Create a “fertile soil” for SEL outcomes to bloom.


What does gardening have to do with SEL? It turns out that your work with youth has striking similarities with a gardener’s work. If you know nothing about gardening, one of the most important things you can do to have amazing plants and flowers is to work on your soil. For example, you can bring compost to add nutrients and bark chips to protect the soil nutrients and microbial life. Whatever you do, if your soil is moist and full of life (fertile soil), your plants will grow stronger than when your soil is dry. Similarly, when you create a nurturing environment for young people, you are boosting young people’s chances of SEL growth.

What is a “fertile soil” for SEL growth?

At Hello Insight, we talk about positive youth development (PYD) experiences as a way of working with young people that has shown to promote SEL. When you implement these PYD experiences as part of your program, then you are creating a fertile soil that will boost SEL growth.

How important is creating a “fertile soil” for SEL growth?

It turns out that fertile soil makes a huge difference in SEL outcomes. In a recent study (go here for the official version and here for the free version), my colleagues and I observed teachers who delivered a school-based SEL program to understand the connection between PYD experiences (we call them “quality of delivery” in the paper) and growth in SEL outcomes. For example, we captured how frequently teachers (1) encouraged student reflection and participation and (2) provided feedback to students on how to improve their skills. Teachers who used these PYD practices more often had students who increased their SEL outcomes much more compared to teachers who rarely used these practices.

This finding makes sense, right? Most of us can think of a teacher or mentor who is able to create a nurturing environment where young people thrive. Although this finding makes sense, you would be surprised by the lack of research in this area. That is why this paper is a call to action to other researchers to invest time and energy in evaluating programs through the lens of PYD experiences.

What do you think is a key PYD experience for young people in your program? What are the things you can say and do to create fertile soil in your program?