Dream Team at Parker Woods Montessori Elementary. The authors and University of Cincinnati facilitators.
The team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati, including Professor/Doctors Farrah Jacquez, Carlie Trott and Sara E. Williams.

Improving social and emotional awareness using the Dream It! Playbook

After about 8 months, our current university study has finished and the results are in. Once again students using the workbook “Dream It!” had a significant increase in optimistic thinking and perseverance. That means a scientifically proven, evidence-based improvement in social and emotional learning (SEL)!

Update: We’re honored to have our research study featured on the Cincinnati Public Schools blog. It’s a really good overview of the study. For those who are more scientifically inclined, we’ve included a few graphs of our results below. And we’ll be posting more results as Drs Farrah and Sara dig deeper into the data.

Thank you gift for the UC facilitators. "Thank you Ms Abby for teaching to love my dreams."
On the final day of our presentation, the Parker Woods students prepared gifts (dream pinwheels) for their UC facilitators. It was an incredible and teary-eyed moment. As Dr Sara said, "It was all the 'data' we needed."
I enjoyed your program and believe in this project and the results you were able to obtain... I strongly believe addressing attitudes and helping our students understand the importance of how their attitude and dreaming impacts their lives is critical to overall success in life.
Scott H. Adams
Cincinnati Public Schools, Chief Operating Officer

Summary of the study

History: This is our fourth study. Each study is built on the previous one. We began with a feasibility study (does the Dream It Playbook work?) and then did several measure studies (it’s hard to demonstrate a change in socioemotional skills like optimistic thinking, so we had to find scientifically proven tools to measure and test this.) 

Name of project: Improving socioemotional awareness using the Dream It! Playbook.

Research purpose: The purpose of this research is to evaluate student and teacher perspectives on the effectiveness of the “Dream It! Playbook” to improve social-emotional learning skills of self-awareness (including optimistic thinking, growth mindset, mindfulness, hope and grit) among elementary school students.

How will the research directly benefit Cincinnati Public Schools? This study will inspire youth to translate their passion into realistic, tangible goals through evidence-based socio-emotional learning activities that motivate kids to achieve in school in order to make their dreams come true. Likewise, it will improve the facilitation of the Playbook and general instructional practices for the teachers by emphasizing the “why” before the “how.” Also, this real-world community outreach project will be an example of making a real and tangible difference to everyone involved, but especially the students.

Participants: The University of Cincinnati, Parker Woods Montessori Elementary School (including an intervention and a control group), and the “Dream it!” team.


  • To create a fun and easy tool for teachers to implement.
  • To improve socio-emotional skills in students.
  • To teach students how to create life goals.


A quick overview of the research findings when comparing the intervention group to the control group, who didn’t get to use the book. We showed positive outcomes in every area despite some big challenges.

  • Teachers responded positively. Not only did they report that the book was fun and easy to implement, but they also said that the school climate, as a whole, improved.
  • Students not only improved but enjoyed the book!
  • A statistically significant increase in optimistic thinking. Again! In the past, we demonstrated as much as a 22% increase. And in every study, the children improved regardless of age, race or socio-economic status.
  • A statistically significant increase in Grit (Perseverance). 
  • Increases (improvements) in Hope, Growth Mindset and self-confidence.
  • A statistically significant increase in the number of dreams.
  • An improvement in the quality of dreams.
  • An increase in engagement with dreams. (Talking with friends and taking steps of action.)
Student testimonials of "Dream it!" and the workshop


Teacher School Climate Survey graph.
Every intervention teacher reported an improvement in school climate around socio-emotional learning over the course of the study, while control group teachers reported a decrease in school climate. These results suggest that intervention teachers saw an improvement in school climate with the implementation of SEL (social-emotional learning) programs.
Statistically significant increase in optimistic thinking in intervention pre to post
An independent samples t-test was conducted to compare the optimistic thinking score in the beginning and end conditions. There was a significant difference between the beginning and end. These results suggest that "Dream It! A Playbook to Spark Your Awesomeness" appears to have a positive effect on optimistic thinking
Change in number of dreams from pre to post survey
For the control group, the total number of dreams students reported decreased over time. However, for the intervention group, the number of dreams students reported increased. The difference between the two groups was significant.
Quality of dreams pie chart
In addition to analyzing the number of dreams, we also did a qualitative analysis of the types of dreams students described when asked, “What dreams do you have?” At the beginning of the project, many students described the type of dreams one might have while sleeping. At the end of the study, Control group participants were just as likely to describe sleep dreams; however, the number of sleep dreams completely disappeared in the Intervention group. Further investigation into the type of dreams participants had revealed that Intervention group participants had a larger proportion of academic and career dreams than Control group participants.
Grit aka Perseverance Change Pre to Post Test
On the Panorama Grit Survey results, we measured a significant increase [double checking this number] in the students’ beliefs in how long they were able to stick to a goal in the intervention group from the pre-test to the post-test. Contrarily, there was a decrease in the control group.
Hope Change Pre to Post Test graph
On the Child Hope Scale, although not statistically significant, trends in the data suggest that students in the Intervention group increased in hope over the course of the study, while changes in hope for the control group were more modest.
Growth mindset change pre to post test
Although not significant, the results from the Panorama Growth pre/post surveys showed an increase in growth for the intervention group. Again, the control group declined over this time period.


