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 continental 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 (continental 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

National Speakers

Lori Desautels

Holly Jacobs

Houston Kraft

Jennifer Leban

Natalie May

Nathan Maynard

Ann McCarty Perez

Eugene Pitchford

Laura Ross

Hadeis Safi

Christopher Seeley

Brad Weinstein

Kim Urban
Eric Bartkowski
Casey Lehmann
Kristen Gillespie


Local Practitioners

Chris Abbott

Matt Clark

Jessica Closson

Julia Colombo

Amanda Connell

Martin Da Costa

Steve Diveley

Christine Dykstra

Hannah Graham

Vicky Karahalios

Michelle Leibfried

Sarah Lloyd

Travis Lobbins

Gretchen Matkovic

Gabbi McArtor

Christopher McGraw

Leslie Mitchell

Jennifer Smith

Carly Spina

Laura Swanlund

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.

Hadeis Safi is the manager of community programs and initiatives for The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine. Hadeis supports the work of the division by connecting and engaging with community partners and businesses to further our mission. They also plan and support events throughout Chicagoland to share the breadth of services provided by the division. Hadeis supervises and leads the HIV/STI Program and the Training & Education programs. Hadeis is a trained facilitator for Gender & LGBTQ 101 trainings and the sex ed training programs provided through the division.

Matt Clark - Assistant principal at Gregory Middle School in Naperville and member of the SEL committee in District 204. As an educator Matt has served as a teacher, coach, dean, coordinator, and assistant principal in a variety of districts and grade levels. Outside of school he enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters, running, and watching Chicago sports. He believes that for staff to effectively educate and positively influence students’ lives they must be happy with their life at home and school.

Over the last 20 years, Jessica Closson has taught general and instrumental music in central Illinois. Last year, she began a new journey: becoming an instructional coach and the district facilitator for MCUSD#2's Leader in Me initiative. This process brings Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to a student level and empowers students to succeed through leadership! She also enjoys life with her two children, loves to travel, and teaches yoga to youth, adults, and the elderly. Jessica is excited to be presenting her passions at this event.

Julia Colombo has been teaching middle school students for 19 years, first language arts and for the last four years, art and media arts. Social and emotional learning has always been an important part of her classroom environment. She is a trainer of restorative practices and has moderated several restorative meetings among staff and students. In addition, she serves as a teacher sponsor of a student empowerment group called “The Voice” and the newly-formed Student Lead Team. When she’s not teaching or doing something art-related, she’s spending time with her family or working on her doctorate in learning design and leadership at the University of Illinois.

Steve Diveley is in his seventh year as principal of Hadley Junior High, an Illinois School to Watch. Steve is an active member of AIMS, has opened his school for networking and sharing on standards-based grading and PLC structure, and has presented on different middle level topics, most recently closing the achievement gap through social equity. He has worked with SEL standards and advisory programs for more than 15 years.

Christine Dykstra has been teaching middle level science for the past 21 years. She has a masters and doctorate in curriculum and instruction and has used those experiences to build a broad knowledge of best practice in the classroom and with middle level students. She also shares this knowledge with preservice teachers as well as graduate students as they grow their teaching skills. Christine has also had the privilege of presenting at both AMLE and NAGC and led teacher trainings in third world countries in Africa and Central America.

Hannah Graham is assistant professor of teacher education and chair of the Middle Grades Education Program in the National College of Education at National Louis University. A former classroom teacher and social worker, her research focuses on the intersection of classroom community and content engagement. Her recent co-authored book, Restorative Justice in the English Language Arts Classroom (Winn, Graham, & Alfred, 2019), outlines a framework for merging ELA curricula with approaches that call in participation from all learners.

Michelle Leibfried - School counselor at Gregory Middle School, a proud wife, and mother of two daughters who always enjoys helping others. Michelle is a member of the IPSD 204 District SEL Committee, District Parent Diversity Advisory Council, and coordinates Gregory Middle School's annual girl empowerment event called POWer. She unwinds and rejuvenates by running, walking the dog, unplugging from all technology, going to the beach, spending time with family and friends, doing random acts of kindness, and keeping a gratitude journal. As a counselor, Michelle practices spreading kindness and positivity into her work with teachers and students.

