Social-Emotional Learning Gives Students a Compass

By Leslie Mitchell

Parent & Family Engagement Coordinator, Valor Collegiate Academies

Watch how Valor Collegiate Academies uses its character development program to change how students experience school.

When I went to middle and high school, there was little thought given to my social-emotional health and learning. It was simply not on schools’ radars in those days. I don’t even think it was a term yet. So as a parent, when I first heard about Valor’s Compass System, I was both curious and excited about the possibilities for my kids.

While the robust system is difficult to explain concisely, I would describe it as a comprehensive human development model that challenges kids to explore their identity, broaden their perspective, consider their noble purpose in life, and practice relating to other people in a healthy, compassionate manner. As I learned more about Compass, I could not help but wonder: what if I had learned some of these relational skills in middle school rather than messily figuring them out through trial and error in my 20s and 30s? Or what if I had been called upon to reflect upon my identity and purpose through a thoughtful, guided process at the age of 10 or 12? I know my life would have still had its ups and downs, but I have to imagine I’d have found my footing a good bit earlier in my journey.

Now, let me be totally real here. Kids are kids and they will still go through their funky phases and make immature decisions. But in the midst of all that, I am grateful that the Compass System has provided them with some SPACE and some STRUCTURE to better navigate the inevitable messiness of middle school and high school (and beyond).


The unique SPACE that Valor provides comes in the form of Circle. In a literal circle of their peers and a mentor teacher, kids are invited to share who they are and how they feel. They both speak and listen to each other. They stand in front of classmates, look them in the eyeballs and say to them, “I appreciate you,” for specific traits or actions that have had a direct impact and created a tangible connection between them. Recently, after having the privilege of taking a small group of educators to observe a fifth grade boys’ circle, the educators walked away dumbfounded. One said, “I don’t know if I’ve heard grown men have such thoughtful and intentional interactions, let alone fifth-grade boys!” My youngest son, a fifth grader at Valor himself, recently shared some of his personal adoption story in his circle. As nervous as he was, he was grateful for the experience because, in his own words, “it made me feel like people know who I really am.” What a gift it is to feel known.

One particularly powerful example of the unique STRUCTURE that the Compass provides is when my daughter and one of her childhood besties found themselves drifting toward different friend groups in middle school. They did not know how to manage the changing landscape of their friendship, and as it can with middle school students, things got a bit choppy. “Relationship Work” led by one of our Compass Coaches provided them with the space and the structure to hear and be heard. When all the other noise of middle school was blocked out and they sat face to face, they got to the heart of the matter… that they were two friends who loved and missed each other, and wanted to protect their friendship but didn’t quite know how. Thankfully, through the process, they were able to come up with a plan. They don’t sit at the lunch table together anymore, but do still hang on weekends. I’m so grateful that Valor helped them navigate that tricky situation and preserve what is a truly special friendship.

Will there be more bumps (even mountains) in the road ahead in middle and high school? Absolutely! But I sincerely believe that the Compass equips scholars to do exactly what our mission statement calls them to do: live inspired, purposeful lives.