Middle Level SEL Institute

June 18–19, 2020
National Louis University
122 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL

At the Middle Level SEL Institute you will explore practices that transform social-emotional learning in your school or classroom. Designed specifically for middle school educators, this event brings you in-depth sessions and learning experiences on young adolescent development and using this knowledge as a base to build exceptional SEL practices in your school community.

This event will provide:

  • Engaging and personalized content with the opportunity for facilitated debriefs
  • Opportunities to network and share best practices with other middle level colleagues


Register Online

Download Registration Form

Included in registration:

  • Two breakfasts and two lunches
  • Earn 16 professional learning contact hours
  • In-depth training for middle grades educators
  • All presentations and course materials
  • Copy of This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents
  • Chance to win a free registration for #AMLE20, the 47th AMLE Annual Conference in National Harbor, MD, November 12–14, 2020.
Attendee Registration Rates
AMLE Professional Member $399 (U.S.)
Associate & Non-Member* $550 (U.S.)
*All non-members receive a one-year Complimentary Individual Professional Membership.
AIMS Member** $399 (U.S.)
National Louis University Alumni** $399 (U.S.)
National Louis University
Current Student**
$249 (U.S.)
**Must use registration form.

-cancellation policy-


Cancellations must be made in writing and received a week before the event date. AMLE cannot be responsible for cancellations that are made by phone. A $50 (U.S.) processing fee is assessed for all cancellations. No refunds will be issued after the registration deadline, a week before the event date.

Registration fees include all presentations, course materials, and lunch each day of the event. Attendees are responsible for accommodations, transportation. Registrations must be received a week before the event date.

Within 14 days of your registration, AMLE will send you a confirmation email. Registrations received after the registration deadline may be returned, and you may be asked to register on-site at the on-site registration rate.

Event Schedule

Thursday, June 18, 2020
Registration & Continental Breakfast (provided) 8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m.
General Session with Houston Kraft
9:00 a.m.-9:45 a.m.
Home Base Meeting #1
10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
Content Breakout Session #1 10:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Lunch (provided)
& Inclusion Ice Breaker
12:00 p.m.-1:15 p.m.
Content Breakout Session #2
1:15 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
Home Base Meeting #2
2:45 p.m.-3:45 p.m.
Content Breakout Session #3 4:00 p.m.-5:15 p.m.
AIMS Reception
5:30 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Friday, June 19, 2020
Home Base Meeting #3 (breakfast provided) 8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m.
Content Breakout Session #4 9:15 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
Content Breakout Session #5 10:45 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Lunch (provided)
& Job-Alike Session
12:00 p.m.–1:30 p.m.
Content Breakout Session #6 1:45 p.m.–3:00 p.m.
Home Base Meeting #4 3:15 p.m.–4:15 p.m.
*subject to change


Lori Desautels

Holly Jacobs

Houston Kraft

Jennifer Leban

Natalie May

Nathan Maynard

Ann McCarty Perez

Eugene Pitchford

Laura Ross

Christopher Seeley

Brad Weinstein

Kim Urban
Eric Bartkowski
Casey Lehmann
Kristen Gillespie


Dr. Lori Desautels has been an assistant professor at Butler University since 2016 where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate programs in the college of education. Lori was also an assistant professor at Marian University in Indianapolis for eight years where she founded the Educational Neuroscience Symposium. Currently, the Symposium is in its eighth year, and now sponsored by Butler University College of Education. Through these conferences and symposiums, educators, parents, and the community learn to implement tools to help our students be successful and feel a sense of purpose and connection as they walk into their classrooms. Because of her work, Lori has been able to attract foremost experts in the fields of educational neuroscience, trauma and adversity, which significantly grow the conference each year.

Lori has created a nine-hour graduate certification at Butler University in Applied Educational Neuroscience/Brain and Trauma. This certification has grown from six graduates in its pilot year in 2016 to 70 graduate students in its third cohort. The certification is open to students around the world as it has transformed into a distance learning hybrid format. The Applied Educational Neuroscience Certificate, created by Lori in 2016, is specifically designed to meet the needs of educators, counselors, and administrators who work with children and adolescents who have, and are, experiencing adversity and trauma.