Sarah Lloyd is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC). In addition to co-founding a private practice and working as a school counselor, her specialties include treatment for addictions, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, managing stress, relational conflict resolution, communication problems, grief and loss, adjusting to difficult experiences, and transitioning from crisis to stability. With years of experience working in a school setting, Sarah understands how to manage and reduce the barriers related to academic achievement and support students' social-emotional development using trauma-informed interventions. An avid traveler and lover of outdoor adventures, Sarah uses those passions to incorporate humor, mindfulness, and outdoor experiences to foster growth and learning.

Travis Lobbins has been an administrator supporting educational growth for the last 17 years. He has been the principal at Barrington Middle School - Prairie Campus for the past 10 years. In that time, he has had the fortune to collaborate with outstanding educators who continue to put the needs of the students first when considering any level of educational needs. Barrington Middle School- Prairie was named an Illinois Horizon School to Watch from AIMS. He is excited to be here to present what he believes can truly benefit an entire school community.

Christopher McGraw has spent all 13 years of his educational career in the wonderful world of middle school—where it rains candy! From his roles as teacher, coach, club sponsor, teacher leader, and now administrator at Evans Junior High School, Christopher has had many opportunities to invest in students while developing himself as a leader and impactful educator. Through the creation of Eagle Nation, Christopher has developed a sense of community, identity, and belonging for the 900 individuals within Evans Junior High School.

Leslie Mitchell - Wife, mother of two, principal of Gregory Middle School, and leader of the District 204 Middle School SEL Committee in District 204. She is passionate about teacher wellness, establishing a healthy work-life balance, and believes that these focuses will be of the greatest benefit to our students. Similar to the role of a parent, teachers need to be well in order to be the best they can be for our kids. As a building leader, she believes it is her responsibility to support this philosophy.

Carly Spina has more than 14 years of experience serving linguistically and culturally diverse students, families, and communities. She is currently serving eight schools pre-K to eighth grade in Glenview District 34 as the EL/bilingual/dual language instructional coach. She is deeply passionate about equity and advocacy for language learners and fights for access and inclusive opportunities for kids and families. She speaks at various conferences and events and has received several awards over the years, including the Illinois Education Association Reg Weaver Human & Civil Rights Award in 2015, and the Distinguished Service Award for Excellence in the Team Category for EL Community Engagement in 2019. She was the WIDA Featured Educator in April 2019. Spina is an active member of the EL/bilingual community on social media and enjoys networking and growing with teachers and leaders across the country. She is currently working on her first book for EduMatch Publishing.

Jennifer Smith teaches eighth grade science at Monticello Middle School. She is a National Board-Certified Teacher in her fifteenth year of teaching. Smith holds master’s degrees in English, education, and teacher leadership and was the AACT Middle School Chemistry Teacher of the Year in 2019.

Chris Abbott is Hadley Junior High’s library media specialist. He has a passion for exploring the intersection between books, information literacy, and educational technology. Chris looks at school-wide programming in these areas as he supports teachers and students in the use of educational technology.

Amanda Connell is in her first year as an assistant principal of Hadley Junior High. Her work this year has included overseeing the school-wide PBIS system and strengthening the Wildcat Advisory Committee. Previous to Hadley, Amanda was a member of other SEL and advisory building teams that have focused on programming and implementation. Amanda is passionate about making social-emotional learning accessible and meaningful for middle school students.


Download Sessions List

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

Homework, What’s The Point?
Eugene Pitchford
Homework can be a source of frustration for middle school educators and students? How can we support middle school students to complete homework assignments and produce high quality work? In this engaging and collaborative session, participants will explore their role in the homework process. We will review district polices, student engagement, the purpose of homework, why students don’t complete homework, motivational strategies, cultural relevance, the frequency in which homework is given, and the appropriate feedback given to student’s homework when completed. Participants will learn the Homework Buddies process used to motivate middle school students to complete homework assignments. Participants will reflect on their classroom homework policies, and develop an answer the question: Homework, What’s The Point?

