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Faculty & Research

Richard Weissbourd

Senior Lecturer on Education
Faculty Director, Human Development and Psychology

Richard Weissbourd

Degree:  Ed.D., Harvard University, (1987)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.495.2031
Personal Site:   Link to Site
Vitae/CV:   Richard Weissbourd.pdf
Office:  Longfellow 328
Office Hours Contact:  Email the Faculty Member
Faculty Assistant:  Annette Granillo


Richard Weissbourd is currently a senior lecturer in education at HGSE and at the Kennedy School of Government. He is also faculty director of the Human Development and Psychology master's program. His work focuses on vulnerability and resilience in childhood, the achievement gap, moral development, and effective schools and services for children. With Stephanie Jones, he directs the Making Caring Common Project, a national effort to make moral and social development priorities in child-raising and to provide strategies to schools and parents for promoting in children caring, a commitment to justice and other key moral and social capacities. He is currently conducting research on how older adults can better mentor young adults and teenagers in developing ethical, mature romantic relationships. For several years he worked as a psychologist in community mental health centers as well as on the Annie Casey Foundation's New Futures Project, an effort to prevent children from dropping out of school. He is a founder of several interventions for at-risk children, including ReadBoston and WriteBoston, citywide literacy initiatives led by Mayor Menino. He is also a founder of a Boston pilot school, the Lee Academy, that begins with children at 3 years old. He has advised on the city, state, and federal levels on family policy and school reform and has written for numerous scholarly and popular publications, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, CNN, The New Republic, The American Prospect, NPR, and Psychology Today. He is the author of The Vulnerable Child: What Really Hurts America¿s Children and What We Can Do About It (Addison-Wesley, 1996), named by the American School Board Journal as one of the top 10 education books of all time. His most recent book, The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development (Houghton Mifflin 2009), was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 24 books of 2009.

Click here to see a full list of Richard Weissbourd's courses.

Areas of Expertise
Runner Up, National Awards for Education Reporting 2012. Opinion in an Education-Only Newsroom: Promoting Moral Development in Schools, Harvard Education Letter, 28(1), Jan/Feb 2012. (2012),(2012)

Awarded One of Top 10 Education Books of All Time by American School Board Journal, for The Vulnerable Child (Addison-Wesley, 1996)

Best Editorial Award from Association of Educational Publishers for The "Quiet" Troubles of Low Income Children, Harvard Education Letter, 24(2), March/April 2008.

Book selected by New Yorker reviewers as one of the top 24 nonfiction books of 2009. Weissbourd, R. The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).

Sponsored Projects

Building Virtues through College Admissions: Developing Effective, Authentic Assessments that Positively Motivate Student Behavior (2017-2020)
John Templeton Foundation

The college admissions process provides a powerful opportunity to motivate key virtues in high school students. Yet the message that young people typically receive today is that what matters most to colleges—and to society—is a high number of achievements, not meaningful ethical or performance virtues. The good news is that college admissions offices want better tools for assessing and motivating virtues. Making Caring Common (MCC) seeks support from the Templeton Foundation to analyze current college admissions tools and practices and to pilot new tools in high schools and college admission offices that promote both ethical and performance virtue development and equity and access for economically disadvantaged students. In the project’s first phase, we will determine the most effective admissions practices for assessing and/or motivating ethical virtues and diligence in the face of demanding family responsibilities and, in consultation with experts and admissions officers, recommend revisions and consider new approaches. In the second phase, we will develop, pilot, and evaluate innovative, scalable assessment strategies in high schools to be utilized in the admissions process. Here we will focus on strategies identifying students who demonstrate ethical virtues in their daily actions and those who demonstrate diligence and academic potential while undertaking substantial family responsibilities. We anticipate that this project could lead to colleges across the country—including many of the 120 admissions offices endorsing Turning the Tide—adopting systems that more effectively assess key virtues and motivate students to be more generous, future-minded, reliable, and diligent. Ultimately, this work is pivotal to achieving a saner and healthier balance between young people’s self-interests and their investment in others and our collective future; to promoting diligence as a key virtue; and to advancing the college prospects of economically disadvantaged students.

KIND Schools Challenge (2016-2017)
The KIND Foundation

The KIND Schools challenge aims to mobilize groups of students to cultivate kinder, more caring, inclusive communities and to tackle issues such as bullying and harassment that undermine caring and empathy in schools. The goals of the initiative are: •To empower and mobilize students to step outside of themselves and their immediate social circles to create kinder, more inclusive school communities. •To identify and showcase models that effectively create kinder, more inclusive school communities.

