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Including all children – a student teacher’s reflection September 20, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education.
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By Robert Mccluskey

I am currently studying at Western Sydney University and am in my last year of the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program. I have recently completed a professional experience placement in a long day care centre.

During my time at the centre one of the learning foci in my studies was the design and implementation of an inclusion plan for a child with disability. This was a new experience for me, as I hadn’t worked with many children with disabilities before so I was initially quite nervous that it would be beyond my capabilities as a pre-service educator.

Initially, I was concerned that without knowing the specifics of a child’s diagnosis, and the impacts that it may have on their learning and development, it would be difficult to cater for any of the child’s additional needs. So I spoke with the parents and staff, to learn more about the strategies that were currently being implemented and to find out about the long term and short term goals. I also researched the diagnosis in greater depth, in an effort to understand the day-to-day impact that it would have on the child’s learning.

What did I do?

The main focus for the inclusion plan was for the child to initiate in parallel and social play situations. This was done by prompting the children to play in groups, creating situations for partner play through transitions, i.e. each child picks a friend, and a construction project in which the children built and evolved a miniature construction site in the centre’s outdoor play area. It was important when implementing any of the learning opportunities for all of the centre’s staff to be informed beforehand so they could support the inclusion plan’s success.

Benefits for the child?

I found that forming positive social relationships helped generate positive self-esteem in the child. (Dunlap, 2009). I also noted that through these social relationships, the child was also able to further develop important social and language skills. (Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014). Children benefit from positive social interactions with peers and educators they respect. The inclusion plan I designed was focused on the parent’s main goal of nurturing and expanding on the child’s social interactions. In developing this plan, I hoped to see a notable benefit to all the children. Throughout my studies I learnt that inclusive practices don’t only benefit children with disabilities, but can positively support the development of all children.

What made the inclusion plan successful?

The inclusion plan’s success was largely due to collaborating with families and the educators, the ongoing dialogue with parents and staff about the child’s progress which allowed for constructive feedback to be provided. Both these elements were critical to the development of the program and its success.

Benefits for me

In working with a child with disability, I was able to understand the importance of being able to implement a range of teaching strategies so as to be able to include all the children in my care. This is a lesson that I will definitely take into my professional future, it is clear to me that stronger inclusive practices are beneficial to all of the children involved.


Dunlap, L. L. (2009). The importance of play. In An introduction to early childhood special education: Birth to age five (pp. 352-387). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson.

Flint, A. S., Kitson, L., Lowe, K., & Shaw, K. (2014). Literacy in Australia: Pedagogies for engagement. Milton, Australia: John Wiley and Sons Australia.


Robert Mccluskey is a final year student in the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program offered by the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. His post was initially published on the education blog site, Online Community of Practice, and is reproduced here with his permission.

Disrupting childhood? Breaking the cycle of silence around sexuality education in primary schools. May 3, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Inclusive Education, Primary Education.
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By Son Truong


While the Australian Curriculum in Health and Physical Education (HPE) made significant strides towards acknowledging the importance of developing health literacy with young people, its broad stance on sexuality education, particularly in the primary school curriculum, is a missed opportunity to ensure primary school children gain consistent, fully inclusive, and factual knowledge about not only the physical, but also the mental, emotional, and social dimensions of human sexuality.


Last year, I was invited to speak on a panel at the 1st National Conference of the Australian Forum on Sexuality, Education and Health. The panel members were asked to reflect, and offer a provocation, on the topic of Communities, parents and sexual health – whose rights, which prompted me to consider the notion of mandatory sexuality education in schools. Several months later, with new headlines emerging, including Respectful relationships curriculum aims to change a generation (Jennings, 2016), Safe Schools program: federal government unveils changes (Martin, 2016), Axing of sex education program YEAH part of ‘ideological agenda’, experts claim (Stark, 2016) the focus of the conference and panel seem as timely as ever.

Sexuality Education Curriculum in Primary School Teacher Education

Originally from Canada, I started working at Western Sydney University in 2012 with the responsibility of teaching the HPE curriculum to pre-service primary school teachers. My arrival occurred at a particularly interesting crossroads in teacher education, especially as the national HPE Curriculum was in the process of being shaped and drafted. It was not long after I began preparing and contextualising my lecture and tutorial content that I came across the topic of sexuality education in the headlines across a variety of news sources.

Walsh (2012) explains that while the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) original draft guidelines introduced sex education in Years 3 and 4, under pressure from parent groups it later pushed back some of this content until Years 5 and 6. A central argument in Walsh’s article is that “We have confused children learning about sex in an appropriate educational context with the sexualisation of children” (para. 5).

