Tonje Molyneux

Supporting systemic, school-based social and emotional learning through teacher professional development
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My academic and professional life has been dedicated to improving social, emotional, and academic outcomes for children and youth. Initially, I met this objective as a classroom teacher working with students in Canada, Japan, and the US. After completing my first master’s degree, I started a new career in social and emotional learning (SEL) program development and educational design. After over ten years serving in that role, I decided to pursue further graduate studies in support of a career shift to post-secondary education and educational research. As a professor and researcher, I can pursue my primary research interest: to advance the science and practice of SEL by developing and testing instruments, interventions, and professional learning approaches that can make significant, positive differences in SEL implementation quality and student outcomes. In this role, I can also work with pre-service and practicing educators to enhance their ability to promote students’ overall development.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I decided to pursue doctoral studies in Human Development, Learning, and Culture (HDLC) in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education (ECPS) at the University of British Columbia for three main reasons: 1) demonstrated commitment to advancing research in social and emotional learning (SEL) and development; 2) numerous faculty who are renowned experts in SEL and educator development; and, 3) recognition of the need for further research in my area of interest: improving educators’ ability to support students’ healthy social and emotional development.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

The recognition of SEL as an integral component of students’ healthy development, well-being, and school and life success has risen dramatically over the last two decades. UBC’s HDLC program has contributed greatly to this recognition by advancing the research on many fronts. Both the SEL Lab and the Social-Emotional Education and Development (SEED) Research Group stand out to me as leaders in this area. Further evidence of HDLC’s commitment to SEL is their offering of an MA with a concentration in SEL and supporting teacher education cohorts in SEL. There are also several faculty members in the HDLC program who are renowned experts in SEL and related topics including educator development that were a key attraction for me. During my MA, I received excellent mentorship and training from Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an exceptional researcher and leader in the field of SEL who is dedicated to developing the next generation of SEL researchers. In my doctoral studies, I will benefit from the expertise of my co-supervisors: Dr. Eva Oberle, an associate ECPS member and expert on SEL evaluation and systemic approaches to schoolwide SEL implementation, and Dr. Jennifer Shapka, an expert on SEL and teacher factors.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

Before moving to Vancouver to pursue graduate studies, I was familiar with the city and what it has to offer. However, after settling in I realize what an incredible opportunity it is to live in this region. Vancouver is surrounded by natural beauty and a wealth of opportunities to be active outdoors. UBC campus is no exception with gorgeous gardens and access to nearby beaches and walking trails. From campus, you can also enjoy breathtaking views of the North Shore Mountains.

UBC’s Human Development, Learning, and Culture program has contributed greatly to this recognition by advancing the research on many fronts. Both the social and emotional learning (SEL) Lab and the Social-Emotional Education and Development (SEED) Research Group stand out to me as leaders in this area.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

A highlight of my graduate program is learning from others and challenging my ideas and beliefs. The field of social and emotional learning (SEL) is shifting in response to calls for social justice and equity, so I'm eager to explore ways to decolonize SEL and promote social and emotional resilience.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

A challenge I foresee in my future career is ensuring that my research contributes to meaningful changes to educational practice. This entails moving beyond one-way dissemination of findings towards more collaborative research that features partnerships with practitioners from the outset. With this approach, research can both inform and be informed by practice, thus enabling real changes that address the challenges faced by practitioners.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

In my program, I am learning approaches to research that recognize the importance of doing research with practitioners rather than on them. Establishing collaborative research partnerships with practitioners is key for identifying what lines of inquiry matter most in a given context. Partnering with practitioners in this way can support meaningful and relevant changes to policy and practice.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My childhood and youth were spent living in several countries. In fact, I attended 10 different schools over the course of primary and secondary school! I've worked in three different countries and travelled to many more. My nomadic life has helped me develop an open mind and the ability to take other's perspectives, two abilities that serve me well in graduate school. Moreover, I've developed a keen curiosity about everything, and this fuels my desire to continually question and learn through my continued graduate studies.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

An important outlet for me is spending time outside enjoying nature with my family. This includes walks in local parks and neighbourhoods, bike rides, and hiking. When indoors, I enjoy cooking, baking, and reading. As a mother of an active child, I can also be found volunteering at swim meets or attending violin recitals.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

I think a key to surviving and thriving in a graduate program is forming strong bonds with peers. When you're connected with others, you can share the experience and be a support to each other. There's no reason to be alone or feel alone in this process! It's important to ask for help, lean on others, and be a support to others, too. And when you talk with others about what you're learning and experiencing, there is also an opportunity to learn from their diverse perspectives which can only serve to enrich your learning.


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