Sanford Programs-National University System Brings Together Experts and Educators for Social Emotional Learning Forum

Thought leaders from school districts, education advocacy groups and youth organizations recently gathered in San Diego for the Sanford Harmony Forum on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to discuss how educators can incorporate social emotional learning approaches to improve school culture, reduce student trauma and address equity in education.

The Nov. 2 event forum featured speakers from around the country who shared developments in practice, policy and research, with breakout sessions for collaborative discussions and sharing of best practices. Welcomed by National University System Chancellor Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, the Sanford Harmony Forum attendees also had the chance to learn more about the history of the PreK-6 research-based Sanford Harmony, which is being made available at no cost to educators and nonprofits, and reaching more than 1.5 million students.

Social emotional learning approaches, as offered by Sanford Harmony through the private, nonprofit National University System, provide a foundation to support student development and growth, and various studies have demonstrated social emotional learning contributes to more positive academic and personal outcomes for children into adulthood. Sanford Harmony forum speakers included a representative from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which evaluates and recognizes high quality social emotional learning programs, and recently designated Sanford Harmony as a SELect program.  Some of the topics discussed by invited speakers included:

  • Dr. Duncan Meyers, of CASEL, who focused on ways organizations and schools can put social emotional learning into practice, encouraging educators to take a four-point approach to incorporating social emotional learning into their districts or youth programs — building foundational support, strengthening adult competence and capacity, promoting social emotional learning for students and using data to assess and improve the work as it proceeds. CASEL, he said, also has prepared a new online assessment guide to aid educators in that final step.
  • Lauren Puzen, of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, explained how small policy changes can have the power to lead to major shifts that affect the education system as a whole – and as a result, many more students. “I did this because policy is personal. It affects everyday practices and the research we conduct,” she said. “We’re getting so much closer to supporting whole-child health.”
  • Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a University of Southern California professor of education, neuroscience and psychology, explored her research into how social influences and emotion affect how young people learn – and placed emphasis on the huge role educators play in activating their innate abilities. Education, she said, helps students build stories, from absorbing basic concepts, to shaping their own personal narratives about their values and beliefs. “In every subject, the integration of a person’s emotional connection to thinking about what they’re doing, to the problem solving, to the learning that they’re doing in the relational context of the school classroom environment, is the essence of what you’re trying to build,” she said.

Addressing a need to advance social emotional learning skills, Sanford Harmony offers strategies, stories, activities, and lessons for encouraging students to strengthen communication and collaboration skills aimed at reducing stereotypes and embracing differences. The National University System – which is home to one of the largest schools of education in the country and includes pre-college programs and higher education institutions –  has overseen the program’s national expansion effort since 2014. At the recent Forum, National University System Chancellor Cunningham praised philanthropist T. Denny Sanford for his role as the program’s visionary and his ongoing support, including a recent donation of $100 million to the National University System to expand the program even further.