Lori’s passion is engaging students through the application of neuroscience as it applies to attachment, regulation, and educator brain state, and teaching students and staff about their neuroanatomy, thus integrating Mind Brain Teaching learning principles and strategies into her coursework at Butler. Lori has conducted brain institutes and workshops throughout the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, and Dubai on Mind Brain Teaching and Learning. She has created webinars for educators, clinicians, and administrators illustrating how educators and students alike must understand their neuroanatomy to regulate behavior and calm the brain.

Holly Jacobs serves the Center for Social Development and Education (CSDE) as director of program evaluation, developing and leading the various research and evaluation projects conducted at the CSDE. Jacobs earned her MA from Boston College and her BA at Boston University. Jacobs also holds a graduate certificate in survey research from UMass Boston. Before joining the CSDE staff, she worked at the Institute for Community Inclusion as a study coordinator on public policy demonstration projects for individuals with disabilities receiving employment supports from state vocational rehabilitation agencies. Earlier in her career, she was a vocational counselor for adolescents with traumatic brain injury and researched children’s and adult’s conceptions of people, animals, and objects to inform school curricula. Jacobs brings survey design and program evaluation experience to the CSDE’s projects and community programs, including Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, Special Olympics Texas, Camp Shriver, and Saturday Camp. Because of her background in research, education, and disability, she is able to guide the CSDE’s local, national, and international endeavors with an emphasis on rigorous and comprehensive program evaluation design. Jacobs’s interests include peer relationships among children and adolescents with and without intellectual disability, social inclusion of students with intellectual disability, and school-based interventions. She is also able to put her skills to use giving back to the UMass Boston community by serving on the UMass Boston Institutional Review Board reviewing and approving the human subjects research conducted at UMass Boston.

Houston Kraft is a speaker, curriculum developer, and kindness advocate who has spoken at more than 600 schools or events internationally. In 2016 he co-founded CharacterStrong, curriculum (PK-12) and trainings that transform the way schools teach social-emotional learning, character education, and kindness. To date, they have worked with more than 2000 schools globally. In 2019 his face was featured on Lays BBQ chip bags as someone who helps "spread smiles." He was once invited to play on the JV National Lasertag Team. His mom is his hero and her best life lesson is to “hug like you mean it.”

Jennifer Leban is a 2020 Illinois State Teacher of the Year Finalist and 2019-20 Teach Plus Illinois Teaching Policy Fellow. A National Board Certified Teacher, Jennifer teaches creative technology and visual arts classes at Sandburg Middle School in Elmhurst, Illinois. In 2018 Jennifer was accepted into the LAX18 Google Certified Innovator cohort. Her Innovator project, called Reset EDU, is a YouTube channel that strives to motivate, empower, and inspire teachers to embrace new ideas for learning and teaching. Jennifer has presented throughout the United States at education events and conferences such as ISTE, AMLE, and CPS Googlepalooza. Jen also works with friEdTechnology as a Learning Guide for professional development services, and is an education ambassador for WeVideo, Flipgrid, Wakelet, and Classroom Q. Jennifer earned her Bachelor of Arts Education with honors from Elmhurst College and completed her MA in Educational Leadership through St. Xavier University.

Natalie May holds an MA and BA in psychology from Wesleyan University with a focus on child development, social and emotional learning (SEL), and educational interventions. Natalie’s engagement with this work began through her undergraduate research at Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Lab, focusing on early numeracy and social-emotional development. Natalie was first introduced to university-community partnerships through Kindergarten Kickstart, a research-based preschool where she taught and coordinated intervention training for teachers. She continued to engage in research-practitioner partnerships through her Master’s thesis by developing and piloting Start with Yourself, a program for educators that focuses on developing their own SEL competencies so they can manage job-related stress and model these skills to their students. In her current position as a project coordinator at the Center for Social Development and Education at UMass Boston, Natalie conducts piloting and development work in partnership with teachers and coaches to promote SEL within inclusive extracurricular programming for students with and without intellectual disability. Using interviews, focus groups, and observational methods to draw on the perspectives of multiple stakeholders in a school, Natalie’s research takes a comprehensive approach to understanding how SEL operates within the educational space. As an emerging researcher, Natalie is excited to continue collaborating with and learning from teachers and students about how to support whole child development for all. Natalie also works with Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools on various research projects.

