New frontiers in social-emotional learning is topic of Bennett Lecture

September 07, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center will welcome its 2017 Bennett Lecturer, Stephanie M. Jones, professor of education at Harvard University, at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, in Pike Auditorium, Room 22 Biobehavioral Health Building, on the University Park campus. The lecture, in its 15th year, is free and open to the public.

Jones’ presentation, “Social-Emotional Learning: New Frontiers in Science and Practice in Preschools and Schools,” will summarize the evidence base for the role of social-emotional skills in improving children’s outcomes in early childhood, throughout the school years and into the future.

“We are delighted to have Stephanie share her knowledge within this growing field of study, which is gaining more and more interest with educators and policymakers alike,” said Stephanie Lanza, director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center and the C. Eugene Bennett Chair in Prevention Research.

As a developmental psychologist trained in child development, prevention science and social policy, Jones’ research focuses on social and emotional learning (SEL) in childhood and adolescence and on creating and testing innovative intervention models and strategies designed to foster competencies that help children become successful. 

“A growing body of evidence is showing that students learn more and classrooms are more functional when children and adolescents have the skills and competencies to manage negative emotions, focus their attention, persist in the face of difficulty, and successfully navigate relationships with peers and adults,” said Jones.

Social-emotional skills often are referred to as “non-cognitive” or “soft” skills, and although gaining traction among educators, there is still uncertainty about which of these SEL skills are critical and how they can be best supported in educational settings, particularly with children facing stress and vulnerability.

“It’s a very exciting time right now for those of us who work in this field. But to capitalize on the momentum, we need a better understanding of which specific skills are important, determine how they play out developmentally, and define key strategies or practices that will build and support the development of SEL skills in children,” Jones said. 

To address this issue and create greater clarity, Jones and her research team have embarked on the Taxonomy Project. This consensus-building work is examining frameworks and terms to create a coherent classification system and terminology that can be used across disciplines to describe social-emotional skills. The resulting catalog of terms or “taxonomy” will make it easier for researchers to sort through the extensive body of knowledge in the field and more quickly link research to policy and practice.

“For example, self-control is understood and defined differently in different frameworks. By applying some rigor in comparing frameworks and defining what’s in them, we can create a “slide-rule” for the broad field of social-emotional learning,” said Jones.

Known for her evaluation of programs and early education efforts, including reading, writing, respect and resolution, resolving conflict creatively, SECURe and Head Start CARES, Jones consults for program developers including Sesame Street.

Jones frequently collaborates on SEL projects with Penn State prevention scientists Mark Greenberg, founding director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center and the Edna Bennett Chair, and Karen Bierman, director of the Penn State Child Study Center and Evan Pugh Professor.

In addition to her research and teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Jones is committed to translational activities that connect the evidence of SEL to education practice and policy. 

She is a recipient of the Grawemeyer Award in Education and the Joseph E. Zins Early-Career Distinguished Contribution Award for Action Research in Social and Emotional Learning. She is also a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to promote character in schools, is co-editor of the SEL issue of Future of Children focused on social-emotional learning and is part of the Council of Distinguished Scientists for the National Commission on Social-Emotional Learning convened by the Aspen Institute. 

Jones, who has published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, books and briefs on SEL, received her doctorate in developmental psychology at Yale University.

Jones will provide another lecture during her time at Penn State. On Wednesday, Oct. 18, Jones will give a presentation on “Social-Emotional Learning: A Principled Science of Human Development in Context” at 4:15 at the Nittany Lion Inn. This talk will go more in-depth into her research and cover the challenges and opportunities in conducting randomized trials in social-emotional learning programs. The event is co-sponsored with the Child Study Center in the College of the Liberal Arts. 

The Bennett Lecture in Prevention Science is an annual fall event to honor leaders in prevention research. The lectureship is made possible through an endowment from Health and Human Development Alumna Edna Bennett Pierce.

For more information on the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, visit

  • Stephanie Jones

    Stephanie Jones, Harvard University Professor of Education.

    IMAGE: Harvard University
Last Updated September 13, 2017