A Leading Voice for Children; Celebrating the Life of Roger P. Weissberg
Yet again, we find ourselves in more troubling times. We are waiting with apprehension to see how this unpredictable pandemic will move next knowing that its sole purpose is to stay alive and infect people. And we are now faced with a criminal with power who is waging violent war on an innocent people who are attempting to preserve their independence. I find myself at times comparing these times to the volatile era of the 1960s and saying to my friends and family, where are the Martin Luther King Jr’s, the Robert Kennedy’s, the Mahatma Gandhi’s sharing their voices of visionary leadership, hope and possibility – reassuring us that the arc of history is long and bends toward justice and that our greatest gift we can give is to serve? I need to hear it. But today I’m heartfully reminded of a luminous voice of our times – a visionary leader who not only championed a world-changing vision but also, figured out through science how it is possible to reach all of our hopes and dreams for our children through a series of strategies and practices that all boil down to the bare essence of love in action. As I attend Roger Weissberg’s funeral today, social and emotional learning is a household word offering us all a lighted pathway to our hopes and dreams for our children. What an incredible gift! It is with deep gratitude for his mentorship, friendship, scholarship and leadership (that we are all starving for) that I offer this loving memorial of Roger today.
Roger’s message was simple – we are unified in our commitment to making life better for kids. That requires us to teach children the skills they need to listen to their hearts and spirits, to develop and sustain meaningful relationships with others and help them discover and fulfill the unique purpose they are here to serve. Time and again over his forty year career, Roger P. Weissberg articulated his purpose. And instead of sharing it as an individual calling, he championed it as a collective calling that resonated with countless other scholars, educators, parents and youth-serving professionals who joined in the common purpose of making kids’ lives better. From his early twenties on, he set about figuring out how to best improve children’s lives by writing his own social problem-solving curriculum and carefully testing it in schools as a first step. When he found through careful study that promoting children’s social and emotional skills in school could not only prevent the behaviors we want to eliminate like bullying, violence, and substance abuse, and it could promote success in relationships, in family life and directly advance academic performance today and in the future, he became committed to a lifetime of work devoted to this mission.
As co-founder of CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) he joined with like-minded others to systematically define what social and emotional learning (SEL) is and looks like. His leading question was “How do schools, families and communities work together to help students be successful?” In a presentation six years ago, he said to an audience of educators in Minnesota (the place, in the past three and a half years, where he has battled pancreatic cancer)…
I have a strong feeling that it’s never too late, that it’s probably never too early. I have a confidence that almost prenatally for as long as we are around and probably beyond that that social and emotional skills are important capacities for us to develop.
When he questioned and defined and wrestled with what it meant to do this work in ways that change children’s lives and all those who work with them, I joined since it was my calling too. Twenty years ago, Roger took a leap of faith and hired me — the only young lady with a bachelor’s degree, some practical, in-the-trenches experience and a fiery passion among well-seasoned PhDs. Roger proceeded to invest time, energy, passionate debate and resources in me — and in so many others I worked with — to do important SEL work. And that collaboration grew into friendship, joy and shared experiences in parenting.
Roger was asked, well before I was a parent myself, who in this country was the most engaged with social and emotional learning and his response was clear: parents and families. He said “you can’t talk about improving schools without involving families and communities.” So I was ready when I became a parent to begin asking the question, how will I become a confident parent raising a confident kid?
In addition to my family, he was the first person to support this site, engage in critical research together around parenting and SEL along with our co-investigator and another first support, Shannon Wanless, and proceed to introduce this work to every single professional he knew who had an interest in parenting. On a very personal note, the work that gets me up in the morning and is so deeply meaningful in my life has been shaped by Roger Weissberg. But it didn’t end on a professional level, it only began. I became a better parent and family member because of his ongoing friendship and support. He demonstrated that it takes everything of a person, dedicating their whole heart and soul to their own social and emotional growth in order to truly improve children’s lives.
If confident parents are defined as individuals who devote themselves to living and growing their children’s social and emotional intelligence while growing their own then Roger Weissberg IS a model of a confident parent (for that’s a role that never dies) to not only Elizabeth and Ted but to me and to so many others who share the purpose of making kids’ lives better through social and emotional learning. I am forever grateful.
Roger’s Research on Parenting and SEL:
If you have not already read about our research together that links parents’ hopes and dreams for their children and for their own parenting with social and emotional competencies, please check the research brief or the full peer-reviewed article, Parenting for Competence and Parenting with Competence; Essential Connections between Parenting and Social and Emotional Learning.
CPCK Article in Collaboration with Roger on his first SEL Curriculum:
Stop, Think, Go! discusses the social problem-solving curriculum Roger developed at Yale University with New Haven Public Schools and how parents can use the key lessons to teach problem-solving to their own children in family life.
Modeling Social and Emotional Learning during Illness and Death:
Roger modeled how you use social and emotional skills to heal, to deal with illness and suffering and ultimately, deal with your own death. Don’t miss his article on his experience; The Healing Power of Social and Emotional Learning.
Learn more about Social and Emotional Learning:
There’s important work to do in schools, families, and communities around social and emotional learning. Learn more about the work of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning on their website.