Nathan Maynard is a youth advocate, educational leader, and change maker. He is the co-author of Washington Post bestselling and award-winning Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice. Nathan also is the co-founder of BehaviorFlip, the first restorative behavior management software. Nathan studied behavioral neuroscience at Purdue University and has been facilitating restorative practices for more than 10 years. He was awarded “Youth Worker of the Year” through dedicating his time with helping underserved and underprivileged youth involved with the juvenile justice system in Indiana. He was instrumental in the design and opening of Purdue University's first high school in 2017, Purdue Polytechnic High School, serving underserved and underprivileged youth in inner city Indianapolis, Indiana. Prior to his four years as a school administrator, he was a youth worker and program director in a youth residential treatment care center. He is passionate about addressing the school-to-prison pipeline crisis and closing the achievement gap through implementing trauma-informed behavioral practices. Nathan has expertise in Dialectical Behavioral Coaching, Motivational Interviewing, Positive Youth Development, Restorative Justice, and Trauma-Informed building practices to assist with creating positive school climates.

Ann McCarty Perez, Ed.D., is the executive director of teaching and learning for the Bowling Green City Schools (Ohio). She is responsible for K-12 curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Her duties include overseeing federal programs, the district Ohio Improvement Process, professional development, student teacher placements, and other district programming. Since 1997, Ann has been a middle school music teacher, assistant principal, and principal at schools in Virginia and Ohio. In her various roles she has implemented curriculum writing activities, program and process reviews, responsive instruction, and student behavior modification plans; coordinated projects to reduce truancy; increased student achievement; provided services for at-risk students; and collaborated with parents to create school community. Her committee work has included teacher evaluation system writing, digital learning, district-wide assessment and evaluation, capacity and facilities, special education advisory, literacy task force, equity, and visual and performing arts, all of which have worked to influence policy and practices to improve the educational experiences of students. In 2014, Ann was a representative for the School Superintendents Association (AASA) where she traveled to China and attended the Jiangsu International Forum for School Principals. In addition to her work with AMLE, she has been an adjunct professor at George Washington University where she worked with aspiring school leaders on supervision of instruction. She is a passionate educator who believes in the process of continual improvement to provide students with the education they deserve.

Eugene Pitchford is an assistant professor of education at Concordia University Wisconsin. He is also the faculty advisor to the Black Student Union at Concordia University of Wisconsin. Eugene has more than 23 years in education, serving as a teacher assistant, teacher, assistant principal, principal, professor, and educational consultant. Eugene’s research focuses on successful learning environments for urban education settings, creating pipelines to increase college readiness for students of color, and finding ways to motivate young learners to become proficient readers. Eugene is also co-author of the book Superhero Educator and is a contributing author for the book Gumbo for the Soul III.

Laura Ross, named the 2020 School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), is the lead school counselor at Five Forks Middle School in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where her focus is connecting with students to connect them to their education. Now in her sixth year as a middle school counselor, Ross previously served as an elementary school counselor for eight years. Under the guidance of Ross and the school counseling team, Five Forks Middle School received the Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP) distinction in 2019. At Five Forks Middle School, Ross creates connections in academic success, college and career readiness and social-emotional development for all students with a focus on goal setting, empathy, diversity, academic integration, and technology. She leads staff in culturally responsive teaching and creating equity and access for all students. Ross has presented at district, state, and national levels on creating school-wide teacher-student connections, postsecondary education awareness in middle school, integrating academics in counseling lessons, the Dove Self-Esteem Project, computer science careers, and using technology and data in school counseling. She maintains a school counseling blog about creating connections with students at theconnectingcounselor.com. She also moderates #mscchat for middle school counselors and co-moderates for #scchat on twitter. Ross received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and her specialist in school counseling from the University of Georgia. Ross is her district’s middle school counseling steering committee chair and serves on the Georgia School Counselor Association Executive Board as metro director.

Christopher Seeley, MSW is the program director of school and justice initiatives for the APA Foundation. Prior to his appointment at the APAF, Chris served as the direct therapy intern at Michigan State University Counseling Center. He provided short-term therapy to a diverse client population while assisting in weekly multicultural and racial awareness trainings. Chris was also the assistant community director supervising and coaching resident directors at Michigan State. Christopher facilitated social skill building groups for at-risk high school students at Starr Commonwealth Detroit along with delivering individual and family therapy. He also has experience as an advocate and field instructor for the Michigan State University Adolescent Project, was a program director for a support and education group for low-risk juvenile sex offenders, a juvenile detention specialist for the Ingham County Youth Center, and a case manager for a national youth mentoring organization. Christopher earned BA's in Psychology and Criminal Justice as well as a Master’s in Clinical Social Work from Michigan State University.