Superhero Social Emotional Learning!
Eugene Pitchford
The best educators use their superpowers to ensure social, emotional, and learning needs of middle school students are meet. That is most effective way to ensure out of this world learning takes place. In this interactive session participants will take a deep dive in the following areas: barriers to social emotional learning, becoming intentional when learning the needs of students we serve, and how to combine social emotional learning and growth mindsets. The dynamic session concludes with a reflection process that will clarify our superhero strengths, as well as, specific areas for improvement to help meet the needs of our middle school students.

Making SEL Work for You: Understanding SEL to Build a Better Classroom
Natalie May and Holly Jacobs
Staff are at the heart of implementing strong SEL programs to create a supportive environment at school, but it can be hard to keep up with all the latest research and best SEL practices. In this session, educators will learn about the current landscape of social and emotional learning, gain an understanding of SEL development for themselves and their students, and discuss ways to implement real SEL practices at school. Join other educators in a professional development training and brainstorming session to learn about how to support your own social and emotional skills and find ways to infuse SEL within your school or program. Attendees will take away concrete, flexible strategies to use in and outside of the classroom, and a deeper understanding of how SEL can support their own teaching.

SEL in Inclusive Schools: Positive Youth Development for All Students
Natalie May and Holly Jacobs
Want to know what it’s like to learn social and emotional skills in middle school? Come hear directly from youth in Illinois middle schools as they talk about their experiences and personal growth in Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® (UCS). UCS promotes students’ positive development and social-emotional skills through Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement activities that bring students with and without intellectual disability together. The youth perspective will help you view social and emotional learning for middle grades students through the lens of social inclusion and will enhance our understanding of how inclusive schools can support the development of the whole child, for all children. Discussion with participants and school staff in UCS schools will provide insights and resources for how you can promote SEL through inclusion in your own school.

Beyond Binary: Gender Inclusive Schools
Hadeis Safi
This session provides attendees with the opportunity to understand how to support trans and gender expansive students in school. Attendees will review key terms, recognize the positive impact that their support can have, and receive an overview of best practices.

SEL in Motion: Integrating Practices within a PBIS, Restorative, and Culturally Responsive Lens
Martin Da Costa, Vicky Karahalios, Gretchen Matkovic, Gabbi McArtor, and Laura Swanlund
As social-emotional learning’s scope and reach is expanding, middle level educators are faced with the ongoing challenge of implementing these practices alongside an increasing amount of parallel efforts to promote comprehensive school-based services. This case presentation will highlight how social-emotional learning was adopted at a junior high school with a strong, existing foundation of Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) as well as a growing restorative and culturally responsive lens. Processes and implications for integrating these systems will be provided, as well as data supporting the contextual effects of this framework.

The Power of Everyday Interactions: Classroom Practices that Encourage SEL
Hannah Graham
This session will focus on the integration of SEL into classroom interactions and curricula. Drawing on research in classroom discussion and epistemologies (ways of knowing), the presenter will outline four concrete practices teachers can incorporate toward facilitating cooperative classrooms that re-examine students’ relationship to content and one another. The session will include interactive portions with participant sharing and problem-solving.

Advisory 2.0: A Flexible Learning Model to Make Each Moment Count
Travis Lobbins
Experience a middle school that uses a flexible learning model during advisory to meet the talents and needs of individual students. With a re-envisioned 44-minute flexible and responsive advisory period, time is allotted in the school day so students can choose extension, intervention, enrichment, or studying. See the research in action as educators and administrators share first-hand accounts on how the flexible learning model impacts the social and academic learning of middle school students.

Teacher Wellness Check: Find Your Joy, Seek to Inspire, and Combat Work-Life Stressors
Leslie Mitchell, Matt Clark, and Michelle Leibfried
The purpose of this session is to serve as a “breath of fresh air.” We recognize that the job of an educator is often accompanied by many stressors. We are seeking to help teachers find their joy in spite of those stressors inside and outside of the classroom and inspire others to do the same. We will reflect and provide strategies for teachers to facilitate a healthy work-life balance using the 5 CASEL Social Emotional Competencies. Audience members will leave this session empowered to identify what they need to do to be happier in their personal lives in order to foster a more joyous climate and culture within their school community.

