Committee for Children Blog

The New Dairy Council

This week's blog is by Executive Director Joan Duffell.

Joan DuffellCommittee for Children offers a wonderful array of evidence-based social-emotional learning curricula, but we certainly are not alone as providers of quality SEL programs. Several years ago a few of us in the SEL field began talking about the benefits of forming a sort of “Dairy Council.” Just as US farmers formed a Dairy Council years ago in order to build a stronger market need and unified case for the benefits of dairy products for consumers, we envisioned bringing together top-quality SEL program providers to combine our voices and efforts to generate greater awareness of and support for quality SEL practices. We could see that we would always be limited in expanding quality SEL into everyday education as long as our efforts in advocacy, marketing, assessment, and establishment of best practices were conducted within our independent organizational “silos.”

Recently, a major funder of SEL took a strong interest in the idea—as a result, the NoVo Foundation provided a grant to CASEL (the Center for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) to establish a “Social-Emotional Learning Program Providers Working Group.”

CASEL’s Mary Utne O’Brien and Roger Weissberg asked Eric Schaps (Developmental Studies Center) and me if we would be willing to co-chair the yet-to-be-formed “SEL Dairy Council” in its inaugural two years. Eric and I were both deeply honored to step up. In February of 2010 we held the first meeting of a small group of SEL program providers to further develop the concepts, structures, and general charges of the project. Attendees of this first meeting said they were delighted by the open and honest quality of our discussions, the group’s willingness to share information and mutual support, and the alignment of our shared understanding of the forces in education that work both for and against quality SEL implementation in schools.

As I observed the dynamics in the room, the refrain that kept coming to mind was “we’re walking the talk.” These leaders exemplified the spirit of SEL by practicing self-awareness, appreciating and respecting one another’s perspectives, and exercising compassionate and creative problem-solving. Out of our kickoff meeting came an initial committee structure focused on needs for coordinated efforts in such areas as SEL communications and advocacy, assessment, and district-wide implementation practices.

At the time of that first meeting, Mary Utne O’Brien was suffering from a recurrence of her cancer—and devastatingly for her family and all of us who worked with her, she has since passed away. I have come to view my leadership on the SEL Program Providers’ Working Group as my personal way of honoring Mary’s brilliant vision and leadership. In truth, I can only hope to make a faint echo of her brand of honest, insightful, and inspired collaboration with others who work and walk together on this journey to make a better world for our children.

Keep an eye out for next week's blog by Client Support Services Representative Andrea Lovan.