Brad Weinstein is the co-founder of BehaviorFlip, the first restorative practices behavior management software. He is also co-author of Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice. Brad is the creator of @teachergoals, one of the most popular educational accounts in the world on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Brad worked as a director of curriculum and instruction at Purdue Polytechnic High School. He also served as principal for two years on the eastside of Indianapolis. Brad is an award-winning teacher and taught for 11 years, including roles as a coach and STEM department chair. He holds a BA in Education from Purdue University, an MEd in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana Wesleyan University, and completed a principal licensure program from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Kim Urban, Eric Bartkowski, Casey Lehmann, and Kristen Gillespie from Olmsted Falls Middle School
The Wind Team is a sixth grade teaching team with a PBIS focus at Olmsted Falls Middle School in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. The team is comprised of Eric Bartkowski (science), Kristen Gillespie (language arts), Casey Lehmann (social studies), and Kim Urban (math). They have taught together for the past four years and collectively have more than 75 years of teaching experience. Individually, they positively influence their school community outside the classroom by advising leadership and mentoring clubs, coaching basketball and volleyball, and directing plays and musicals.


General Session – More Than Confetti
Houston Kraft
We all know kindness is a great thing. But the way we talk about it in our world today does not honor how hard it is or how many social and emotional skills are required to effectively practice it. Perhaps the better question is, “What gets in the way of kindness?” Self-reflective and interactive, this keynote focuses on closing the gap between our beliefs and actions while providing practical tools to teach the whole child.

Culture IS Behavior: Positively Impacting Student AND Staff Behavior
Houston Kraft
Culture is the sum of the behaviors in your school or district—the behaviors of both students AND staff. CharacterStrong is working with more than 2,000 schools globally to put a practical focus on effective behavior change through the thoughtful teaching of social and emotional learning (SEL), character development, and relationship-building. How do we integrate and teach these skills in an engaging and relevant way? In this interactive and resource-packed session, you will learn a framework for powerful culture change and walk away with low-burden, high-impact strategies and tools to make an impact RIGHT NOW. In addition, every participant will walk away with access to an extensive library of resources to put the content into immediate and consistent action.
*this session will be repeated

Let’s TALK: Take Care of Yourself
Christopher Seeley
Staff members in every middle school play a crucial role for students who are experiencing distress. This role does not start when the student walks through the front doors of the school, but when staff members walk into the school. Each staff member brings with them unique life experiences and perspectives that impact their daily activities. During this session we will talk about how your own emotions and life experiences may impact your ability to best help the students in your school. We will review self-screening questions and a cycle of supporting each other that you can implement in your staff community. We will discuss the foundation of a good conversation with someone and how your language may impact students’ or other staff members’ ability to talk to you about mental health. Lastly, we will go over your role in engaging in support services and how you can model this to your students. This session will be engaging with interactive sections and small group discussions.
*this session will be repeated

Streamline SEL Utilizing Restorative Practices
Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein
Let's take some work off your shoulders and come up with some best practices for proactive relationships by implementing SEL in and out of the classroom using restorative practices. We will examine how Circles can be a quick forum for SEL and how to overcome seen or unforeseen pushback.
*this session will be repeated

How our Brains are Impacted by Adversity, Trauma and How Neuroplasticity Builds Resilience
Lori Desautels
In this presentation Dr. Desautels will address the significant correlation between early childhood and adolescent brain development, adversity, and resiliency! She will explore how trauma and adverse childhood experiences can intimately affect learning, behavior, and relationships along with implications for our physiological health. We will discuss the brain-aligned practices and strategies that are so beneficial for all youth, adults, and children!

Let's Dig Deeper into Brain and Body Resiliency
Lori Desautels
In this breakout session Dr. Desautels will share the four pillars of applied educational neuroscience and how the specific strategies address touchpoints, co-regulation, our neuro-anatomy, and our own brain and body states. We will also explore how addictions are intimately tied to trauma and adversity and the emotional pain that lies underneath these behavioral signals.