Strategies to Counteract Trauma in the Classroom
Christine Dykstra and Sarah Lloyd
Students of all ages are facing trauma (divorce, abuse, poverty, death of family members, etc.) in their lives. These experiences can impact students as they enter our school or classroom. It is important that teachers and staff can recognize how trauma manifests in the classroom. Once teachers/staff can recognize that trauma can be at the cause of these behaviors, teachers can begin to help students feel safe in the classroom with simple everyday strategies. These strategies can be implemented on a daily basis to show school is a safe learning environment for their students. We will also share strategies to help students in the moment that trauma may be taking over their response to classroom environments.

Social-Emotional Learning in School-Wide Programming: Looking beyond Advisory
Steve Diveley, Amanda Connell, and Chris Abbott
Currently, Hadley Junior High has once per week advisory and supplements SEL through programming during the day, in the classroom, and after school. Expanding our SEL time through an advisory period is not possible at this point, but opportunities are created through building programming. This session highlights how schools can be creative in their school events and curriculum to address the SEL component, cognizant that social skills and addressing anxiety are not confined to a single point of day.

Developing a Student Leadership Team
Julia Colombo and Jessica Closson
Empowering students is at the heart of successful middle schools as described in AMLEs seminal position paper, This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (2010). Our school has been working toward that goal by developing a student leadership team from the ground up. Working within the framework of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, this student group is gradually gaining members and taking on a shared role in the leadership, culture, and academic workings of our school. In this session, we will describe our journey toward developing this student leadership team, including our rationale, organizational strategies, and helpful tips for implementing a group like this in your own school.

SMS All School Advisory: Making Relationships a Priority
James Parker, Michael Cox, Tracey Fuentes, and Jon Palicki
This past school year, we have made building relationships with our students a priority by creating an “All School Advisory.” We combined students in grades 6-8 into 50 different advisory classes. Each class has an interest base as well as an SEL purpose. Students were allowed to choose their interest-based topic. Come listen to our journey on how an idea from a team leader meeting grew into an all-school advisory.

SEL for ELs: Unique Needs of our Linguistically Diverse Students
Carly Spina
This session will talk about the ways in which our linguistic and cultural identities shape who we are in the middle school classroom and ways that educators can support and honor our students’ diversities. “SEL for ELs” will dive into practical strategies that all educators can use as well as explore ways that teams and schools can collectively elevate the status of other languages. This session will also discuss SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) and how this can impact a student’s ability to connect with a teacher, peers, or their school.

Developing SEL in STEM
Jennifer Smith
This session will explore classroom tested ways to incorporate SEL competencies into the STEM classroom through project-based learning. This is a hands-on session where participants will work on two brief STEM projects to explore SEL. SEL resources and classroom project ideas will be shared with participants as well.

The Power of YOU: Developing Yourself and Students
Christopher McGraw
Through actual student data and testimonials comprised of 830+ current middle school students, this presentation focuses on practical, effective, and impactful means of building significant connections with students. Learn directly from middle school students about their self-identified “cornerstones” they value in regards to staff members meeting their social-emotional needs. Develop both yourself as a leader and your students as partners through the “power of YOU – Year-long Opportunities for Understanding” in this real-world, thought provoking, humorous, self-reflective, and challenging presentation!

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.

Illinois Continuing Education Professional Hours
Educators from Illinois can take advantage of this great opportunity to earn 5 hours of credits for each day at the Middle Level SEL Institute. Those seeking credit will be required to complete a conference evaluation form and submit an IEIN number to be recorded by the Association of Illinois Middle-Grade Schools (AIMS). An Evidence of Completion for Professional Development certificate will be distributed at the end of day, Friday, June 19. If you have any questions please contact John Viano.


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:

The American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) strives to build a mentally healthy nation for all⁠—where you live, learn, work, and worship. We are excited to offer AMLE members our Typical or Troubled?® to help educators and all staff members understand and identify mental health problems in middle and high school students. This newly updated curriculum features: Self-Paced E-Learning Module, Customizable Classroom Module, and Data-Driven Assessments. Come visit our table to learn about how we can help your schools with teen mental health with a 50% off discount cost. To learn more, visit: https://apafdn.org/tot.

