Founder and Director, The Astronauts Social Emotional Learning Programs
Master of Applied Positive Psychology, University of Pennsylvania ‘19
Bachelor of Arts, Interdisciplinary Studies Field (Sociology, Music, Education and Philosophy), University of California, Berkeley ‘06
"Peace is a prerequisite to learning," says Martín Blank, who was awarded the 2018 Christopher Peterson Memorial Fellowship by Penn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program in recognition of outstanding service to others. "If students come to class angry or stressed out, or if they haven't had breakfast or enough sleep, my job isn't to cram in a math lesson. It's to give them tools to learn how to increase their emotional awareness, manage their emotional response, and tap into a deep sense of peace." If mindfulness and meditation techniques sound like an unlikely lesson plan for fourth-graders, Martín's experience proves otherwise: it took time, but eventually the students in his under-resourced grade school classroom were practicing mindful stillness for several minutes each day, and even visiting other classrooms to demonstrate breathing techniques to younger students. Martín discovered MAPP in his search to deepen and improve the tools available to help students manage their emotions. “Positive psychology applies science to practices I’ve been drawn to intuitively,” he reflects.
Martín's classroom experience, along with the stress management training he acquired through International Association for Human Values, led him to found the Astronauts Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs. "There are amazing teachers out there that are just looking for tools to help their students create an environment for learning,” says Martín. “I had to weigh reach versus depth. I saw that I could stay in the classroom and make a huge impact for 28 kids in a year, or I could train other teachers and reach two thousand students in a year." The Astronauts SEL Programs trains teachers, parents, and students in research-based emotional wellness and social skills to help empower students. “The work we do helps students to know what they're feeling, communicate their emotions and to be able to resolve conflict,” Martín explains. “The burden of behavior management shifts from the teacher to the students, so it becomes more of a self-regulated environment."
The Christopher Peterson Memorial Fellowship supports Martín’s ongoing endeavor to improve the effectiveness of the SEL Programs with data, assessments, and credentials. “The Penn name, world-class faculty, and access to this amazing network of people open up doors,” says Martín. "The MAPP program also allows me to look at the work from multiple points of view and provides a more informed way to offer evidence-based practices to schools. It's been validating to read studies that show how mindfulness and meditation really work.”
As he develops his capstone research plan, Martín looks forward to applying his positive psychology research directly to the classroom, particularly by exploring how academic benchmarks such as literacy can be positively influenced by social and emotional skills such as mindfulness or empathy. "The program is very flexible. Anybody anywhere could learn so much from positive psychology to improve and transform their teams," he says. "But the applicability of the program is where its power lies. It's in the name! There is a strong focus on what we can do here on Earth to help people thrive."