Spotlighting an Influencer’s Innovation and Strategic Leadership

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Innovative Leadership in Education: Spotlight on Dr. Patty O’Sullivan

Dr. Patty O’Sullivan: Spotlighting an Influencer's Innovation and Strategic Leadership

Outcome Engine is kicking off our customer spotlight series with an incredible woman who’s been making an impact in classrooms and on her greater community for decades.  Patty O’Sullivan, Ph.D., is an innovative influencer, bringing strategic leadership to the field of social-emotional learning (SEL). She’s a Master Trainer and designs positive youth development programs that focus on the growth and well-being of the whole child. Dr. Patty is an acknowledged expert on giving Gen Z and Alpha Generation practical and vital ways to recognize their vision, voice, and value.

Strategic Leadership in Social-Emotional Learning

Dr. Patty’s story is that of a woman who spent her life making decisions based on kindness, love, and doing what’s right, even when that was far from the easy path. Through her leadership, Dr. Patty exemplifies how individual passion and commitment can effect change, inspire others, and pave new paths in traditionally rigid systems. 

Her work champions emotional intelligence and well-being among students, redefining the educational landscape with methodologies that prepare the younger generation for a complex world.

The Formative Years of a Thought Leader

How Women in Leadership Shaped Dr. Patty’s Career

Growing up in a large Irish family deeply influenced Dr. Patty’s early life and set the stage for her lifelong commitment to serving others. During our interview, she reflected on those formative years, crediting much of her inspiration in choosing a life of service to the Lord and his people to three powerful women. Margaret Toner was an early teacher and nun in her Catholic school, which had a significant impact on her life. Additionally, both her mother and adopted grandmother were instrumental in fostering her sense of responsibility, encouraging her to pursue a path of service.

Answering the call, Dr. Patty spent two decades of her life serving as a nun and teacher in early childhood education, where she found her passion for nurturing young minds and impacting lives. True to her nature, she soon began to chart her own course, brushing aside the rigors of her convent to create documentaries that highlighted drug and alcohol abuse, garnering nine national awards for her work.

Creating Her Own Path: From Spiritual Service to Strategic Influence

Dr. Patty’s remarkable journey from serving as an educator in her convent to discovering her entrepreneurial spirit exemplifies a profound narrative of strength, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to positive change. This period was foundational for her future endeavors, driving transformative change in education.

A Visionary Leader’s Journey of Self-Discovery and Reinvention

Upon leaving the convent, Dr. Patty’s life took a vibrant turn when she married the love of her life, Sam Sanders, and launched her first venture in the consulting industry. In New England, she founded Third Force Consulting, a firm dedicated to unlocking potential and guiding individuals and organizations toward envisioning and crafting their future paths. Her consulting approach was deeply introspective, urging clients to delve into their “inner terrain” to align their heart and spirit with their goals, a philosophy that became the cornerstone of her work.

Dr. Patty O’Sullivan and Sam Sanders: Spotlighting an Influencer's Innovation and Strategic Leadership

Empowering the Next Generation: Dr. Patty’s Work in social and emotional learning (SEL)

Years later, Dr. Patty then turned her focus to community organizing in northern New Mexico. Here, she addressed the pressing needs of children and adolescents at risk, offering workshops and programs centered on self-discovery, future planning, and the realization of dreams. She identified a significant gap in the ability of youth to dream or envision a future for themselves, leading to the development of a pioneering curriculum that addressed this need years before social and emotional learning (SEL) had even become a recognized concept.

Dr. Patty has had a unique ability throughout her career to see over the horizon, see what’s needed, and then ride the “cusp of a wave,” responding with new innovations as she answers to the call to serve and contribute. Her story is a testament to the power of envisioning new possibilities for oneself and for others, grounded in a deep understanding of the internal motivations and aspirations that drive us all.

The Birth of Envision Your Future: Fostering Dreams and Visions

Dr. Patty’s Innovative Approach to Empowering the Next Generation Education

In the educational landscape, Dr. Patty identified a crucial void—a “dream gap” where children struggled to envision futures beyond their immediate circumstances. This realization was the catalyst for the inception of Envision Your Future. Together with her husband, Sam Sanders, they created a non-profit organization dedicated to filling this gap by integrating Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) into the core of education. Not merely as an adjunct but at its very foundation.