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, provides comprehensive primary, consultative, and specialty services to adolescents and young adults. Our team is dedicated to a patient and family-centered approach ensuring that youth are actively engaged in their care. We offer a range of medical and mental health services for individuals, including primary care, behavioral health, specialty care for transgender and gender expansive youth, HIV and STI treatment and preventative care, behavioral research, mental health in primary care, community outreach and education services, reproductive health, and substance use and prevention. To learn more, visit: https://www.luriechildrens.org/en/specialties-conditions/adolescent-medicine/.

BehaviorFlip helps schools develop and infuse social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and trauma-informed strategies through the creation of sustainable and effective behavior monitoring solutions. BehaviorFlip effectively tracks and manages student behaviors and provides high quality social-emotional data to create student snapshots for administrators, instructors, families, and students. To learn more, visit: https://behaviorflip.com/.

CharacterStrong offers a middle level SEL and character advisory curriculum (100 lessons, vertically-aligned) and leadership curriculum (90, 60 minute lessons). They have an intentional focus on implementation and provide regional trainings and in-building professional development to support that critical ingredient of staff buy-in and readiness. To learn more, visit https://www.characterstrong.com/.

Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools®
Come talk with us about social inclusion and SEL in your school. Unified Champion Schools is a school-based program funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs that works to enhance the inclusion of all students in the social fabric of the school. Meet with U.S. Youth Ambassadors and other representatives to learn more about how to improve your school's climate and student growth through social-emotional learning. Also, attend our sessions on the research and application of research on SEL in middle level schools. To learn more, visit: http://www.generationunified.org/.

The Middle Level SEL Institute is coming to Chicago, IL. Help spread the word to educators who want to reach every student, grow professionally, and create great schools.


@AMLE is the official twitter handle for the Association for Middle Level Education.

Sample Tweets

Join me in Chicago, IL, June 18-19, 2020, at the Middle Level SEL Institute, a comprehensive event to guide #SEL programming in #middleschool. Great for #middlelevel educators. www.amle.org/SELinstitute @AMLE

Attend the best #SEL event for #middleschool educators in Chicago, IL, June 18-19, 2020 www.amle.org/SELinstitute @AMLE

Join #middleschool educators in Chicago, IL, for the Middle Level SEL Institute, June 18-19, 2020. www.amle.org/SELinstitute @AMLE

The Middle Level SEL Institute is coming to Chicago, IL! Plan to join your fellow #middleschool educators June 18-19, 2020 www.amle.org/SELinstitute @AMLE

Join fellow #middleschool educators in Chicago, IL, June 18–19, 2020, for the Middle Level #SEL Institute www.amle.org/SELinstitute @AMLE

Newsletter, Facebook, and Email

You can use the following descriptions with an image from the section below.

Short, v1
Join us as we explore young adolescent development and social emotional learning programs and practices at the Middle Level SEL Institute, June 18-19, 2020, in Chicago, IL. www.amle.org/SELinstitute

Short, v2
Attend the Middle Level SEL Institute, June 18-19, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois, where you can explore young adolescent development and social emotional learning programs and practices specifically designed for middle schools. www.amle.org/SELinstitute

Attend the Middle Level SEL Institute, June 18-19, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois, where you can explore young adolescent development and social emotional learning programs and practices specifically designed for middle schools. The SEL Institute will provide engaging and personalized content with opportunities to access facilitated debriefs and network and share best practices with other middle school colleagues. More at www.amle.org/SELinstitute

The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) and the Association of Illinois Middle-Grade Schools (AIMS) invites you to participate in a unique workshop as we explore young adolescent development and social emotional learning practices specifically designed for you to launch and sustain exceptional SEL programming in your school. The Middle Level SEL Institute is coming to National Louis University, Chicago, Illinois, June 18-19, 2020.

This event will provide engaging and personalized content with the opportunity for facilitated debriefs. Take advantage of these two days of opportunities to network and share best practices with other middle school colleagues.

Visit www.amle.org/SELinstitute for more workshop details.


The following are banner ads you may use on web pages, in blogs and social media, and in your email signature, to link to the Middle Level SEL Institute website, www.amle.org/SELinstitute. To download an image, right click and choose "Save Link As ...".