Recognizing Youths’ Social and Emotional Assets

Recognizing Youths’ Social and Emotional Assets

Educators recognizing youth’s social and emotional assets is critical to youth’s learning and intellectual development. This article is to inform science and mathematics educators about the need to focus on youths’ social and emotional assets during hands-on, inquiry-based teaching and learning. The information is represented through the scientific observations of baby sea turtles erupting from their nests. The terms baby sea turtle and lutes are used interchangeably.

Begrudgingly, I became fascinated with the birth of baby leatherback sea turtles a few years ago. As I moaned about having to wait on the beach at night with stinging mosquitos, I realized that there was no escape. The van driver wouldn’t return without the entire group. The hotel was too far away to make a special trip for one. I was stuck.

I returned to the beach with the others. I ceased complaining, although I did not want to wait on or see a leatherback sea turtle lay eggs. Then, it happened.

She crawled on the sand and began to move her hind flippers back and forth, flinging sand to dig a two-foot nest to lay her eggs. Large, white, glistening, gelatin-like, round eggs extruded from her body. One. Two. Six. Twelve. The eggs kept dropping. A female can lay up to 100 eggs in one nest.

Watching this rather large, almost eight-foot leatherback sea turtle lay eggs was magnificent. I marveled at Mother Nature’s orchestrated timing.

Orchestrated timing. It is what we come to understand about life plus what we can see when young people’s social and emotional assets develop, if we can survive the wait.

So often, though, adults, in an anxious and misguided sense of urgency, miss it. We skip the wait, minimizing the journey and emergence of young people’s social and emotional assets.

In the same way, I almost missed the emergence of those sea turtle embryos.

Adults often bypass opportunities to use relationship development as a nest. A nested strategy, these relationships are, provide young people with a warm, supportive, incubated safe space for social and emotional assets to emerge.

Understanding what a S.E.A.-filled environment does for learning using lutes’ emergence from the nest may not be immediately obvious. This is where my work begins. Now that I have your attention, let’s explore the relationship between young people and the lute’s arrival on the beach.


First, lutes’ coordinated climb out the nest is critical to their survival. Persistence and collective struggle are the way out. Yet, some lutes do not make it. They do not survive. In fact, about 15 percent do not mature to full term or even hatch. For many, the force of nature results in death.

The lutes’ nest contains as many as 109 other embryos. But, as they break open their shells and attempt to emerge from the two-foot nest, about 85 percent survive. The ones that mature to full term immediately start preparing for the next survival test—the track across the beach floor into the ocean.

They eat their shells. They instinctively know to move towards the ocean at night under the light of the ocean horizon. This way, they are less likely eaten alive. And, they avoid the stress of heat and the crushing fate of beach dwellers’ feet.

Like lutes, young people respond to and mimic the behavior of others around them. According to 25 years of research at The Search Institute, youth need two types of assets to develop into successful adults. Those are external community assets and internal social and emotional assets.

Community assets are drawn from and acquired through observations of and relationships with adults in the community. Young people absorb the social and emotional assets of adults with whom they interact most. When young people observe adults, who are unable to maintain their temper or composure during stressful or challenging situations, they do not learn how to self-regulate their emotional state. When young people do not experience collaboration or collective effort, they do not acquire the skills necessary to support others. Consequently, they are not fully equipped to help themselves. When they have not been supported or helped to persist through difficult challenges, the skills necessary to support themselves and others goes underdeveloped. Conversely, when they see adults remain poised and calm during obviously stressful situations, they, too, mimic this behavioral response, particularly when observed over extended periods of time.

In acquiring social emotional assets, young people might express growing pains. Yet, like the baby sea turtle—upon trekking across the rough surface of the sandy beach and feeling the sensation of the abrasion on her tender skin—knows, when she reaches the ocean, that her chances for survival just increased. She has passed the first of two survival tests and recognizes that she stands a greater chance of future success, albeit, she hasn’t yet completed the survival course.

