New graduate class stems from Schussler's 'Project RESPECT' research

December 03, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Collaborative work on social/emotional learning programs and social/emotional learning interventions by Deb Schussler, associate professor of education, and Jennifer Frank, assistant professor of education (special education), has culminated in the creation of Project RESPECT.

The program, titled "Responding in Emotionally Supporting and Positive ways in Educational Communication Skills Training," developed a curriculum that integrates training in communications skills, conflict-management skills and social-emotional learning competencies, to build pro-social classrooms by helping teachers communicate as effectively as possible.


Deb Schussler

IMAGE: Penn State

Schussler also is using research from Project RESPECT to create a new graduate course that she’ll teach beginning in the spring 2020 semester: "Emotionally Intelligent Leadership."

“The research bore out of things my colleague and I were doing in our other classes and then we developed this program that we then did the research on. Now it is kind of like this cycle,” Schussler said. “Now I’m taking that, adding to it, and packaging it differently for this new course.

“I really see that research-to-practice … that’s powerful when it’s cyclical like that. And I’m hoping, too, the things I learn from my students will probably illuminate ways I can change the professional development program for when we offer it again.”

Schussler and Frank combined their education and psychology backgrounds and created a professional development program for teachers that focuses on communications. 

In addition to Project RESPECT, which focuses on professional development for teachers, Schussler and Frank have collaborated on an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Virginia and Fordham University investigating a mindfulness-based intervention for educators known as CARE (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education), and Schussler has researched a yoga intervention for teachers referred to as CALM (Comprehensive Approach to Learning Mindfulness). 

Schussler and Frank also have been on a team researching a mindfulness-based intervention for adolescents called "Learning to BREATHE." Each letter of the word BREATHE represents a programmatic theme related to: mindfulness of the Body (physical sensations), Reflections (thoughts) and Emotions; implementation of effective stress management skills through Attention; practice of Tenderness (compassion) and Healthy habits to sustain mindfulness skills; and Empowerment. 

Collaborating on these different research teams helped solidify the ideas for the development of Project RESPECT.

“It’s communication for conflict management, communication to build pro-social classrooms and communication to help build a growth mind-set and improve academic motivation,” Schussler said. “It’s really working with teachers on what to say, when to say it and how to say it for those three purposes.”

Schussler said copious research exists on exactly what emotional intelligence is. “The students will do some case studies. They’ll pick apart the research; it’s not all positive,” she said. “Some of research says this may not be conceptualized correctly or we can’t assess it. As soon as you create a construct, people come up with assessments. There are some emotional intelligence quotients out there … what’s your emotional intelligence? Some of those are really spurious.”

The course will be partially experiential and concepts will be applied not just to what teachers should do in schools but what leaders should do in schools, Schussler said. 

“There are lots of social/emotional learning programs for students; they’re not all good. I see this class as also looking at and being able to evaluate curricula, to make a good leadership decision about whether or not you should use this in your school,” she said.

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Last Updated December 18, 2019