The Education Collaboratory at Yale launched in July 2023. To learn more about our work, we are spotlighting all the dedicated team members of our lab, highlighting their research and what brings them to our team's mission to advance the science and practice of SEL. What is your role at the Education Collaboratory? I am an Associate Research Scientist at the Education Collaboratory at Yale, which is housed in the Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine. I have been collaborating on projects related to measuring, understanding, and supporting responsive teaching and effective social and emotional learning (SEL) instruction with Drs. Christina Cipriano and Michael Strambler of the Consultation Center at Yale since 2019. What brought you to the field of SEL and education? When I was five, I had my first experience living in a foreign country, the United States. During this time, I experienced belonging in a racially and culturally diverse pre-school community at Cornell University. I remember how connected we all were through our diversity, and the connection gave me a sense of belonging. Upon my return to Germany, however, I felt like an outsider. This was much of my experience through 3rd grade in Germany and the rest of my schooling in the U.S. As a child immigrant from Germany with atheist parents and gender non-conforming tendencies, my approach to the world was askew from others who looked like me (i.e., white Americans). I felt lost in the world. This was particularly salient to me during high school in west Texas, where I was ostracized by white peers and peers of color kept their distance. I knew something was terribly wrong but could not make sense of it. Only in middle adulthood did I begin to understand enough of the history of racism in the U.S. to grapple with the complexities of race, immigration, and society. Despite the challenges, the experiences where I found belonging within racially and culturally diverse communities early in my schooling fortified my compassion. I want(ed) a world where everyone would belong, be themselves, feel safe, and be safe and appreciated. In my mid-twenties I found myself. Inspired by the need to support my three small children, I went back to school to get a degree in Elementary Education. Simultaneously, I felt called to start a charter school focusing on SEL and social justice—a school that would be a place to not only educate children, but also to educate ourselves. I learned several big lessons at Mountain Mahogany Community School:When we speak our dreams into community, what manifests can go beyond our wildest imagination.Children will develop the social and emotional capacities we, the adults around them, are striving (and potentially failing) to embody.Vulnerability is a powerful teacher. I also realized that I want to learn more about how adults, and thus I, can develop social and emotional capacities that support young people and our communal future. This in turn pushed me to become a researcher in the field of SEL and education.Dr. Almut Zieher What line of research do you find the most interesting/intriguing in the field right now? Adult SEL has been elevated as an area the field needs more understanding of. There are three important differences that need to be considered when thinking about adult SEL: Adults already have well-developed social and emotional skills, though these skills may not always be productive. Learning and, more often, re-learning skills as an adult requires different strategies than those used with children who are in the process of skill acquisition. Adults are the models and teachers of children, so we need to think about how adults can best support child SEL. We need to acknowledge that many adults themselves might not have mastery of some of the social or emotional skills they are teaching, and we need to help adults develop skills to deliver effective child SEL. Adults who facilitate SEL are responsible for so much more than children’s SEL. Teachers must balance academic learning and SEL while orchestrating the smooth flow of a school-day for more than 20 students at a time. Guardians and parents must balance professional, household, and other parenting responsibilities while also supporting their child(ren)’s SEL. Both are high stress roles, particularly when the adults are situated in communities with limited economic and educational opportunities. We need to consider systemic changes that support adults, so they can deliver effective SEL. My experiences as a daughter, mother, and teacher propel me to grapple with these three challenges. My personal experiences and research have led me to see aspects of mindfulness as mechanisms of adult behavior change, going beyond the well-being benefits of mindfulness. My aim is to better understand how adult’s thinking is changed because of mindfulness practices and SEL implementation, and how adult’s thinking influences their interactions with children. Currently, I am developing Objective Awareness and Mindfulness Measures (OAMM) to better understand social-emotional mental processes, and Social and Emotional Learning Observation Checklists (SELOC) to better understand and support social-emotional teaching behaviors. We have started to identify ways we might support adult SEL and how they engage supportively with children. Qualitative data from the OAMM for Teachers suggest targeted teacher mindfulness practices to cultivate mindful qualities that may mitigate classroom challenges and promote responsive teaching and teacher well-being. We have developed the Pedagogies of SEL Framework that may guide teachers to strategically deliver SEL in a way that encourages effective student skills use in their daily lives as part of the development of the SELOC for Elementary school. I am seeking funding to extend these lines of research to parents for the OAMM and to secondary school for the SELOC, which is bound to illuminate more possibilities for supporting adult SEL and SEL delivery. What energizes you outside of work? Nature has always been central to my life. I spent much of my childhood and my early adulthood living ‘in the country’ with frequent family nature adventures. I have increasingly found that being in nature fills me with peace and contentment. Most often this means going for a hike or walk with my (very) large dog (Annabella) or cutting and chopping wood for our wood stove with my husband. Sometimes it involves canoeing or kayaking at a lake, throwing a ball so Bella gets some swim time, or visiting a beach. On dark days I can also be found reading, crafting, or dreaming of country living while listening to the rain on the metal roof or basking in the heat of the wood stove.