Conducting a research project is not easy, and we had our fair share of challenges to overcome, not least of all was bad weather on our last day. Another interesting challenge we had is what’s called “a ceiling effect,” which means the students scored themselves so highly that there wasn’t much room to improve. Principal Simmons attributed this to the fact that the kids already have been getting coaching in self-improvement one hour per day during their Advisory Time. So, having our research study show improvement in every area is very impressive and, frankly, it is not something we expected.

We also learned that we have to ask some better questions. During the pre-assessment test, we ask students if they had a dream and if they thought they would achieve their dream, and often they would write something like, “1 million dollars. Yes, of course,” or, “Play video games all day,” or “Live in candy land.” The students’ confidence and enthusiasm may have skewed the results, but it also highlighted the need for “Dream it!” to teach concepts about setting life goals. 

And speaking of enthusiasm, teachers past and present, have noticed that the kids are super excited on day one to start their dream program. So, again, that appears to be skewing the pre-test results, and again it is impressive that “Dream it!” still showed improvement after the initial buzz wore off.


  • Implement Playbook sessions earlier in the day, when students are fresh. Our study was conducted during the last class of the day and students became restless.
  • More sessions more frequently. We conducted classes only once per week for the first semester.
  • Smaller Facilitator-Student ratio. Of course, students benefit from more one-on-one time with their teachers. Normal class sizes were about 32 students per teacher and 4-5 students per facilitator.
  • Limit distractions to help students focus. The quality of the learning environment has been a common theme in all our studies.
  • Include more community collaboration. The students loved their facilitators. And everyone got to make and see a real difference in their own community.

Previous Updates

December 14, 2018: The study got a great report on the I Am CPS blog. Check it out. Parker Woods Montessori Helps UC Undergrads with Research.

December 6, 2018: The UC facilitators gave their final presentation today at Parker Woods Montessori and the students gave them some parting gifts.  There were a lot of teary eyes. And, the results were great. Statistically significant results in improving optimistic thinking and grit.

December 1, 2018: The results are in and look good. We’ll be sharing more soon.

November 15, 2018: Today is our last day of collecting data in the school. Then we begin analyzing it.

October 8, 2018: We are proud to receive the Greater Cincinnati Foundation Learning Links Grant to support our research study with the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Public Schools. Yes, we actually got the grant after we started. We had applied months ago; meanwhile, the authors had been funding the project out of pocket. Unfortunately, the book is not yet profitable. Fingers crossed.

October 4, 2018: Day 4 of the study and everything is finally running smoothly. Both students and facilitators are really enjoying it. Today they will be learning about the ingredients that make up a dream: imagination, emotions and inspiration.

September 11, 2018: As of yesterday, we got After months of planning and only days to spare, we’re happy to announce that the research proposal entitled “Improving Optimistic Thinking using the Dream It! Playbook” has been approved by the Cincinnati Public School system. Just getting the research study started is a big feat. It will be our third study. Again will be studying the effect of the book on measures like optimistic thinking, and this time will also be measuring whether the teachers think the book is fun, effective and easy to implement. More details to come. Follow us on Facebook to see how the study develops.

July 23, 2018: We’re almost there. Just one more hurdle. After many meetings with professors, psychologists, superintendents, principals, teachers and more, we’re close to announcing a new research project next school year. We hope to once again be helping students improve their social-emotional skills, specifically their goal-setting, optimistic thinking and overall feeling of hope.

Articles about our original research

So far, we have collaborated on 6 university-led research projects, each one using the scientific process and building on the methods of the previous studies. We have also held a lot of informal workshops at schools and non-profit organizations to test our material. And behind the scenes, we are doing ongoing research, literature reviews and consulting social-emotional professionals to make sure everything we do is evidence-based and peer-reviewed.  See all our research projects below. 

Intervention results graph

Dream It! Achieves a Research Publication Milestone

Great news!!! Today is an exciting day for the science of dreaming (goal setting, aspiration, passions). We are proud to announce that our latest dream research study has been published in the peer-reviewed, scientific journal Child & Youth Care Forum.

Dream Workshop University of Cincinnati Facilitators

Impact and feasibility of the Dream Workshop

A summary of a research study conducted by the University of Cincinnati to test the efficacy of a Dream Workshop and whether it improved children’s self-confidence as measure of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

Dream Team at Parker Woods Montessori Elementary. The authors and University of Cincinnati facilitators.

Improving social and emotional awareness using the Dream It! Playbook

Student’s using the workbook “Dream It!” had a scientifically proven, evidence-based improvement in optimistic thinking and perseverance (along with improvements in hope, growth-mindset and overall school climate) among elementary school students. Highlights from our most-important study to date, including lots of pictures and graphs.

Doctor Sara Williams at the American Psychological Association's annual conference

Improving Children’s Optimistic Thinking by Teaching them to Dream about Life Goals

We were honored to attend the American Psychological Associations 2018 annual conference to present the results of our study. This is a new analysis of our data that, essentially, says that young students perform better when they are taught the basics of socioemotional skills, like passion and goal setting, first before more academic subjects, such as reading, writing and arithmetic.

The "How's it going" Dream Workshop station with facilitators and children.

The Dream Workshop Pilot Program

We tested the Dream Playbook in over a dozen schools. We called it our “Dream Workshop” but it was so much fun that the students called it “The Dream Club.”

Sara Williams

Sara Williams

Sara E. Williams, PhD, is a licensed clinical child psychologist who specializes in assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with chronic health conditions. More about me.

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