When working with young people, it can be hard to know how to foster healthy socio-emotional skills. A framework developed by the Search Institute on Developmental Assets tells us that there are 40 helpful skills, experiences and opportunities youth demonstrate. The more of the Assets a student can rely on, the more likely they are to make healthy choices and avoid harmful ones. This framework can help tutors and mentors support the young people they work with in lasting ways.

Camille Stone, the San Francisco Education Fund’s Program Director, led a training to unpack what the Developmental Assets are and ways we can foster them in students. Here are some key takeaways:

1. Approach students with a strengths-based lens.

We encourage volunteers to notice students’ strengths and assets before noticing or focusing on what students might lack. This approach is considered to be strengths-based and is one way to approach co-creating healthy learning environments with young people.

Camille first asked volunteers, “How do you think about your best friend? Do you think first about their annoying habits or do you first notice everything good about them?” She asked these questions to try and explain that in a strengths-based model, you work with students in a similar way. Notice what they do well before you jump in to solve problems.

Using a strengths-based approach does not mean you never notice areas for growth, it simply means that your reactions to students need not be based on what you perceive they lack. Strengths-based approaches to tutoring and mentoring allow adults to have a holistic view of the student, making the tutoring and mentoring even more meaningful.

2. We are one thread in a web of support.

When you adopt a strengths-based lens, you begin to see all of the support students get from other adults. It can be freeing to realize that you are not solely responsible for a student’s academic or personal future. Instead, you can focus on a few key goals with your student, like maintaining focus during group work sessions or prioritizing difficult homework assignments.

3. Focus on a few assets.

Developmental Assets is a framework of 40 experiences and qualities that a young person can draw on to grow into a caring, responsible adult. The Search Institute – a nonprofit research organization based in Minneapolis – looked at over 1,200 studies to identify traits that youth need to thrive. They narrowed in on 8 main categories which they broke into being either internal or external.

The four internal categories are:

  • A strong commitment to learning
  • An appreciation of positive values
  • Sound social competencies
  • A personal sense of positive identity

The four external categories are:

  • The solid presence of support from others
  • A feeling of empowerment
  • A clear understanding of boundaries and expectations
  • Varied opportunities for constructive use of time

Additionally, there are several direct assets under each category. This makes up the 40 assets in total. School Engagement and Caring, Adult Role Models name just a few assets that school volunteers can help influence.

During the training, Camille emphasized that tutors and mentors are not responsible for helping students develop all 40 assets. Instead, there might be a couple of assets that tutors and mentors can focus on with intentionality. A few assets that resonated with the participants seemed to be:

  • Help students to feel empowered by giving them structured choice (presenting your student with options that give them a sense of control and responsibility) and making time to learn about the students’ interest
  • Show support by being another reliable adult that shows up and adds to the positive school culture
  • Develop a commitment to learning by helping students feel more engaged with academics and developing academic motivation and skill

Using the Developmental Assets with a strengths-based approach encourages adults to celebrate the positive skills and behaviors that children have and offers thoughtful ways that we can help guide young people to be more prepared for their future.

For a deeper look at the 40 Developmental Assets, visit http://www.search-institute.org/content/40-developmental-assets-adolescents-ages-12-18.

This volunteer training was one of many follow-ups the Education Fund conducts with our volunteers. For more information or to sign-up to volunteer, visit www.sfedfund.org/volunteer.