Morningside Center

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Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
Activating Empathy: Transforming Schools To Teach What Matters competition.

Morningside Center is a national leader in fostering students' social and emotional learning through sustained school-based programs.

About You

Organization: Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility Visit websitemore ↓↑ hide↑ hide

About You

First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization

Organization Name

Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility

Organization Country

United States, NY

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States

Is your organization a

Non‐profit / NGO / Citizen sector organization

Your role in Education


The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with

Public (tuition-free)

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)

How long has your solution been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

The Need: What problem are you trying to solve?

In most schools today, the attempt to facilitate good behavior in students is implemented through a system of rewards and punishments. This punitive approach alienates young people, particularly those who are most at-risk and vulnerable. Because it does not facilitate the internalization of good decision making skills in young people, it does not result in long-term behavioral changes. Increasingly, research (such as that described in Daniel Pink’s book Drive), demonstrates that intrinsic rewards are far more effective in developing motivation and productivity in people. In the context of schools, this issue comes up all the time, and it is never as critical as it is when behavioral issues and a healthy, peaceful classroom culture are at stake.

The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!

Our solution is based on a vision of education where schools foster the skills young people need to be productive contributors to our democracy. We want to recapture the true meaning of the word discipline, that is, instruction that perfects mental faculties and moral character. Critical thinking, thoughtful and reflective decision making, and a willingness to examine the status quo are key competencies that our systemic approach fosters. Most discipline systems are about controlling young people. Our approach teaches the skills and habits of reflection that young people need to behave well and make a positive contribution to their communities. Holistic Discipline provides the support, framework, practice, and feedback to support schools in building community practices that are aligned with SEL—including, critically, at times of conflict and when misbehavior arises, using these challenging instances as teachable moments.

The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities

Morningside Center’s Holistic Discipline model has two components that form a systemic approach to dealing with discipline in a way that is aligned with social and emotional learning:
a) School level: Developing a school-wide discipline plan aligned with SEL
We help schools develop a school-wide approach to discipline that is consistent with social and emotional learning. Committee members (representing a cross section of the school community) get a thorough introduction to the Holistic Discipline model and discuss how to tailor it to their school’s needs.
b) Classroom level: Coaching teachers in Holistic Discipline
Our staff developer provides coaching for the teacher aimed at improving student behavior and creating a positive climate for learning in ways that support students’ social and emotional learning. This approach goes far beyond “classroom management” because it takes into account all the factors that affect student behavior and classroom climate, including the format of the class, the pacing, the teachers’ ability to connect the material to students’ lives, and the many other ways the teacher interacts with students.
Our staff developer observes the teacher in the classroom using a framework that breaks effective approaches to discipline into a number of dimensions. She then works with the teacher to identify the teacher’s strengths and the dimensions in which she needs additional support. She suggests possible approaches for the teacher to try, and partners with the teacher to improve her practice through continued observation and debriefing sessions.

The Marketplace: Who are your peers and competitors? Identify others also working to address the needs you are and what differentiates you from them. What challenges could these players pose to your success or growth?

The PBIS, or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support system, is the most challenging competitor we face. Adopted by many schools, PBIS often includes incentive based rewards for positive behavior. Holistic Discipline aims to develop students’ skills and internal controls to gain intrinsic satisfaction from behaving positively. Research demonstrates that the “carrot/stick” paradigm is not an effective framework for encouraging motivation, but rather that intrinsic motivators are a much more powerful drive for high level performance. While our approach requires more work “up front,” it is a worthwhile investment for sustainable results.

Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.

Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Morningside Center is a national leader in implementing school-based social and emotional learning programs.

Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Our solution would transform schools. Holistic Discipline is a ground-breaking approach to shifting school climate.

Social Impact

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What has been the impact of your solution to date?

The impact has been overwhelmingly positive! Morningside Center piloted Holistic Discipline in 8 high-need middle schools in the Bronx and Brooklyn with approximately 50 teachers last year. Survey results reflected the following:
• 96% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that the workshops were useful.
• 96% of teachers said that the workshops were either good or excellent overall.
• 97% of teachers said that the SD provided useful insights, techniques and skills.
• 94% of teachers reported an increased awareness of their students’ social and emotional needs.
• 89% of teachers reported strengthened their relationships with their students.
• 91% of teachers reported having more tools to handle conflicts between themselves and students.
• 92% reported an overall improvement in classroom climate.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Over the next year, Morningside Center will finalize the written materials and guides for the Holistic Discipline program. To facilitate this process and to continue to grow the initial pilot, over the next year we will implement the program in two more schools. In three years, the program will be solidly validated as an effective method for promoting empathetic schools and positioned for national expansion.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

School budgets have been shrinking. Because much of Morningside Center’s income comes from direct services to schools, this reality could be a potential obstacle to our plans for expanding the Holistic Discipline program. We are vigorously seeking foundation and other private monies to fill the gap. We have strong relationships with several major foundations; we will continue to cultivate these relationships, and to pursue new relationships to fill the anticipated income gap. Additionally, through our uniquely strong relationships with schools and school leaders, we are well positioned to anticipate and respond to new needs.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

In in six months, we will have accomplished the following:

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone

Task 1

Writing a manual to guide principals and their planning committees in developing a tailored discipline plan aligned with SEL.

Task 2

Expanding and improving our manual for staff developers.

Task 3

Create a resource book of strategies teachers can use to improve their performance in all of the dimensions of the program.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

In one year (by September 2013), we will be implementing the full Holistic Discipline model in at least 3 new schools.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone

Task 1

Meet with principals to promote the program and further develop buy-in and a market for the program.

Task 2

Identify schools, reach out, and secure participation.

Task 3

Develop a system for tracking results.

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]

Holistic Discipline is revolutionary, but there has not been a single “aha!” moment. Morningside Center has been implementing SEL programs in schools for nearly 30 years. We work with every constituency in a school community (teachers, administrators, support staff, parents), and have had profound results with our work. We created the Holistic Discipline to address a common problem: even in schools committed to SEL, there is a breakdown in respect and empathy when students engage in challenging behavior. Rather than using these moments to foster learning, self-reflection, and healing, discipline devoid of SEL skills is too often about control and punishment. “Repeat and escalating offenses” are the result. Schools come to us over and over again to ask for help with classroom management and school culture issues, Holistic Discipline has been the organic outgrowth of our work.


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Tell us about your partnerships

Our closest partnerships are with public schools, particularly in New York City. We also work in close partnership with the NYC Department of Education, The After School Corporation, researchers (from NYU, Fordham and Harvard), CASEL, and the NYC Out-of-School-Time program.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]

We have a core staff of 15 and a very stable and experienced team of 20 per diem staff developers and trainers who work in schools to implement our programs.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

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