Founded in 2018, The Project for Mental Health and Optimal Development, based at Penn’s Graduate School of Education, explores the relationship between mental health and optimal development among children, youth, and the adults who support them.

The project has an array of school-based programs and research projects that aim to support all stakeholders in K-12 communities: 

  • The Consortium helps school district teams build mental health capacity and implement interventions.
  • The Possibility Mentoring program uses group mentoring in middle schools to help children explore their interests, strengths, and potential life and career pathways.
  • The Global Possibility Network (GPN) includes collaborations around the world that focus on possibility development for children and youth within the contexts of schools, families, and communities.
  • The Action Research Group (ARG) builds a community of practice among educators through collaborative inquiry and action research projects.
  • In Summer 2020, we created the Planning for Uncertainty Guide as part of our commitment to help K-12 educators and schools navigate the challenging mental health landscape of the COVID-19 era.

The Planning for Uncertainty team provides free PD sessions to interested schools, districts, and educator groups. Contact the team to inquire about a consultation or customized session for your team.


Planning for Uncertainty: An Educator’s Guide to Navigating the COVID-19 Era

In light of the educational upheaval caused by COVID-19, a team of teachers, counselors, school leaders, psychologists, teacher educators, and university faculty created a guide that aims to build educators’ and schools’ capacity to navigate the unknown territory in which we all find ourselves.

This resource advocates for approaching educational challenges and the problem-solving they require through an Uncertainty Mindset. It guides educators through developing actionable strategies in the face of pervasive uncertainty, both independently and alongside colleagues.

Penn GSE’s Michael Nakkula and Andy Danilchick, directors of the Project for Mental Health and Optimal Development, discuss the guide and its potential value to educators in the wake of the pandemic on CPRE Knowledge Hub’s podcast Research Minutes.

Download the Applying an Uncertainty Mindset Guide

An Uncertainty Mindset is a stance that encourages embracing the unknown in order to remain responsive to needs and opportunities as they emerge.

Across fields and disciplines, there is new interest in questions of how we engage with, plan for, and respond to uncertainty. Sociologist Vaughn Tan promotes an "uncertainty mindset" as a way of injecting uncertainty into organizational design to spur innovation, as he documented in his work studying the culinary industry (2020). For this guide, which was developed independently of Tan's work, an uncertainty mindset focuses on responding to the shifting landscapes of schooling and mental health caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our work places mental wellness–both of students and educators–at the forefront of decision-making and action plans, asking educators to consider how their actions can positively impact students’ mental wellness; and, conversely, how their actions (or inaction) can unintentionally negatively impact student mental wellness.

How to Use the Planning for Uncertainty Guide

This guide is written with the understanding that “school” today looks unlike it has ever looked before–and with the assumption that what school looks like today may be different from how it looks tomorrow.

Educators experiencing challenges within this new educational landscape will find multiple entry points:

Introduction

description of the Uncertainty Mindset focused on how to become more comfortable with the uncertainty of this moment

Framework

framework for how to move forward within this uncertainty using four core approaches:

  • Dialoguing with stakeholders
  • Considering school, classroom, and societal climate
  • Applying an equity lens
  • Ongoing reflection and evaluation

Real-Life Scenarios

A number of real-life student and educator scenarios—spanning in-person, hybrid, and virtual learning models—that demonstrate how to create action plans using the Uncertainty Mindset framework

Tools & Resources

A set of tools for educators to use either for themselves or to distribute to their students as they encounter issues surrounding mental wellness and relationship building, and additional resources for further learning and support

The Uncertainty Mindset framework has four components for addressing challenges: It recommends educators first dialogue with stakeholders, consider climate, and apply an equity lens; following these steps, they should continuously reflect and evaluate their progress.

This guide is not meant to be a linear or prescriptive guide; rather, it is intended to be used comprehensively, compartmentally, or on an as-needed basis for educators. Our hope is that educators can use it as a supplement to guide their problem-solving process, as they are faced with complex student issues and personal concerns that impact their work.

Professional Development & Consultations

The Planning for Uncertainty Guide team provides professional development sessions for educators. Contact the Planning for Uncertainty team to schedule a consultation or customized professional development session.
Schedule a Consultation

Planning for Uncertainty Guide Team

This guide was developed by the Project for Mental Health and Optimal Development at Penn GSE, in partnership with GSE’s Office of School and Community Engagement.

Leadership Team

Andy Danilchick, M.S.Ed., Project Director
Miranda Rain Wenhold, M.S.Ed., NCC, Project Manager
Debora Broderick, Ed.D., Project Manager
Julie Berger, M.S.Ed., NCC, Editor

Advisors

Caroline L. Watts, Ed.D., Director, Office of School and Community Engagement
Michael J. Nakkula, Ed.D., Co-Director, Project for Mental Health and Optimal Development

Contributors

Adam Bergevin, M.Phil.Ed, NCC
Tamika Hill, M.S., M.S.Ed.
Charlotte Jacobs, Ph.D.
Pearl Jonas, M.S.Ed.
Matthew R. Kay, M.S.Ed.
Victoria Morgan, M.S., LPC
Tom Ng, M.S.Ed.
Maja Pehrson, M.S.Ed.

This project was funded by The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation, a not-for-profit private foundation focused on supporting education, youth services, community health, and medical research.

Contact Us

Andy Danilchick
Director, Project for Mental Health and Optimal Development
danila@upenn.edu