Low Burden, Scalable SEL Strategies for Middle and High Schools (2016-2017)
Einhorn Family Charitable Trust

Schools need low-burden strategies that are easy to implement but that still promote caring and inclusive schools and classrooms, develop key emotional and ethical capacities in students, and inspire interest in deeper and more comprehensive efforts to promote SEL and ethical capacities—practices that can easily be scaled and may achieve certain goals as effectively as comprehensive programs at far less cost. Here we outline the key components of this work in middle and high schools participating in our Caring Schools Initiative. This work could either stand-alone or comprise the first phase of a larger project designed to test these strategies more widely and rigorously. This work is divided into two phases. Because many schools need help navigating in the sea of programs designed to promote these capacities--including youth development, character education, SEL, bullying and conflict resolution programs--the first phase of the work is devoted to developing a clear and cogent catalog of practices that have promise in 1) promoting caring school cultures, 2) developing specific emotional and ethical capacities in students such as self-regulation, and 3) responding to challenges such as sexual harassment and bullying. The second phase of the work is piloting and evaluating 10-15 strategies in a small number of schools this fall.

Turning the Tide (2016-2017)
Einhorn Family Charitable Trust

The college admissions process is a major rite of passage for millions of students. In fact, it is the focus for many students during their high school careers and powerfully shapes their priorities and experiences at a crucial, formative time in their lives. But too many young people are receiving the message that what matters chiefly or solely to colleges— and by extension to society—is a high number of impressive achievements, not meaningful ethical and intellectual engagement. Making Caring Common launched Turning the Tide in January 2016 to try to shift the core messages that young people hear about what colleges value. The report represents the first time in history that colleges and universities across the country—including all the Ivy League schools—have banded together to make the collective statement that what matters most in college admissions is not long “brag sheets” but concern for others and the common good and meaningful, spirited learning. This report also redefines achievement and service in ways that increase access and equity for economically disadvantaged students. The substantial and positive response to the report suggests a powerful opportunity for Turning the Tide to effect meaningful change in college admissions. This document reflects our thinking about how we can best use this opportunity both in the short term and over the course of a 2-3 year campaign. We seek to move our work forward in three core areas that, taken together, can substantially reshape the college admissions process for students across race, class and culture, and help young people redefine their priorities, reimagine their high school experiences, and better prepare for ethically engaged and meaningful lives. Bundling these three areas was key to the success of our report—it enabled us to draw support from broad and diverse constituencies and pushed us to develop strategies that benefited economically diverse groups—and we see all three as key to our future success. We will focus on: 1. Promoting meaningful ethical engagement among high school students. 2. Increasing equity and access for economically disadvantaged students 3. Decreasing excessive achievement pressure in middle- and upper-class communities.

The Taxonomy Project: Non-Cognitive Skills for Learning and Life Success (2015-2017)
Einhorn Family Charitable Trust

Two projects are funded under the grant from the Einhorn Foundation: Project 1: The Taxonomy Project: “Non-Cognitive” Skills for Learning and Life Success The Taxonomy Project will focus on three tasks: Task 1: Describe and integrate existing frameworks in the broad non-cognitive domain; including key terms/skills arising from multiple research disciplines and diverse approaches to measuring and defining skills . Task 2: Create a structure for an applied developmental taxonomy that integrates concepts from multiple frameworks, describes in terms of everyday observable behaviors, and emphasizes how it changes across development); plus an illustration of how stakeholders can use the taxonomy to enhance their work in research, policy, or practice with children and youth. Task 3: Build a multi–year proposal for continued funding and a list of funding opportunities that are aligned to project scope, goals and activities. Project 2: Kernels of Practice for SEL: Evidence-Based Strategies for Social, Emotional, and Ethical Development In recent decades many school based programs have focused not only on academics but on an inter-related set of skills that fall under the headings of social and emotional learning (SEL), character education, bullying prevention, life skills, and/or youth development. Among these approaches, those focused on SEL appear to have the largest and most rigorously evaluated evidence base. SEL programming, which typically includes professional development, coaching, instructional lessons, skill-building routines, and skills practice, have been shown to improve the culture and climate of schools and classrooms and children’s social, emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes (e.g., Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, et al., 2011; Humphrey, 2013; Jones et al., 2011) Schools need a continuum of approaches that includes not only comprehensive, universal SEL curricula, but also routines and structures school staff and students use daily, as well as regular activities and school-wide efforts to promote respectful culture (Jones & Bouffard, 2012). There is now a pressing need to develop, test, and scale less intensive strategies that are easy to implement outside the context of a comprehensive program while still achieving meaningful outcomes for students. Teachers, staff, and administrators in all schools need access to evidence-based strategies and activities they can use with students in fairly brief but ongoing ways, and that are tailored to the school’s unique context, needs, capacities, and target goals. This investigation will outline the major components of the first phase of a larger project designed to build and test a body of evidence-based strategies and practices that can ultimately be adopted by a broad range of elementary, middle and high schools. The first phase is focused on building and piloting a limited number of evidence-based kernel of practice for SEL.

