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Working to promote social, emotional learning

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Roger Weissberg

NoVo Foundation endowed chair in social and emotional learning Roger Weissberg (right), with provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs Lon Kaufman, prepares for his investiture ceremony Thursday.

Photo: Matthew Kaplan

One question has dominated Roger Weissberg’s professional career since 1976.

How can schools, families and communities work together to promote positive behavior and school performance?

Weissberg, a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences distinguished professor of psychology and education, has since established himself as one of the country’s leaders in the research and practice known as social and emotional learning.

His career achievements were celebrated last week in an investiture ceremony at Student Center East, where he was officially honored as the inaugural NoVo Foundation endowed chair in social and emotional learning.

His presentation, “Establishing Social and Emotional Learning as an Educational Priority Across Chicago, Illinois and the United States,” offered a first-hand perspective of the field he helped to define.

“There are too many kids out there with problems,” Weissberg recalled his mentor saying over three decades ago.

“We can’t wait for them to develop the problems. We have to get to them early and promote positive behavior from the start.”

As president of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, he has advanced the science of social and emotional learning, expanded its practice and improved federal and state policies.

As befits the term “novo” — Latin for change, alter and invent — the New Jersey native’s career is driven by a desire to transform education, from preschool through high school.

He pointed to growing evidence that these approaches to education can raise students’ standardized test scores, build attachment to school, improve interpersonal attitudes and decrease problem behaviors.

Kids aren’t the only ones who can benefit from these programs, Weissberg stressed.

“We all can learn to recognize and manage emotions, demonstrate care and concern for others, develop positive relationships, make good decisions and behave ethically respectfully and responsibly.”

Weissberg will oversee ongoing research as the NoVo chair, funded by $2 million donation from the NoVo Foundation.

His future priorities include a graduate fellowship program in social and emotional learning, collaboration with Chicago Public Schools and the DuPage Regional Office of Education, and advancing state and federal policies.

Jennifer Buffett, president of NoVo, described Weissberg as “a consummate collaborator committed to excellence and fostering relationships.”

“He’s passionate about learning, teaching and giving our kids the best start possible. His ideas are profound and his enthusiasm infectious,” she said.

“His work has been invaluable in putting SEL on the map.”

Board of Trustees chair Christopher Kennedy noted that Weissberg’s work resonates with him in a “profound way.”

“I’d like to thank Roger for making UIC his home and giving us all at the University of Illinois one more reason to be proud of this extraordinary institution,” Kennedy said.


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