Harvard professor headlines the Bennett Lecture in Prevention Science

By Kelcie Guns
November 09, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A look at the research frontiers for social-emotional learning (SEL) was the focus of the recent 2017 Bennett Lecture in Prevention Science by Harvard Professor Stephanie Jones.

Social-emotional learning is defined as “a student’s ability to focus, manage emotions and stay engaged, which plays a large role in his or her ability to perceive, process and ultimately learn,” according to The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development.

According to Jones, a member of the Council of Distinguished Scientists for the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social-Emotional Learning, “There is a moment for SEL right now. There is so much interest and excitement about it, that in order to take advantage of it and not lose it, we have to be really clear about what we mean, what we are targeting, and why it is relevant.”

Jones portrayed the facets of social-emotional learning as building blocks.

“What this heuristic suggests is that they may work as building blocks,” she said. “And solving a more complex problem, like supporting an individual and being able to work in a team, may require building some more foundational skills.”

Jones shared the three frontiers in SEL on which she and her team are currently working — implementation, content and lexicon — with the goal of further enhancing the effectiveness of social-emotional learning for children.

“We have large group studies and trials of specific interventions that are located in preschools and schools, and those have told us about the kinds of specific behavioral, increasingly physiological, and academic outcomes that we can expect from interventions that are implemented in these settings,” she said.

To facilitate implementation, Jones is looking at the common denominators or the “kernels” of practice in these programs that can be used as a tool for integration of SEL into the fabric of schools and schooling.

The second frontier for Jones’ work is the content or getting “inside the box” of high-quality programs. With funding from the Wallace Foundation, Jones and her colleagues recently looked at 25 evidence-based SEL programs to determine which strategies drive positive outcomes for students. The team collected data from these programs, developed a coding system, and created tools to help schools and organizations better evaluate SEL programs. Her findings can be found in the publication, "Navigating SEL from the Inside Out."

Finally, Jones briefly discussed her plans for her new taxonomy project, through which she seeks to clarify and connect the various frameworks and terms in the field. Jones and her colleagues are working on creating a website, briefs, a coding system and an online searchable thesaurus to provide a way for people to interact with the information from their research.

“Dr. Jones’ work demonstrates her big-picture thinking, her growing influence, in shaping new ways to think about the interface of research, policy and practice. Not many people extend themselves that far, and it’s one of the unusual things about Stephanie, her uncanny ability to think in new ways about old problems,” said Mark Greenberg, founder of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center and Bennett Chair of Prevention Research in the College of Health and Human Development.

Jones 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, co-editor of the SEL issue of Future of Children focused on social-emotional learning and member of the Council of Distinguished Scientists for the National Commission on Social-Emotional Learning convened by the Aspen Institute.

The Bennett Lecture series, now in its 16th year, honors leaders in prevention research. It was created through an endowment established in 1999 by Penn State alumna Edna Bennett Pierce, a 1953 graduate in home economics. The Bennett Lecture in Prevention Science was established to bring outstanding researchers in human development, social work, sociology, nursing, education and child psychiatry to Penn State.

Last Updated June 08, 2021