Mark Greenberg, Bennett Chair of Prevention Research, Penn State University
Why do you believe the SEL field is gaining momentum, and how do you hope the upcoming SEL Exchange captures and advances that momentum?
First, educators, parents, school boards, and even policymakers have begun to finally turn away from the sole focus on academic outcomes and high-stakes accountability. They have begun asking the most important question: How can schools become healthy and caring places that nurture children to more deeply understand themselves and others in order to create a healthy and caring society that honors its diversity? Second, social and emotional learning programs have proven the scientific merit as one important way to help us create this healthy, caring society.
What are the most critical current challenges faced by SEL?
There are two big challenges currently facing the SEL field: science and practice. The first is to maintain its scientific integrity. As SEL grows as a movement, it is critical for us to know what works to improve the social and emotional competence, caring, and citizenship of children and youth. It is essential to include high standards for “what works,” or SEL has the potential fate of being a passing fad. The second challenge is to ensure that schools implement programs and policies in a comprehensive manner. This requires a transformation in our schools – one in which they carefully plan SEL, provide teachers and other school staff with high-quality face-to-face training and support, and consider the needs and interests of parents and communities. I am the chairperson of a new non-profit, CREATE, whose goal is to support the awareness, resilience, and compassion of teachers, principals, and other school staff to create healthy, caring schools.
Can you offer a sneak peek of a few insights you’ll be sharing during the breakout sessions at the SEL Exchange you’re leading on scaling evidence-based SEL programs and research on mindfulness and compassion programs?
My first session is on scaling evidence-based programs. It will focus on how local schools (districts) can develop and maintain the expertise necessary to implement programs and practice with quality and sustain the use of evidence-based programs and practices over time. It will also focus on how we can develop true practice-research partnerships to improve SEL and school outcomes. The second session is on mindfulness in schools. The field of mindfulness is young and full of energy and advocates, but the research so far is thin. The breakout on mindfulness will address important issues, including what forms of mindfulness might be effective and at what ages, what intensity is needed for mindfulness practices to impact outcomes for children, and what are the key next steps to improve conceptual/developmental models of mindfulness.
What are your biggest takeaways so far from co-chairing the planning committee for this inaugural SEL Exchange?
It has been both a joy and a challenge to help launch the first SEL Exchange. My biggest takeaway is that this movement is growing quickly and the Exchange shows that there is a deep hunger for important conversations among educational leaders, teachers, researchers, and policymakers to learn from each other to guide the future of SEL. The fact that the Exchange is already oversubscribed two months before the October meeting is a testament to CASEL’s centrality in continuing to nurture the science, practice, and policy concerns of the SEL movement.