There are 20 internal social and emotional assets that students must develop for success in adulthood (Search Institute, 2018). A few of these parallel the internal assets that are observed during the lute’s emergence, track and swimming frenzy. Remember, lutes are programmed to plan and prepare for emergence. Lutes eat their shells for energy, knowing that what they need for continued survival might not come for a few days or weeks.

Young people rely on adults to help plan and prepare for the future. For as many as possible to get out the nest, lutes help each other through a coordinated climb. There is a sensitivity towards each other in that they are pushing each other up and out.

They recognize that they have some (not all) control over things that are going to happen. This is seen through their ability to cross the rough terrain of the beach floor—under the cover of darkness in most cases—using the light of the ocean’s horizon and slope of the beach to know which way to go.

Lutes have a keen sense of their primary purpose. It is to survive. They know that after surviving at least 10 years, their life expectancy could be 10 times longer. Then, there are androgenic forces that will ensure their survival for as long as naturally possible, often up to 100 years.

To young people and those responsible for their development: There is an orchestrated time. But, until such time, survive the wait. Plan and prepare for the future. Learn to help and support others so you can learn how to help and support yourselves. Understand that your life has a specific time-sensitive purpose. Pay attention to the guidance that positive adults offer. This is the light of your horizon. Be sensitive to others. This sensitivity will evoke a coordinated and collective effort to lift and climb. Ignore the negative messaging of adults and peers around you. Recognize that they may not have received the right social and emotional support to fulfill their dreams. Do not allow others to dampen or destroy yours.

This blog is about understanding the internal assets that youth must develop with support from their external community. It uses context and the natural experiences of lutes emerging from the nest to convey the process of social and emotional assets (S.E.A.) so that more people see the importance of these assets in STEM Education.

Evidence on the impact of positive environments that foster healthy social and emotional development is clear. In a longitudinal analysis of 270,034 kindergarten through high school students compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement (Durlack, et. al, 2011). A 2017 consensus brief from the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic development shows a wide range of scientists agree: Social Emotional Learning matters, is doable, and has an impact (Jones & Kahn, 2017).

As students are immersed in STEM education programs or engaged in hands-on, inquiry-based instruction, remember also to provide guided instruction specific to social and emotional development. Additionally, don’t simply assess for cognitive development regarding science or mathematics concepts. Assess for social and emotional learning increases, too. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has created an interactive assessment toolkit to help practitioners select measures of social and emotional competence

Social and emotional assets are critical to the work of STEM educators as we advocate for students working in teams or collaborative groups, while completing project-based assignments or practicing 21st century learning skills. Highly developed social and emotional assets allow students to understand other people’s intentions and increase their behavioral skills, like knowing how to enter an ongoing conversation or when to allow their peers to shine. Social emotional learning helps increase students’ beliefs and attitudes about themselves (self-efficacy beliefs) or in the ability of themselves in relationship to others (collective efficacy). These are also the primary ingredients of promoting high-quality STEM teaching and learning. Yet, they are the least discussed aspects of STEM teaching, learning and performance.

As baby sea turtles track across the ocean floor, observations show that many travel alone through a persistent effort of flapping their dorsal fins, one stroke at a time, on dry land outside their natural habitat. The babies must do this to get to the environment in which they were created to live and thrive.

This blog was written to remind adults to survive the wait. Do not be too hurried to write students off. Recognize that you and your words create a context in which their social and emotional assets develop and thrive or where they could eventually dwarf and die. Cruel words, harsh tones, low expectations, grimaced looks, and negative commentary short circuit cognition.

How to cite this Blog Post:

Blackmon, A. (2018, August 8). Youth at S.E.A.: Recognizing Youths’ Social and Emotional Assets through the Plight of Baby Sea Turtles. [Blog post]. Retrieved from


Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1): 405–432.

Jones, S., Barnes, S., Bailey, R., & Doolittle, E. (2017). Promoting Social and Emotional Competencies in Elementary School. The Future of Children, 27(1), 49-72. Retrieved from

Jones, S & Kahn, J. (2017). The Evidence Base for How We Learn Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Aspen Institute

“Helping Young People Be and Become Their Best Selves.” Search Institute,