UNI's Social and Emotional Learning Conference encourages compassion, empathy and mindfulness in schools

UNI's Social and Emotional Learning Conference encourages compassion, empathy and mindfulness in schools

Social and Emotional Learning Conference

The University of Northern Iowa is hosting a day-long conference for the UNI community and professional colleagues involved in teaching, counseling, social work and school psychology that will focus on introducing the practices of compassion, empathy and mindfulness in schools.

Primarily on site at Schindler Education Center at the UNI College of Education, the Social and Emotional Learning Conference will feature a day of presentations that focus on deepening knowledge of social and emotional learning competencies; promoting self-care and competencies among teachers; creating safe, connected and engaged classrooms for students; and gaining strategies, including the use of literature, to support social and emotional learning.

Social and emotional learning (SEL), and its connection to behavioral health, is an area that has taken on greater significance as students, teachers and schools are emerging and adapting from lessons learned during the pandemic. It encompasses a “whole person” outlook as part of learning in the classroom. The Iowa Department of Education supports five competencies for social and emotional learning in K-12 classrooms: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making and relationship skills.

Nationally known speakers will lead keynote sessions – being held at the Maucker Union Ballroom – which are available in person and online. They include:

  • Patricia Jennings, author of “The Trauma Sensitive Classroom and Mindfulness for Teachers; recognized for her expertise in SEL and mindfulness, with a research emphasis on teacher stress and its impact within the classroom.
  • Susan Verde, author of the “I AM” series meant to enrich children’s social and emotional development.
  • Peter H. Reynolds, author and illustrator of many children’s books, including the I AM series with Verde.

“The ‘I AM’ series is excellent for helping students develop social and emotional learning. Having both the author and illustrator here together is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Educators will learn about many literature titles that can promote self-care in the classroom,” said Denise Tallakson, an instructor in curriculum and instruction on the planning committee which also included Aricia Beckman, Kerri Clopton and Nicole Skaar.

The conference responds to a growing need for formal SEL education, noted Skaar, associate professor of school psychology. This event and a new social and emotional learning minor being introduced at UNI in fall 2022 are among the limited avenues for formal learning on the topic in teacher education. “This is a great opportunity for both inservice and preservice educators and others – school psychologists like myself – to have a day of formal learning around these important topics for our kids and ourselves,” she said.

Beckman, instructor in special education, hears increasingly about students having difficulty regulating their emotions in the classroom–whether due to reactions to the pandemic or other adverse experiences. “So what can we do to prevent that? That’s where our energies need to go; we need to give teachers skills in their tool bag to support development of skills for teachers and their students,” she said.

Wellness for all is part of the message for the day. “We have not done a good job historically of encouraging wellness among teachers and support staff. We were beginning to have those conversations before COVID and now it’s even more important,” said Clopton, associate professor of school psychology.

Registration options include an online-only option for only the keynote speakers. A full schedule and registration information is available at coe.uni.edu/SELConference.

Members of the UNI community can attend the conference for free.

The conference is sponsored by the College of Education and Ken Budke, DDS, through support to the UNI Foundation.


Stacy McGauvran-Hruby, Marketing & Communications Manager, College of Education, mcgauvrs@uni.edu, 319-273-7615.