An Evolving Educational Landscape: Transformative Social Emotional Learning (T-SEL) Takes Root at William James College

This is a group of faculty.

The importance of social-emotional skills has garnered widespread attention over the past three decades. From developing empathy for others to employing problem-solving skills, they allow individuals to manage emotions and build healthy relationships. Since the advent of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the mid-1990s, research has found that individuals well-versed in self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills are not only better equipped to handle life challenges but also have a more positive mental health outlook to boot. In recent years, Transformative Social Emotional Learning (T-SEL) has expanded upon the initial SEL framework by incorporating the concepts of identity, agency, belonging, collaborative problem-solving, and curiosity—essential ingredients to building and sustaining an equitable and inclusive culture for all at William James College.

“In the context of higher education, SEL involves developing skills for individual success, interpersonal relations, and community building, as well as skills needed to ensure a fair and inclusive community,” said Lisa King Chalukian, PsyD, NCSP, Assistant Professor, School Psychology Department, who has been at the helm of the campus T-SEL initiative since its inception.

Efforts commenced in January 2020 when Stacey Lambert, PsyD, Vice President for Academic Affairs, spearheaded a quality enhancement initiative centered around SEL; the initial iteration, paused when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, was revitalized in the summer of 2021 and ultimately rebranded to include the “transformative” aspect of social-emotional learning.

“Faculty, staff, and students have experienced increased levels of stress [in recent years] which can negatively impact their access to learning and general well-being,” said King Chalukian, underscoring that T-SEL has been found to increase self-efficacy, connectedness, academic outcomes, and civic engagement—all linchpins to a healthy, connected campus community. 

“The impetus for the program is to prioritize both student and educator well-being,” said Lambert who, inspired by the work being done with SEL in K-12 environments through the William James College School Psychology program and Center for Behavioral Health, Equity, and Leadership in Schools (BHELS), had an epiphany of sorts. “In essence, we must practice what we preach as behavioral health professionals,” said Lambert who, in concert with colleagues on the T-SEL committee, set to work modifying the initial SEL competencies with additional concepts to achieve a deeper, more culturally relevant perspective.

“The T-SEL initiative seeks to strengthen and enhance our community to build a healthy learning and working environment…[one in which], ideally, all people feel seen and valued,” said Mary Yasuda, Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs who points to the need for balance in the expansion of the College in recent years with maintaining the close-knit community “that is a hallmark of [William James College]”. As such, she and her colleagues set to work to ensure all community members receive the same message.

While research reveals many SEL initiatives in higher ed working in silos, the T-SEL committee—described by Lambert as, “a cross-departmental workgroup of early adopters or change champions that met regularly to bring the movement to fruition over several years”—believes systematic integration offers the greatest benefits. 

“It behooves us to increase the intentionality with which we cultivate a sense of community in line with our mission and core values,” said Yasuda, as evidenced by a Lunch and Learn series for students throughout the fall semester (covering a range of topics from Imposter Syndrome and Time Management to Managing Difficult Conversations and Understanding Microaggressions) presented in collaboration with the Dean of Students Office; the sessions, which were recorded, remain available for viewing on the Student Resource Hub*. Parallel to the student discussions, the T-SEL committee sponsored a separate albeit related series of lunches for faculty and staff.

Looking ahead, the T-SEL committee has plans to sponsor several community-wide workshops, a Pop-up Festival, and a series of Open-forums—“each designed to provide best practices, strategies, and approaches rooted in the principles of social-emotional learning,” said Enin Rudel, PsyD; Director of the Inclusive Leadership concentration in the Leadership Psychology PsyD program, of the different ways community members can get involved with the ongoing initiative. 

“In many ways, the T-SEL ‘spirit’ is contagious and has made each of us feel less alone as we navigate the highly charged and complicated issues of our time,” said Anne Waters, PsyD, Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology Department, emphasizing that the initiative has fostered a more profound sense of engagement for students in the classroom and increased collaboration among faculty and staff. 

“We are excited to see T-SEL become integrated into student and new faculty orientations, advising, faculty retreats, staff lunch and learns, the classroom and administrative meetings,” said Lambert of the committee’s end goal: To develop a shared vocabulary and set of mutually beneficial skills that transcend the William James community and become equally relevant during individuals’ personal and professional activities. 

 Going forward, T-SEL will continue to be woven into the very fabric that is campus culture—making it a crucial part of the William James experience. “This strengths-based initiative benefits all people and aspects of the College,” said Kimbell DiCero, PsyD, Faculty, Counseling and Behavioral Health Department. “It supports our mission by tapping into and supporting the interpersonal and psychosocial growth of the individual, the group, the community, and the broader field of psychology [while considering] the intersectionality found at all levels of our community and address[ing] the issue of institutionalized oppression. [T-SEL] works on these issues by identifying strengths and goals for learning, establishing safety, developing communication, and working towards mutual understanding within the institution, with the goal of training practitioners who will continue this work in the field.”

NOTE: Interested in learning more? The T-SEL committee offers a Transformative Social Emotional Learning (T-SEL) website that is accessible to faculty, staff, and students. It can be accessed via OneLogin by typing T-SEL. The website includes suggested articles, webinars, videos, books, and activities that address the core tenets of T-SEL (identity, agency, belonging, collaborative problem-solving, and curiosity). In addition, the T-SEL committee collaborates with Meridith Apfelbaum, MS, Director of Student Life & Student Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, Dean of Students Office to make sure that topics presented throughout the semester are aligned for WJC students, faculty, and staff. 

T-Sel Committee Members (2023-24)

Anne Waters, PsyD, Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology Department

Beth Greenberg, PhD, Associate Professor, Counseling and Behavioral Health Department

Catherine Dubois, PsyD, Assistant Professor, Clinical Psychology Department

Elana Wolkoff, PhD, Associate Professor, School Psychology Department

Enin Rudel, PsyD, Director, Inclusive Leadership Psychology PsyD Program

Kimbell DiCero, PsyD, Teaching Faculty, Counseling and Behavioral Health Department

Lisa King Chalukian, PsyD, Assistant Professor, School Psychology Department (Chair)

Mackenzi Bacorn, EdS, LPC-A, Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student

Mary Yasuda, Assistant, Vice President for Academic Affairs

Meredith Apfelbaum, MS, Director, Student Life and Student Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Dean of Students Office

Nadja Lopez, PhD, Executive Director, Behavioral Health, Equity, and Leadership in Schools (BHELS)

Sarahbeth Golden, PhD, Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology Department

Sejal Prajapati, PsyD, Assistant Professor, Clinical Psychology Department

Stacey Lambert, PsyD, Vice President of Academic Affairs



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