Dr. Patty’s philosophy hinges on the transformative power of SEL, which she regards as the “plate” on which all educational offerings should be served. She underscores the pivotal role of nurturing relationships within the educational sphere, showing that a learner’s sense of belonging is essential for student engagement and success. 

Training Educators for Tomorrow: Strategic Leadership in SEL

Moving beyond conventional pedagogical techniques, Dr. Patty advocates for interactive, student-centered approaches, urging educators to recognize their own inner terrain when connecting with their students—”You teach who you are.” This perspective fosters a conducive learning environment where students feel seen and valued, advocating for a more inclusive educational model that prioritizes emotional intelligence and relational skills.

Envision Your Future emerged from Dr. Patty’s vision to bridge this divide, offering programs that empower students in New Mexico and beyond. Through strategic leadership and innovation in education, the organization equips youth with the tools to dream boldly and realize those dreams, addressing the dream gap with a curriculum that balances academic rigor with emotional and social growth.

Strategies for Empowerment with SEL at the Core

Building Foundations for Future Leaders

Social-emotional learning is at the heart of Dr. Patty’s transformative educational approach. She’s developed several culturally sensitive programs under Envision Your Future, designed to be dynamic and responsive to the shifting landscapes of education and student needs. She demonstrates a profound ability to adapt to the needs of each new generation, looking at the ways they have been impacted by the world around them, meeting them on that level, and then teaching them the resilience and versatility they need to navigate future challenges. A standout aspect of her methodology is the integration of tangible, multi-sensory learning experiences, making education not only more engaging but deeply impactful.

One teaching tool she employs is the concept of the Trim Tab, borrowed from Buckminster Fuller. A trim tab is a small rudder located on the trailing edge of a larger rudder on a ship. It makes minor adjustments to steer the larger rudder, making it easier to change the direction of the entire vessel with far less effort. She uses the trim tab to symbolize how small initiatives, decisions, or actions taken by individuals—whether they are educators or students—can have a profound impact on the educational environment and the broader course of their lives. It’s a powerful reminder that no contribution is too small and that everyone has the power to effect change, highlighting the significance of each person’s role in shaping a positive future.

Perhaps the most poignant illustration of SEL’s transformative potential is the Confidence Circle, a part of her eight-masterclass program aimed at building students’ self-esteem and verbal communication skills. In this circle, each student has the opportunity to be acknowledged positively by their peers, fostering a sense of equality and community. A particularly moving story is about Drew, an overweight boy in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who had tried hard to fit in with his peers through various means. During his turn in the Confidence Circle, his classmates unexpectedly apologized to him for their previous unkindness, acknowledging his kindness and efforts as a student. 

This emotional moment of reconciliation profoundly impacted the boy, who had been struggling at home after being abandoned by his parents and enduring abuse by his grandmother. The next day after the session, the boy’s social standing among his peers dramatically improved, transforming him into a beloved figure in the school. This story illustrates the powerful impact of empathy, understanding, and peer support in changing young lives.

Through Envision Your Future, Dr. Patty has highlighted the importance of Social-Emotional Learning in education and demonstrated how innovative teaching methodologies can fundamentally alter the educational landscape, preparing students academically, emotionally, and socially for the complexities of the real world.

Research-Backed Success: SEL’s Role in Enhancing Academic and Behavioral Outcomes

Dr. Patty’s work in SEL has been validated by research conducted in collaboration with Evaluation by Design, a California-based company led by Dr. Jason Ravitz, Ph.D. They developed a model for middle school students, employing both experimental and control groups over time. The findings were significant, demonstrating not only improvements in math and reading scores but also in English language proficiency, suggesting a broader impact of SEL beyond what might have been anticipated.

Additionally, the study highlighted several positive secondary outcomes, including increased school attendance and fewer student referrals to the principal’s office, indicating improvements in behavior and engagement with the school environment. Dr. Patty emphasizes the importance of having a direction or purpose, noting that when students understand what they want and who they are, they achieve greater emotional stability and are more likely to make positive life choices.