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask: Teacher Mental Health Issues
Jennifer Leban
Teacher burnout is real and ignoring it won’t make it better. Let’s talk about strategies we can use to help us navigate the daily grid that teaching can sometimes be and how to cope with things we cannot control. I’ll share my own personal story of burnout and some strategies and skills that have helped me. I’ll address topics such as dealing with toxic coworkers, feeling trapped at your job, seeking professional help (and reducing the stigma that surrounds it), and some neat tech tools you can use to help you along the way in your own mental health journey.

Classroom Design and Environment Workshop
Jennifer Leban
Imagine you’re a student walking into your classroom for the first time. What would you think? Would you feel welcome, safe, comfortable, and able to focus? Let’s discuss ways to improve your classroom culture through the way your classroom is designed. You will leave this session with a plan for this upcoming school year on how you will make changes to improve your classroom environment. Topics will include DIY and cheap/free options for utilizing your existing furniture and resources, classroom layout brainstorming, flexible seating, options for types of spaces within a classroom, classroom management strategies for flexible seating, the sensory experience of your classroom, and ways to ease incoming student anxiety in the fall.

Culturally Responsive Connections
Laura Ross
Being a culturally responsive educator means recognizing the importance of engaging students by including students’ cultural references and ways of learning in the classroom community and learning experience. Supporting staff in cultural responsiveness can lead to stronger teacher-student connections and disruption of racial disparities in discipline referrals. Discuss a variety of ways to lead faculty and staff through culturally responsive staff development and small group discussions that address being aware of implicit bias, challenge a single story, and encourage culturally unique contributions from students in the classroom environment. Resources shared will include staff development ideas, book lists, and activities to explore bias and to increase culturally responsive connections.

Middle School Emotional Management and Coping Strategies
Laura Ross
Middle school is a challenging time filled with big emotions. Middle school students are also enduring large amounts of stress and anxious feelings linked to school, family challenges, post-secondary planning pressures, and social standings. Let’s discuss ways to support middle school students in a multi-tiered approach through teaching coping strategies and emotional and stress management in whole school, small group, and individual settings. Resources shared will include school-wide announcements, lesson add-ons, small group lessons, how to create calming areas, and coping strategies including useful apps and websites.

Realigning the STARS: Our Journey Towards Responsive Social-Emotional Learning in Advisory
Kim Urban, Eric Bartkowski, Casey Lehmann, and Kristen Gillespie from Olmsted Falls Middle School
Over time and for different reasons, advisory periods can shift from a student-centered oasis of connecting and building relationships to a work-centered wasteland of social isolation. When this began to occur for our teaching team, we made monumental changes to our existing advisory plans with the goal of reclaiming a student-centered advisory model. We hope you join us as we share our story--along with resources, tips, and suggestions--to help you make time in your day for SEL!
*this session will be repeated

Sessions/speakers subject to change. More sessions to be announced soon!

Session Formats

Learning your way! Participate in a variety of presentation formats including:

General Session: Start your confernece experience off with this engaging, whole-group session designed to get everyone thinking about character development in young adolescents.

Content Breakout Sessions: You'll get a variety of content from middle school experts in these interactive, solution-rich sessions.

Home Base Meetings: Similar to Homeroom or Advisory/Advisement at school, these small-group meetings will give you the chance to more deeply discuss and examine practices that transform social-emotional learning in your school or classroom. You will be assigned a SEL Institute Home Base facilitator before the event that will start your learning and sharing journey—one that will continue during and after the Institute. Be sure to bring your most challenging middle grades SEL issues, and then enjoy collaborating, networking, and learning toward successful solutions that you can use! Come with questions and leave with answers.

Job-Alike Sessions: You'll meet and collaborate with attendees that share your job or role to discuss similar triumphs, challenges, and solutions.

Professional Learning Contact Hours

Contact hours are offered with your attendance at the Middle Level SEL Institute! A certificate for 16 contact hours will be emailed to you a few weeks after the event.

What is a Professional Learning Contact Hour?
In order to remain a certified middle level educator, it is critical to continue learning and growing through outstanding professional development opportunities—and to receive credit for those learning experiences. By participating in the Institute, you can earn Contact Hours to maintain your teaching and administration certification. Please check with your school system and/or state certification agency to make sure they accept contact hours from AMLE.


All events will be held at:

National Louis University
122 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL


Hotel map


Take time to explore great SEL resources and services to help implement the new solutions you will learn at the institute. Confirmed vendors include:

  • American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF)
  • Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
  • BehaviorFlip
  • CharacterStrong
  • Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools