An internationally-known expert on social-emotional learning, who urged Workshop 2017 attendees to consider students’ social-emotional character development as “essential” as academic skills, delivered the keynote address to a standing-room-only crowd at the conference last week.

Keynote speaker Dr. Maurice Elias of Rutgers University, a renowned expert and author in the field of social-emotional character education, headlined a slate of Workshop 2017 presentations that also featured an inspiring address by New Jersey Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington; a lively Legislative Update panel; and a student inventor competition, STEAM Tank.

An estimated 8,000 attendees packed the four-day Workshop conference, held Oct. 23-26 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The event, extended by one day this year, included approximately 250 training opportunities, including new programs focused on both new board members and veteran board leaders.

Keynote Speaker Looks to Future Elias, the director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development lab, spoke on the topic, “What do our students need to be successful in 2027…and beyond?” The answer, he stated, lies in social-emotional skills, such as cooperation, communication, and problem-solving.

While he said students need academic achievement, they also need interpersonal skills.

“Social-emotional and character competencies are as basic, foundational and essential to academic achievement as reading competencies. If you can’t read, you’ll have many limitations in your life. If you can’t read people…you’re going to have many limitations in your life,” Elias said.

Important components of social-emotional learning are a positive school climate, where students and staff have a clear purpose, and where schools follow a multi-year strategy in character development, he said.

“We are preparing our students for an uncertain future,” Elias said. “The constant will be the importance of caring interpersonal relationships.”

Education Commissioner Address Harrington, a former classroom educator who now heads the state Department of Education, gave an inspiring speech that drew on her visits made to numerous public schools. She also announced the creation of a new statewide program, “Lighthouse Districts,” that will highlight successful districts that are a “beacon of light,” and share information with others.

Harrington praised the efforts of board members, school administrators and educators that she said did an “amazing job to put students at the beginning of every conversation.” But she also challenged the audience, in the coming year, to focus on the needs of each individual student.

“Great things are happening in New Jersey…We have done a rock star job at putting students at the forefront,” she said. “Do we see them – do we see each and every child we serve?”

Legislative Update Tackles School Funding, Regionalization, More Another standing-room-only crowd took place at Workshop’s Legislative Update, where a panel of state legislators fielded questions on school funding, regionalization, special education, pensions, and more.

The panel was made up of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Leg. Dist. 3; Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, Leg. Dist. 6; and Assembly members James Kennedy, Leg. Dist. 22; Patricia Egan Jones, Leg. Dist. 5; Declan O’Scanlon, Leg. Dist. 13; and Jack Ciattarelli, Leg. Dist. 16.

NJSBA Governmental Relations Director Michael Vrancik moderated the panel. Also mentioned was the upcoming election, with references to the fact that either Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno or Ambassador Phil Murphy will be sworn in in January as New Jersey’s next governor.

“Whoever is elected the next governor, there has to be a change in the way we fund education,” Greenwald said.

STEAM Tank Offers New Ideas While legislators, educators, the education commissioner and others — all adults — delivered presentations throughout Workshop, a different group – students — held forth in the I-STEAM Command Center at the far end of Workshop’s Exhibit Hall.

Student inventors from schools around the state displayed their inventions and ideas – from the “Talking Walking Stick” to the “Save Me! Bottle,” and “Flatulence Be Gone!” – in the STEAM Tank competition.

The event, modeled after TV’s “Shark Tank,” and sponsored by NJSBA and the U.S. Army, gave students the chance to present their inventions to a judges’ panel. Students who competed at Workshop had prevailed in earlier regional competitions, and about three dozen took part in the finals at Workshop.

Winners will be announced in November.