Surveys are finding that character, values, optimism, and student autonomy are in decline. A 2023 Gallup Poll found that 54% of Americans rated the state of moral values in the U.S. as poor, and 83% believed they were getting worse. In a 2023 MOTT National Poll on Children’s Health, less than half of parents reported their 5-8 year old children regularly engage in independent activities and research shows children’s autonomy is in decline and may be hurting mental health. Yet, a 2023 Congressional Medal of Honor Society Poll found that nearly four in five Americans (79%) believe having strong values and character is important. Psychological research finds that strength and character-based education can increase student engagement, perseverance, and achievement. Research has also shown that character strengths such as compassion, hope, and optimism can improve brain, mental, and physical health and increase resilience in the face of challenges and uncertainty and that autonomy and independence foster a sense of agency and intrinsic motivation, critical for academic and personal success.

The conference will bring neuroscientists, psychologists, researchers, and educators together to explore the “Science of Student Strengths and Character” and ways to bridge neuroscience and educational practice for stronger brains and students, and to create strength/asset-based teaching and schools. This event will explore the benefits of teaching all students, including the neurodiverse and how to use students strengths to overcome deficits. Discover science-based strategies to strengthen character, compassion, optimism, hope, courage, flexibility, morality, autonomy, independence, responsibility, and confidence so students can succeed in today's cynical, dependent, and deficit-focused age.

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This conference will be presented as a hybrid conference. You can either attend in person or participate virtually. Click here for more details.

Featured Speakers

Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition in Children and Parents

Patricia S. Churchland, BPhil

President’s Professor of Philosophy Emerita, University of California, San Diego; Adjunct Professor, Salk Institute; Author, Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition (2019), Touching a Nerve (2013), Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality (2011), Brain-Wise (2002), and The Computational Brain (1994); Co-Author, “Morality and the Brain: The Right Hemisphere and Doing Right” (2020, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology) and “The Neurobiological Platform for Moral Values” (2014, Behavior)

The Science of Rewiring Our Brains for Compassion, Optimism, Gratitude, and Awe

Dacher J. Keltner, PhD

Professor of Psychology; Director, Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley; Co-Director, Greater Good Science Center; Author, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life (2023) and Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (2009); Co-Author, “Awe Sparks Prosociality in Children” (2023, Psychological Science), “The Magic of Hope: Hope Mediates the Relationship Between Socioeconomic Status and Academic Achievement” (2017, Educational Research) and Understanding Emotions (2013); Co-Editor, The Gratitude Project: How the Science of Thankfulness Can Rewire Our Brains for Resilience, Optimism, and the Greater Good (2020) and The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness (2010)

Autism and Education: Focusing on the Strengths of Neurodiverse Students

Temple Grandin, PhD

Autism and Animal Rights Advocate; Professor of Animal Science, Colorado State University; Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Feature of an HBO Emmy Award winning movie about her life; Author, Autism and Adolescence―The Way I See It: What Teens and Adults Need to Know (2024), Autism and Education: The Way I See It: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know (2023), Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions (2023), and Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism (2006, Expanded Edition); Co-Author, Different Kinds of Minds: A Guide to Your Brain (2023), Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals With Autism (2024, 3rd Edition), and The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum (2013)

Hope for Cynics: The Surprising Science of Human Goodness

Jamil Zaki, PhD

Director, Social Neuroscience Lab; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University; Co-Founder, The People’s Science; Author, Hope for Cynics: The Surprising Science of Human Goodness (Forthcoming) and The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World (2019); Co-Author, "A Brief Intervention to Motivate Empathy Among Middle School Students” (2022, Experimental Psychology), “Social Belonging, Compassion, and Kindness: Key Ingredients for Fostering Resilience, Recovery, and Growth from the COVID-19 Pandemic” (2022, Anxiety, Stress & Coping), and “Empathy as a Moral Force” (2018, Atlas of Moral Psychology)

The Science and Power of Hope

Chan M. Hellman, PhD

Professor, Anne & Henry Zarrow School of Social Work; Founding Director, The Hope Research Center, University of Oklahoma; One of the World’s Leading Researchers on Hope; Co-Founder with Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt and the Sarah Stitt Hope Foundation of “Hope Rising Oklahoma,” an Initiative whose mission is to empower people, families, education, and communities to better their lives through the science of hope; Co-Author, “Hope As a Buffer to Suicide Attempts Among Adolescents With Depression” (2023, School Health), “Hope and Resilience As Distinct Contributors to Psychological Flourishing Among Childhood Trauma Survivors” (2020, Traumatology), and Hope Rising: How The Science of Hope Can Change Your Life (2018)

Hacking Deficit Thinking: Strategies for Strength-Based Practices

Byron McClure, EdD

Nationally Certified School Psychologist; Director of Innovation, 7 Mindsets; Founder, Lessons in SEL; Founder, SchoolPsychAI; Former Assistant Director of Redesign, District of Columbia Public Schools; Advocate for Strength-Based Teaching; Co-Author, Hacking Deficit Thinking: 8 Reframes That Will Change the Way You Think About Strength-Based Practices and Equity in Schools (2022)

The Science of Character: PRIMED for Changing the Character of Schools

Marvin W. Berkowitz, PhD

Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Character Education; Co-Director of the Center for Character and Citizenship; President’s Thomas Jefferson Professor, University of Missouri-St. Louis; Founding Co-Editor, Journal for Research in Character Education; Member, Board of Directors,; Former Board Member of the John Templeton Foundation, Jean Piaget Society, and the Association for Moral Education; Author, PRIMED for Character Education: Six Design Principles for School Improvement (2021) and Parenting for Good (2005); Co-Author, “Changing the Character of Schools: Promoting Servant Leadership Virtues to Solve Internationally Relevant Problems in Education” (2024, The Routledge International Handbook of Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Character Development) and “Advancing the Science of Character Education: Twenty Plus Years of Reviewing the Literature in Character Education” (2023, Second International Research Handbook on Values Education and Student Wellbeing); Editor, Moral Education (1985)