The unifying themes in my action-research, clinical work, and policy/advocacy are the development of positive, constructive life paths for children and youth and the organization of opportunities to allow this to happen in equitable ways. This has brought me into areas such as social-emotional learning (SEL), its more recent variation, social-emotional and character development (SECD), emotional intelligence, social competence promotion, character education, primary prevention, school-based, evidence-based intervention, and socialization of identity. It has also brought my work increasingly into the areas of implementation and sustainability of interventions, and cutting edge issues such as the link of SECD and academics and the distinguishing features of sustainable, versus well-implemented, empirically supported innovations. Finally, I also focus on the area of promoting civic engagement among Rutgers University students by serving as Co-Director of the The Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu) at Rutgers, along with Mary Curran of the GSE and Ron Quincy of the Bloustein School of Public Health.
I have worked to establish the field of prevention, school-based preventive intervention, and social competence promotion as a credible, important, and rigorous area of research, practice, and public policy. To accomplish the latter, collaborative models are necessary, as are programs of longitudinal, synergistic action-research with an explicit eye to practice and policy. Thus, I have organized my work within the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org and www.edutopia.org/user/67). The Lab is dedicated to conducting action-research in public, private, and religious school settings for the purpose of building children’s skills for facing the tests of life, and not a life of tests. It focuses on understanding the relationship of academic achievement, social-emotion competencies, and the development of character and a core set of life principles, and the development of school-based interventions to strengthen social-emotion skills , character, and one’s Laws of Life and sense of Positive Purpose, and prevent bullying, violence and victimization, substance abuse, and related problem behaviors.
Projects of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab focus on students and their school, family, and community environments. We employ a project-based, constructivist and inquiry-oriented social-learning approach to pedagogy and a developmental ecological-community psychology approach to understanding settings and designing, delivering, and evaluating interventions. In addition, we carry out applied research related to bullying/youth violence, victimization, character development and identity, spirituality, purpose, and forgiveness, social-emotional and social decision making skills, social support, classroom organization, management, and discipline, test anxiety and motivation, menschlekheit development in schools and families, Jewish education, emotional intelligence, and the design, implementation, and sustainability of preventive interventions.
Current projects include:
1. Helping New Brunswick Schools become Schools of Character
2. The Ambassadors Youth Empowerment and Leadership Program for at-risk middle school students
3. Development of On-Line Certification Programs for Direct Instruction and School-Focused Coordination of Social-Emotional and Character Development and School Culture and Climate Improvement interventions in Schools (with the College of St. Elizabeth) (sel.rutgers.edu, SELinSchools.org)
4. Laws of Life and Sense of Positive Purpose in the Schools
5. Implementation and Sustainability of School-Based Interventions
6. Social Decision Making/Social Problem Solving Curriculum and Computer Lab
7. Jewish Adolescent Identity/Jewish Education Project
8. Assessment and Improvement of Civic Engagement
9. Social-Emotional and Character Development and Academic Achievement/Closing Achievement Gaps Project via Research, Practice, and Policy
Both graduate and undergraduate students play a significant role in these and related projects and they are conceptualized as action-research projects, which means there are significant field components as well. We welcome students with interests in the field/practice or research components, or both.
The Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org)
Please find below a description of three major areas of focus in the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab. The Lab is a focal point for school-based efforts at prevention, social-emotional learning, social problem solving, violence prevention, and character education. The Lab serves as a consultant for various school districts and, in some cases, plays a very active role in fostering the development of school-wide efforts and programs targeted at specific populations, to build character using empirically-supported, evidence-based approaches.
Thanks for your interest!- Maurice J. Elias
The Development, Implementation, and Dissemination of Laws of Life and Related Empowerment-Oriented Interventions around Promoting Youth Competence, Purpose, and Voice
Brief History and Mission:
The Laws of Life (LOL) program is a process that challenges young people of all ages to discover for themselves the core values and moral principles that will guide them throughout life. LOL activities emphasize reflection and writing. They encourage students to think about the people and experiences that have helped to shape their values in positive ways. Students are challenged to take a stand for what they believe in and then build the skills needed to communicate their beliefs in a clear and compelling manner. Plainfield, NJ, an Abbott district, was the first in NJ to carry out LOL, via an essay. Over seven years, working with a research team from Rutgers, Plainfield developed and implemented variations of LOL designed to tap into the multiple intelligences of high-risk students. Working through different modalities (such as art, dance, poetry, music, as well as writing), all of the LOL programs encourage students to think deeply about their values and character, critical to developing the social and emotional learning (SEL) skills to help students be successful in school and in life. Plainfield has been a national leader in developing programs to provide high-risk, urban students in elementary, middle, and high school with ways to get in touch with, express, and live their Laws of Life. These programs continue to be developed, with projects under way in Israel and at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. In addition, we have a large data base of student Laws of Life essays awaiting innovative analysis, both in terms of their own linguistic, values, and affective content and, in some cases, as can be linked to students’ behavioral and academic data.
