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Dena Simmons      

Educator & Founder of LiberatED; Social & Emotional Learning Advocate

Dena Simmons, Ed.D., is the founder of LiberatED, an antiracist approach to social and emotional learning and healing. She is the former Assistant Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, where she supported schools to use the power of emotions to create a more compassionate and just society. Prior to her work at the Center, Simmons served as an educator, teacher educator, diversity facilitator, and curriculum developer.

She has been a leading voice on teacher education and has written and spoken across the country about social justice pedagogy, diversity, emotional intelligence, and bullying in K-12 school settings, including the White House, the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit, the United Nations, two TEDx talks, and a TED talk on Broadway. Simmons has been profiled in Education Week, the Huffington Post, NPR, the AOL/PBS project, MAKERS: Women Who Make America, and a Beacon Press Book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists.

Simmons is a recipient of a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a J. William Fulbright Fellowship, an Education Pioneers Fellowship, a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, a Phillips Exeter Academy Dissertation Fellowship, a Hedgebrook Writing Residency, and an Arthur Vining Davis Aspen Fellowship among others. She earned her doctorate degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she recently served as faculty in the Summer Principals Academy. Her research interests include teacher preparedness to address bullying in the K-12 school setting, culturally responsive pedagogy, and the intersection of equity and social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions—all in an effort to ensure and foster justice and safe spaces for all. She is the author of the forthcoming book, White Rules for Black People (St. Martin’s Press, 2022).

Speech Topics

Leveraging Emotional Intelligence and Culturally Responsive Practices for Thriving Students

For students to thrive at school, they must feel safe to be who they are; they must love themselves. As a result, our leadership and instruction must foster psychological and emotional safety through emotional intelligence and culturally responsive pedagogy. During this interactive session, participants will explore the five key skills of emotional intelligence—recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions—as well as examples of culturally relevant practices. Through narrative, Simmons will discuss how the intersection of emotionally intelligent and culturally responsive practices can create equitable and welcoming communities, where students can learn in the comfort of their own skin.


Intersection of social-emotional learning & equity vital, says LEE member Dena Simmons
Dena Simmons is the Assistant Director at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She is a university scholar-practitioner, TED speaker, and educator on social-emotional learning, equity, and culturally responsive practices. She sat down with LEE staff to discuss in-depth the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) & equity in school systems.
Without Context, Social-Emotional Learning Can Backfire
A few years ago, I had the great fortune to meet Bronx native Dena Simmons on a fellowship trip and hear about her life’s work and experience. She’s an educator, a TED speaker, and currently, the assistant director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence—not to mention a keynote speaker at the EdSurge Fusion conference later this year.
Humanity, Healing and Doing the Work
Dena Simmons, Ed.D., is the founder of LiberatED, a collective at the intersection of racial justice, social emotional learning (SEL) and healing in education rooted in radical love. Simmons has expertise in anti-racist education, emotional intelligence, social justice, teacher education and curriculum development.
When Dena Simmons was growing up in the Bronx, she loved going to school. But she didn’t always see her own experiences or reality reflected in what she was learning—the emphasis, she felt, was on white experiences. Since those days, Simmons has gone on to become an educator herself, as well as an activist for culturally responsive, inclusive teaching methods and emotionally intelligent, safe classrooms for all students.

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