Mona Grife is our new Social Emotional Learning Strategy Senior Manager and will be our point person on cross-sector planning with Road Map districts (and possibly beyond). She comes to us with over a decade of experience that has centered on building dynamic youth programs and collaborative school and youth organization partnerships, primarily in the King County area. Recently, we asked her to reflect on what social emotional learning means to her.
Recently, I took some time off to raise my two boys. During that time, I had quality time to reflect on what was important to me as a mom and as a youth development professional. I started to think about all the great and challenging youth programs that I had been a part of: theater education programs, service learning projects, life skills programs, civic engagement initiatives, and various coalitions and youth councils. I realized that the common thread when a program was successful was when we deliberately focused on creating a safe, encouraging, and inspiring space.
Great things happened: Youth were engaged; Youth voice was front and center; Youth and adults were meeting their goals. Do not get me wrong, this wasn’t easy and there are many times we just didn’t quite get it right. But, I remember the key building block of those great programs: social emotional learning. Now, back then, we didn’t have a term for it. It was just “positive youth development” and now-a-days, there are many terms for it: 21st century skills, soft skills, inter-personal skills, growth mindsets, etc. This key ingredient for youth/program success was such an eye opener for me, that it inspired me to launch Creative Hearts Lab, pop-up workshops that promote social emotional learning through literacy and performing arts. My co-founder and I had a wonderful time creating these magical spaces full of laughter, risk-taking, and community building. And the best thing was, at that time, was the ability to include our own children as participants of those workshops.
What was the question again? Just kidding. All in all, for me, social emotional learning means building spaces where young people can find their voice- explore it, deepen it, and strengthen it. Strong voices mean active, engaged, caring citizens who will endlessly strive for a better, just world. As a mom, every day feels like an exercise in social emotional skills and I, now more than ever, understand how vital it is to work together to provide experiences where young people can practice and build skills such as communication, mindfulness, empathy, and self-awareness. I also realize it means modeling those social emotional skills with not only youth, but with everyone I interact with. I am excited for my role as YDEKC’s new Social Emotional Learning Strategy Manager and look forward to connecting dots and strategizing ways we, as a community, can work together to strengthen and embed social emotional learning into our educational systems.
For Mona’s full bio, check out our staff page!