we still want to improve the life chances of young people to:
• “Be economically self-sufficient — all youth should expect as adults to be able to support themselves and their families and have some discretionary resources. They should have a decent job and the education, or access to enough education to improve or change jobs.
• Be healthy and have good family and social relationships — young people should grow up to be physically and mentally healthy, be good caregivers for their children and have positive and dependable family and friendship networks.
• Contribute to their community — community contributions can come in many forms, but we hope that our young people will aim to do more than simply be tax-payers and law-abiders.” – Drs. Michelle Gambone and James Connell, The Community Action Framework for Youth Development.
The Framework goes on to ask and answer the question, “What are the necessary developmental accomplishments of youth needed to achieve the outcomes? And then, what are the critical developmental building blocks that need to be in place in all settings young people find themselves?” (See Youth Development Guide by CNYD.)
Using this model, the subject of measurement changes. Early on, we measure the setting to see if the critical building blocks are in place. When youth are between the ages of 15-17, they become the subject of measurement to ascertain the degree to which they have achieved their developmental outcomes, and we still assess to see if the building blocks are in place. Finally, as youth transition to adulthood, they are again the subject when we look to see if they have attained the long-term outcomes.
Similarly, the purpose of the measurement data changes. We use the data in the early stages for program and practice improvement. At later stages, we measure to assess whether our programs have delivered.
As we look at measurement of SEL and character today, it would serve us well to build on the lessons of the past.
Stacey Daraio, Co-Director, Temescal Associates, brings over 25 years of experience working in the field of youth development as a facilitator, trainer, and coach. She has experience working with diverse groups, from afterschool practitioners and parents to funders and technical assistance providers. Stacey has conducted numerous trainings and learning communities. Prior to her work with Temescal Associates, Stacey was the Deputy Director at the Community Network for Youth Development and a consultant for the Institute for Research and Reform in Education.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.