Check & Connect and the Search Institute Developmental Assets®

I’m a researcher and trainer on the Check & Connect team, and I recently attended the 13th Annual Minnesota Mentoring Conference, billed as the region’s only annual conference focused on supporting quality mentoring. The workshop that stuck with me the most from this conference was the “Mentoring and Developmental Assets” workshop led by Nancy Tellett-Royce, Senior Consultant at the Search Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to discovering what kids need to be successful in their communities. I first read about the Search Institute’s 40 developmental assets years ago and had not revisited them in some time. As Nancy described the assets, I was struck by how well they aligned with Check & Connect and the work our mentors do to help engage students in school and with learning.

40 Developmental AssetsThe Developmental Assets®

A quick overview for those of you new to the developmental assets or who need a refresher on them like I did: in the early 1990s, through extensive research, the Search Institute assembled a list of developmental assets that they deemed the essential “building blocks” of healthy youth development.

The assets include things like:

  • Family life provides high levels of love and support.
  • Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
  • Young person is motivated to do well in school.
  • Young person places high value on helping other people.

(These examples come from the list of developmental assets for adolescents ages 12-18; the Search Institute has also developed lists of assets for middle childhood [ages 8-12], grades K-3, and early childhood.)

Research conducted by the Search Institute suggests that the more of these assets young people have, the less likely they are to engage in many high-risk behaviors. The assets also promote academic success for students.

The assets are divided into:

  • external assets – the external relationships, structures, and activities that create a positive environment for young people; and
  • internal assets – the skills, beliefs, and values that young people need in order to fully engage with and function in the world around them.
External Assets Internal Assets
Boundaries and Expectations
Constructive Use of Time
Commitment to Learning
Positive Values
Social Competencies
Positive Identity

In Check & Connect, rather than speaking in terms of external and internal assets, we discuss mentors promoting protective factors within the school, the student, and the student’s family, factors that support students’ engagement in school and with learning and serve as buffers against the risk factors present in the lives of many students at risk of disengagement and dropout (see Risk and Protective Factors handout provided to Check & Connect trainees). These protective factors are virtually synonymous with the external and internal assets set forth in the Search Institute 40 Developmental Assets.

Check & ConnectExternal Assets and Check & Connect

As shown above, external assets are further divided into four categories:

  1. support,
  2. empowerment,
  3. boundaries and expectations, and
  4. constructive use of time.

The Check & Connect mentor’s role encompasses all four types of external assets:

  1. Perhaps the most critical category of assets is that of support, which suggests that young people need to be surrounded by adults who care for and appreciate them. Check & Connect is grounded in resiliency theory, which posits that the presence of a significant, caring adult in the lives of at-risk students makes them more resilient to the problems they face growing up. Far too often disengaged students in our schools lack such positive adult relationships in their lives, and so in Check & Connect, we seek to connect disengaged students with caring adults—Check & Connect mentors—who commit long-term to working with them. Check & Connect mentors become a persistent source of support for students and their families.
  2. Check & Connect mentors seek to empower students, helping them to feel valued and respected. They also hold high expectations for students and support students in meeting those expectations. For example, Check & Connect’s focus on cognitive problem solving with students empowers students both to take responsibility for their problems and to solve them.
  3. Check & Connect mentors help students to understand the boundaries in the school and the consequences for not operating within them, while also ensuring that the boundaries are not systematically alienating the students. They work to improve the person/environment fit, helping students manage school boundaries while promoting an environment that responds to student needs.
  4. Check & Connect mentors work to connect students to constructive, meaningful activities in the school and community. Participating in constructive activities help students form positive relationships with peers and other adults and also have the chance to cultivate their interests.

Check & ConnectInternal Assets and Check & Connect

Within the context of the Check & Connect mentor-mentee relationship, mentors also seek to support the development of students’ internal assets: the skills, values, beliefs, and behaviors that students need in order to fully engage in their learning and in school. Internal assets fall into the following categories:

  1. commitment to learning,
  2. positive values,
  3. social competencies, and
  4. positive identity.

Here are some ways in which the Check & Connect mentor’s role encompasses these internal assets:

  1. Check & Connect mentors are a persistent source of academic motivation, helping students to see relevance in learning, build the belief that they can learn and be successful in school, and commit to learning.
  2. Check & Connect mentors promote the development of positive values, helping students take responsibility for their own learning and behavior and become self-advocates.
  3. Check & Connect mentors facilitate problem solving and capacity building, and work to foster students’ social competencies, decision-making skills, and conflict resolution skills.
  4. Check & Connect mentors also seek to promote students’ development of a positive identity, helping students to internalize the message, “I can, I want to, I value, I belong” in regard to their experience and success in school.


Because the developmental assets, particularly those that pertain directly to the school context, align so well with the work that Check & Connect mentors engage in with students, mentors may find it useful to use the list of 40 developmental assets as a tool for guiding discussion, goal setting, and intervention. The list of assets may also aid Check & Connect mentors in considering how best to ensure a person-environment fit for students in school–that is, a situation in which both the external structures in the school and students’ internal values, skills, beliefs, and behaviors promote student engagement. For resources to help mentors get started in building assets, refer to

Like Check & Connect, the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets® are an approach to fostering youth success that has stood the test of time. Because they align so closely with Check & Connect’s goals and approach, we hope that Check & Connect mentors will find them a valuable tool for recognizing existing Check & Connect participant assets and cultivating new ones.

About the Author: Angie Pohl, Ph.D. provides training nationally and internationally on Check & Connect, serves as an investigator on several Check & Connect research projects currently underway, and is one of the authors of the 2012 Check & Connect manual, “Implementing with Fidelity”.

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The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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