Transforming Education: The Proven Impact of Social-Emotional Learning

With her finger on the pulse of Gen Z and the Alpha Generation, Dr. Patty emphasizes the need to be deeply involved in students’ lives to be able to understand and address the evolving needs of students across these generations. By being present in classrooms, co-working with educators, and encouraging students to take on leadership roles, she ensures that educational strategies remain relevant and responsive. She advocates for a student-centered approach, where educators become “noticers,” paying close attention to the dynamics and individual needs within the classroom. Taking even a small amount of time to listen to students and their stories can validate their experiences and contribute significantly to their well-being. This empathetic and personalized approach has been proven to improve academic outcomes and foster a supportive and understanding school environment where students feel seen and heard.

Fostering Innovation in Education: Dr. Patty and Outcome Engine’s Strategic Partnership

​​Dr. Patty shares the positive experiences that she and her co-founder Sam had while working with Kanani Voegeli and the team at Outcome Engine. She highlighted their significant role in the development and evolution of their programs and mission. She credits them with encouraging both her and Sam to take risks, conduct further research, and advocate for desired changes. Their expertise in technical areas, such as website development, AI consulting, and digital marketing, has helped to enhance their brand’s identity and expand their impact, enabling Dr. Patty to communicate her message to a broader audience.

Dr. Patty also discussed the invaluable support they have received from Nick Voegeli, a volunteer board member serving Envision Your Future. Nick’s involvement is characterized by his deep engagement with their mission. He provides critical high-level perspectives, spanning both business and technical strategies, introducing fresh perspectives and dynamic energy that encourage a broader view of their work’s impact. His questions and insights have helped Sam and Dr. Patty navigate the organization’s strategic direction, ensuring that the mission remains relevant and impactful. 

Nick’s and Kanani’s contributions have supported Sam and Dr. Patty, validating their efforts and reinforcing their belief in the value of her work. This support has been instrumental in expanding their reach and impact, particularly in adapting to the digital demands of contemporary education and understanding the “digital umbilical cord” that connects students with the digital world.

Dr. Patty emphasizes the importance of having mentors and advocates like Kanani and Nick, who believe in her and their mission. This partnership strengthens the operational and strategic execution of Dr. Patty’s vision and reinforces the foundation of Envision Your Future, showcasing the profound impact of dedicated support, best-practice digital strategies, and heartfelt support in transforming educational paradigms for the better.

Looking Forward: The Future of Education and Leadership

Envisioning a World of Empowered Learners

Dr. Patty’s work equips students with the tools to navigate and shape their own futures, emphasizing the critical role of social-emotional learning in personal development. She urges educators to connect with and understand their students deeply, fostering an environment where students feel seen, valued, and supported in their individual journeys. 

The program’s commitment to enhancing communication skills and encouraging genuine interaction helps address the ongoing challenges of digital isolation. It also helps students develop crucial interpersonal skills and self-expression. This ability is particularly vital in today’s digitally connected world, where authentic communication forms the cornerstone of personal and professional success.

Envision Your Future’s student outcomes underscore the value of preparing students for the challenges ahead, instilling resilience, confidence, and a profound understanding of their potential. Dr. Patty’s efforts within the program showcase a model of education that goes beyond traditional learning, planting seeds for growth and inspiring students to envision and achieve their highest aspirations. Through her dedication, students are empowered to navigate their paths with a strong sense of purpose and the ability to make meaningful contributions to their communities and beyond.

We’re Grateful For Our Partnership with Envision Your Future

Dr. Patty O’Sullivan and Sam Sanders: Spotlighting an Influencer's Innovation and Strategic Leadership

Working with Dr. Patty and Envision Your Future has been an extraordinary privilege for the Outcome Engine team. The opportunity to work alongside such a dedicated and visionary leader in the field of education is not just a privilege; it’s a profound source of inspiration for our team. Dr. Patty’s commitment to fostering innovation in education resonates deeply with our core values, making this collaboration especially meaningful.

The team at Outcome Engine deeply values our collaboration with Dr. Patty and “Envision Your Future.” Partnering with a leader of her caliber, known for her dedication and innovative approach to education, is an honor that invigorates our team. Her joy, curiosity and relentless pursuit to better her community align seamlessly with our fundamental principles. We find it incredibly rewarding to see the positive changes in students’ lives, knowing that our collaborative efforts are able to contribute to these outcomes. 

We are grateful for the trust placed in us to support this mission and for the opportunity to be part of a movement that truly makes a difference in the lives of young learners. As we look to the future, we are excited about the potential to further this impact and continue supporting Dr. Patty’s vision of empowering every student to realize their fullest potential.

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