Ongoing efforts include an active collaboration with colleagues in Israel to bring Laws of Life interventions, now known in Israel as the “Moral Compass” project, to schools for Jewish and Israeli Arab students in Israel and small group in-school and after-school strengths-oriented interventions focused around community service/service learning as a vehicle for youth skill building, competence enhancement, empowerment, leadership development, problem behavior prevention, and risk reduction, using a constructivist and CBT-oriented theoretical and pedagogical structure. Another signature program is “GLO”—Girls Leading Outward, named by the youth involved in the program. We have also begun developing a version for boys. These and related Tier 2 interventions are a relatively recent focus of our work.
Developing Schools of Character: A Focus on New Brunswick and Jersey City
To give a sense of this project, I describe below the practicum opportunity for our graduate students, within which we also involve a number of undergraduate students in research and field roles:
Through an ongoing partnership with RU as a sustainable model, the practicum opportunities exist with all schools from perk-grade 8 in New Brunswick, NJ Public Schools (NBPS). Demographically, New Brunswick is largely Latino, with a significant African-American minority, and these children are a high-risk group. Several of the schools are designated as Focus or Priority Schools. Nevertheless, they are emerging as leaders in promoting the SECD of students and positive school culture and climate.
The purpose of the practicum is to collaborate with NBPS staff and other Rutgers resources to help prevent and remediate dropout, loss of student motivation, problem behaviors, and academic failure. The positive focus is on creating a respectful climate in which students and staff become genuine collaborators in a school of character and academic excellence. Practicum students join other RU undergraduate and graduate students in serving as positive role models, mentors, supports, and resources. An action-research model provides ongoing feedback in a spirit of continuous improvement. This practicum is conceptualized as School-Community-Clinical and the relative emphasis of one’s specific role can be negotiated. Among the activities involved are:
Consultation to existing school and student committees. Assisting in assessing student social and academic competence, problem behaviors, perception of harassment, intimidation and bullying, and school climate.
Assisting in staff and student school climate assessment and providing data review/feedback.
Systematic involvement with student clubs and groups toward the goal of empowerment and giving voice.
Consulting on implementation of interventions to promote school-wide and classroom social-emotional and character development; can include working with high-risk classrooms on behavioral/social skills consultation, Laws of Life values clarification (i.e., Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions).
Individual and group supervision are provided. Students are expected to provide process notes after each school visit to share with teammates. The theoretical base of the practicum is SECD and the pedagogical structure is aligned with CBT. SECD refers to the skills, classroom and organizational structure, and curricular and program content that is important for optimizing students' potential to be caring, competent and committed individuals. Students will have the opportunity to learn educational and psychological theory and practices related to SECD. Current SECD-related efforts in schools include school climate improvement, character education, bullying and violence prevention, substance abuse prevention, counseling and related services, social-emotional learning curriculum programs, positive behavior supports, efforts toward school-wide positive recognition of students, and service learning. These programs and practices teach children valuable social, emotional, and behavioral lessons; however, there is a lack of coordination between programs and lesson. This lack of coordination leads to many skills not being generalized into everyday life. As a member of the team, a student will have the opportunity to assist schools in creating the organizational structure to support, maintain, and coordinate SECD practices.
The Youth Ambassadors Project and Development of Positive Purpose
Youth in disadvantaged, urban schools often feel disempowered and lack opportunities to feel connected to school. This dampens aspirations for college and careers and short-circuits current motivation for academics. The current project aims to further develop a program aimed at increasing student empowerment and school engagement by targeting students’ sense of purpose, focusing on six middle schools in Jersey City, NJ.
Actualization of purpose in disadvantaged youth is complicated by their histories and contexts. They need the value and skills of diligence and generosity, a positive sense of the future, forgiveness—to not be unduly weighed down by the past and current circumstances—and the creativity to see beyond their immediate reality and envision and move toward a real purpose for themselves.
Purpose is thereby connected to 5 core supportive values:
Future mindedness (mindset/aspiration),
Diligence (grit, perseverance),
Generosity (service, civic/school engagement and contribution)
Forgiveness—(unless these youth are able to forgive/get past their negative circumstances, they will not be able to move forward toward their purpose) and
Creativity, to be able to see things around them in ways different from their peers, what the media say, even what their unempowered peers say, and to be able to think on their feet and improvise to reach their goals successfully and with integrity.
This is not to the exclusion of other core values, of course. However, these are the most essential and actionable within a school context, and therefore capable of serving as vehicles for bring social-emotional, moral, and character development into the mainstream of education.
The Ambassadors Program provides training, leadership, and character development opportunities for two student-elected members of every homeroom within a middle school. These student leaders facilitate student discussions about problems students are facing and bring consensual student feedback to the school’s Student Council or school administration for action. Ongoing Ambassador training and ongoing Ambassador-led student discussions aim to enhance purpose and related values in both the Ambassadors and their peers. Ultimately, the Ambassador Program aims to increase school-wide engagement, empowerment, and motivation for learning. This project evaluates the effectiveness of the Ambassadors Program and its impact on Ambassadors’ and other students’ sense of purpose, the values supporting sense of purpose, school engagement, empowerment, and academic outcomes. This research will help provide evidence for the Ambassadors Program generalizability to other schools that are characterized by student alienation and de-motivation for learning and achievement.