Making Caring Common Project (2013-2017)

The Making Caring Common Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education seeks to place moral and social development at the center of conversations about raising and educating children, and seeks to strengthen the ability of schools, parents, and communities to support the development of children’s ethical and social capacities, including the ability to take responsibility for others, to think clearly about and pursue justice, and to treat people well day to day. Our four year plan features two mutually reinforcing types of work: (1) development of a media and messaging strategy and campaign, and (2) development of interventions and resources for schools and parents and a school innovation network. We are piloting and implementing new resources, interventions, and strategies that enable us to apply our messages in homes, schools, and other settings, as well as gather information that will help us further refine and develop our media messages.

School Strategies to Accompany the Bully DVD (2012-2013)
Bully Movie Outreach, Inc.

This project consists of three phases: Phase 1: Generate a set of 5-6 “big idea” strategies for teachers and other school staff to use to prevent and respond to bullying. These strategies will be informed by research and developmental theory and will be grounded in practical experience. Each strategy will include 4-5 concrete, low-burden steps for schools (#1 what to do first; #2 what to do next; #3 steps toward long-term change). Where appropriate, these strategies will also include links to useful resources. Phase 2: Develop website materials that support the strategies. The materials include concrete, accessible guidance to schools about how to implement these strategies effectively, including what obstacles they are likely to face and how to overcome them. We also provide the rationale and research-base for each of the 5-6 strategies. Phase 3: Decision is made by The Bully Project (TBP) & Harvard regarding best placement of materials on website(s) – Harvard site, BULLY Site, or both.

Pre-K-3rd Implementation and Evaluation Framework Project (2011-2012)
W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation

This 24-month project (July 2010-June 2012 ) will develop a PreK-3rd Implementation and Evaluation Framework. All good evaluation tools are also good planning tools. As such, the Framework will be a useful guide for those engaged in the development, planning, and evaluation of PreK-3rd grade efforts. The research-based Framework will be a significant contribution to the field. It will not only provide a user-friendly and meaningful Framework for understanding the depth, breadth, and quality of PreK-3rd approaches, but will also establish the foundation upon which PreK-3rd grade evaluations can be conceptualized and designed. The Framework will be designed primarily for use by schools and school districts and will be based on the premise that there is no one “right” way to build or evaluate PreK-3rd efforts. The approach to building a PreK-3rd system depends on a school district’s or school’s resources, leadership, population, needs, and strengths. From an implementation perspective, the Framework will help users see the “big picture” of comprehensive and systemic PreK-3rd work. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the Framework will guide users in understanding how their own PreK-3rd strategies “fit” in the big picture, providing concrete examples of how they can enrich and expand their PreK-3rd efforts.

Restricted Follow-up Support on the Integrating Early Childhood and Elementary Education (2011-2012)
W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation

Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) sought funding for a third PreK-3rd Institute, the subsequent follow-up work, and evaluation. The goal is to foster the development of successful PreK-3rd initiatives across the United States by bringing a second cohort of PreK-3rd teams for a 2010 Institute and providing follow-up support to participating sites. The specific objectives are to: [1] finalize the recruitment of a new cohort of PreK-3rd teams; [2] design and implement the PreK-3rd Institute; [3] support participating sites in carrying out the action plans; and [4] monitor and evaluate the implementation of the action plan.

Weissbourd, R. (2009). The parents we mean to be: How well-intentioned adults undermine children's moral and emotional development. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.,(2009)

The Vulnerable Child: What Really Hurts America's Children and What We Can Do About It,(1996)

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