An interview with Danielle Annett, Associate Director at the Center for Applied Research & Human Development

Tell us about yourself… What’s your background?

I am the Associate Director of the Center for Applied Research and Human Development and Assistant Research Professor.

I began my career as a School Psychologist working with students referred out of their home schools due to behavioral, social/emotional challenges. In my time as a school psychologist, and specifically engaging in the functional behavior assessment process, I found that many recommendations were systemically and/or environmentally based — leading me to pursue additional graduate work in Educational Psychology in order to address systemic issues for all children.

My recent research focuses on the achievement gap and designing environments and interventions to empower students to achieve and counselors to connect. I also developed a multi-tiered system of support for urban high schools that integrates counseling standards and the Common Core while focusing on culturally competent college and career readiness through a supportive curriculum.

My heart is in understanding student achievement within specific contexts, while considering factors that contribute to student and school success. In my work I also conduct comprehensive assessment and engage in supportive program evaluation and action planning.

What was your introduction to social and emotional learning (SEL) and why do you think SEL matters?

Most might think that my introduction to SEL came sometime in my graduate school years. However, for all of us, our introduction to SEL happened incidentally through the process of socialization into our families and communities. CASEL defines SEL as a process whereby we acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions (CASEL, 2017). What most of us experience is that SEL is something that we pick up on the side as we navigate our experiences.

For example, as a female, I have acquired and applied the skills necessary to understand and manage not only myself within the context of my own person, but how to understand and manage myself within specific social contexts and the larger cultural expectations of being a white female. From the days of climbing trees, being covered in dirt and refusing to wear pink, I knew that I was bucking the system. I knew that I was supposed to be pretty, like pink, giggle at nonsense, like to play with dolls, and play house. I knew that I didn’t fit the social expectations of being a girl.

This phenomenon of girlhood follows us into being women in the workforce. I know that I am free to understand and manage my emotions more openly with my network of female friends and colleagues, but I also understand that managing my emotions openly in a male dominated work sector would result in dismissal of my credibility. Isn’t this a strange double-edged sword? We are raised to think being pretty is important but are then dismissed for stereotypically “female” behaviors.

This is just one example of a phenomenon that has far greater reach than my backyard or office. Consider for a moment that there are cultural expectations for how boys understand and manage emotions that are different from how girls understand and manage emotions. There are cultural expectations for how students of different racial and ethnic groups and students in districts with less abundant opportunity set and achieve goals.

Our 2017 blog focus is on how SEL relates to equity and inclusion. How do you understand these practices to be connected, and what are some ways our readers can use SEL to support equity and inclusion?

As scholars and practitioners, we understand that SEL occurs throughout our lifetime by virtue of experiencing the larger culture. SEL happens within a much broader context than the individual for all of our students, especially students who are typically marginalized. There are cultural expectations for everyone and this unfortunately is strongly represented in urban districts and for marginalized populations by the concept of stereotype threat.

For example, there is the social expectation that students in underperforming districts lack motivation. Our students are understanding the not so hidden messages loud and clear and they are feeling like I did: thrilled to be who they are, but incensed that people around them have much different expectations. You might be surprised to know that students in less affluent communities have parallel feelings about their mindsets and behaviors as they relate to learning, compared to students in neighboring affluent districts. In example, “Curiously, just over half of students who responded to the survey (52.56%) in the more affluent community reported feeling that students give up when they cannot solve an academic problem easily (District data report, 2014). Whereas students in the urban environment responded with high levels of agreement (66.7%) with the statement, ‘When school work is hard in one of my classes, I find ways to work it out.’ In addition, in the affluent community, 70.33% of students surveyed feel that their teachers care about them (District data report, 2014) compared with 68.6% of students in the research intervention group at the urban high school” (Annett, 2017).

So, what do we do about this? When we introduce students to the concept of SEL in schools, it is critical to come to our students with the understanding that they have already been socialized into a world where the expectations are clear. The next step for us, as educators, is to help students navigate a world where there are parameters around our understanding and management of emotions; a world where setting goals, maintaining relationships and making decisions is a basic human right that might be shaped by social expectation, but can be molded through culturally competent collaborative educational experiences.

This can be challenging. However, the best thing we can do as professionals is to start truly listening to our students and giving them the expert voice in this process. In order to consider SEL in terms of equity and inclusion, we need to include our students in a conversation, rather than prescribe a series of lessons.

What SEL resources do you recommend our readers check out?

I encourage practitioners to start or continue on the journey of cultural competence. The key to understanding cultural competence is to be aware of the action of culturally competent practice. Cultural competence is not somewhere we arrive. Rather it is a practice we must engage every day.

There are terrific resources to help us do this, including:

  • Alexandria, VA. “Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success: K-12 College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Every Student.” in American School Counselor Association (2014)
  • Feuerstein, A. “OPINION: Traditional public schools educate 90 percent of American’s kids – let’s not make our educational system more unequal than it is already.” in The Hechinger Report (2017, February 28):
  • Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (2013)
  • The American School Counselor Association (
  • The Education Trust (
  • The Hechinger Report (