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New Education Doctorate Focused on Social-Emotional Learning Is One of the First of Its Kind as Experts Call for Better Teacher Training on the Whole Child

Seven years ago, Michael P. Alfano was sitting in his office at Southern Connecticut State University when a faculty member ran into the room in tears. That was how he first learned about the deadly school shooting 20 miles away at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people — including a student in his graduate education program,first-grade teacher Victoria Soto — were killed.

The tragedy sparked a reckoning in Alfano — and educators across the country — who questioned whether school systems haad failed to support individuals who acted out so violently. For Alfano, part of preventing a shooting, a bully, or any other form of violence in schools meant addressing childhood trauma, helping students understand and manage emotions, and training educators in this work.

This year, Alfano launched a new education doctorate at Sacred Heart University to do just that. One of the first of its kind in the country, the doctorate focuses on social, emotional, and academic leadership. Alfano, who is now the dean of the Fairfield, Connecticut university’s school of education, hopes the program can prepare principals, superintendents, or other school leaders in supporting teachers and students as well as becoming experts in the fast-growing field of social-emotional learning.