Sara LaHayne is the Founder & CEO of Move This World, a social emotional learning program that provides PreK-12 educators and students with video tools to strengthen their social and emotional wellbeing in order to create healthy environments where effective teaching and learning can occur. Through evidence-based, developmentally appropriate videos used to open and close the school day, Move This World ritualizes a daily practice of identifying, expressing, and managing emotions. To date, Move This World has impacted over half a million students across 26 states and Washington, D.C. A lifelong dancer and previous professional performer, LaHayne authored, implemented, and evaluated the original Move This World curriculum 12 years ago as a Fulbright Scholar in Bogotá, Colombia.

How did your education and previous professional experience shape your current work at Move This World?

I graduated from the University of Virginia with degrees in Foreign Affairs and Spanish. I had no idea, or intention, to become the CEO of a tech company or to author a social emotional learning curriculum.

Upon graduation, I went to Colombia as a Fulbright Scholar. My Fulbright Supervisor was focused on what they called peace education, better known as social emotional learning. I watched as the teachers lectured and directed students to read certain portions of textbooks, with the end goal being to teach social and emotional skills. The students were bored and un-engaged. I started to think about how disconnected and unauthentic it felt to teach these important social and emotional skills through textbooks and lectures. Growing up, my world revolved around creative expression, particularly dance. I grew up dancing, and actually almost left school to pursue it professionally. My father was a singer and songwriter who would often write songs for various family celebrations throughout the year. My mother was and still is a dancer. Creativity was how my family expressed themselves and how I continue to express myself to this day. As I juggle running my organization with being a wife, mother, and friend, I still carve out time weekly to release my creative energy by taking a dance class.

While in Colombia, I spent part of my day out in the school yard with the children. Much of our time was spent blasting reggaeton music and dancing with one another. I started to wonder how I could take this avenue of creative expression, one that I myself grew up attached to, and use it to deliver social emotional learning curriculum.

How do you hope your work at Move This World will change the way students and educators approach learning?

Mental health, social and emotional wellbeing, and safe school communities are top of mind for educators, parents, children, politicians, and many other individuals throughout the country. Twelve years ago, Move This World set out to provide opportunities to authentically connect to yourself and to others through creative expression. Although the delivery of our program may have shifted, the mission has stayed the same.

Within school communities, I hope that Move This World provides a safe space for students to identify, express, and process their emotions daily. Just like other muscles in our bodies, empathy, as well as other social and emotional skills, need to be flexed everyday in order to grow stronger. By developing a routine or ritual around social emotional learning, we also give teachers a structured time to check in with their students every day and see what emotions or challenges they might be carrying into the classroom with them.

This process creates stronger school cultures where everyone is empowered to express themselves and reach their full potential. By developing this sense of community, students and teachers are able to build deep and meaningful relationships with themselves and others around them.

What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?

I started Move This World over 12 years ago and it’s taken a long time for social, emotional, and mental wellness to be understood as a priority. For the majority of those 12 years, it felt like I spent a lot of time waving my arms in the air and trying to explain why social emotional learning was so important.

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen an uprising in both school and general communities prioritizing wellbeing, talking about self care, and approaching health in a more holistic way. It’s surprising that our society took so long to acknowledge the importance of mental, emotional and social wellness overall as well as in relationship to educational outcomes.

Schools are now prioritizing social emotional learning because we understand that a student who is experiencing a challenge, a stressor, or trauma can’t perform their best. Traumatic events directly impact a child's ability to learn. I hope that social emotional learning and mental health will become an even higher priority within our education system. Challenges and stress are not exclusive to any one group of students; everyone needs to learn how to effectively navigate obstacles and express themselves in authentic, but appropriate, ways.

What, if any, are future plans for Move This World?

I hope that Move This World expands beyond the school day to further support parents and families. Currently, our social emotional learning program is delivered through short videos that open and close the school day for PreK-12 educators and students. These bite size moments give them a chance to identify, express, and process emotions before transitioning into the next part of their day.

I envision providing these opportunities for meaningful reflection in a variety of environments for all individuals, such as: during a carpool to soccer, waiting in line at the grocery store, or sitting together at the dinner table. There are so many micro-moments throughout our day when creative expression and other emotional management strategies can be used so that people are better able to navigate conflict and challenges.

Image: Courtesy Sara LaHayne