I was curious to see how students, as future teachers, would respond to Walsh’s (2012) article, and more broadly the responsibility for teaching topics such as Growth and Development, Interpersonal Relationships, and Sexuality Education in the primary school curriculum. The resulting discussion was both encouraging, as well as a call to action in my role as a HPE teacher educator to better communicate the meaning and importance of teaching sexuality education.

Walsh (2012) states, “There is complete agreement in the literature that healthy sexual development is dependent on two-way communication between adults and children, and this needs to begin early” (para. 6). However, despite what appeared to be convincing evidence that human development and puberty may begin for children before they enter Grades 5 and 6, and therefore, an understanding of puberty needs to be addressed prior to these grades, there were still some anxieties and a sense of hesitancy amongst some students.

There was certainly a range of views shared amongst the class, and many students were in agreement that sexuality education needs to begin early. However, there were also a number of statements that I heard with some regularity, suggesting children are too innocent to learn about this or teaching about sex leads to sexual activity. As a teacher educator, these viewpoints signalled not only students’ apprehension towards teaching this content, but also particular prevailing views of childhood and sexuality education that may need to be disrupted.

Reflecting on Challenges

I think some of the challenges we are facing to ensure that quality sexuality education is provided systemically and systematically across the primary school curriculum are reflected in a protest sign I saw published in a news article entitled Quebec to introduce sex ed pilot project with ‘no exemptions’ (Richer, 2015).

“Math, not Masturbation. Science, not Sex.”

The province of Québec, Canada recently introduced a pilot project with 19 schools to deliver mandatory sexuality education from K – 12, with the intent to introduce the curriculum across the province in 2017. The key word here is mandatory, which means that in the upgraded curriculum, parents will not have the option of withdrawing their children from class while this content is being taught.

My reading of this protest sign revealed three concerns that are equal to those I attempt to address with my students.

Firstly, the sign reduces comprehensive sexuality education to sex and masturbation. It seems that far too often, sexuality education becomes contested and controversial as a result of fear discourses and slogans that misrepresent its content and aims.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2009), “The primary goal of sexuality education is that children and young people become equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships…” (p. 10). I add further emphasis here on both the personal and social aspects of health and wellbeing, and the importance of respectful relationships education, which focuses on building healthy relationships, including supporting sexual and gender diversities.

Secondly, although perhaps just witty alliteration, the juxtaposition of math not masturbation, and science not sex, brings to mind a broader concern that HPE in general, and sexuality education in particular, are at-risk of being pushed to the margins in the primary school curriculum. The issue is further complicated with concerns of an over-crowded primary school curriculum, where time spent in physical education may be limited. For example, an audit undertaken by the Auditor-General (Audit Office of NSW) in 2012 revealed that approximately 30% of NSW government schools are not meeting minimum hours for physical education. It is difficult to know with any certainty, and without further research, the extent to which time is spent focused on other content areas in the HPE curriculum; however, it is clear that support is required at all levels, including in the curriculum as well as in teacher training programs, to strengthen the profile and provision of HPE.

Research suggests there is limited knowledge about the provision of sexuality education in Australian teacher education programs, and that “primary school teachers are rarely prepared with the knowledge, skills and understandings to confidently and competently address sexuality education” (Leahy, Horne & Harrison 2004; Harrison & Ollis 2011, as cited in Ollis, Harrison & Maharaj, 2013, p. 1).

Central to my provocation in this post is that the broad content statements and descriptions in the HPE Curriculum, particularly in relation to sexuality education, results in ambiguity regarding the specific subject matter that should be addressed. Relatedly, while referring to the Board of Studies NSW (2007) PDHPE syllabus documents, Ullman and Ferfolja (2015) argue:

Teachers are advised that the selection of specific PDHPE programme content occurs at the school level and reminded that, ‘The syllabus is designed to give all schools the flexibility to treat sensitive and controversial issues in a manner reflective of their own ethos’ (p. 153).

Sexuality education is largely viewed as specific to HPE, which is a subject area that is arguably marginalised in the primary school curriculum, as well as dominated by other prominent topics, such as sport, physical activity, nutrition, and drug education. Therefore, there needs to be clear guidelines and expectations on its implementation and related learning outcomes, particularly as states develop their HPE syllabus and curriculum documents.

And Thirdly, the protest sign suggests that sex and masturbation are inappropriate content to discuss with students. This view reflects the dominant discourses of particular constructed notions of childhood innocence rather than an approach oriented towards educational rights and needs.

Curiously, there is a hesitancy to accept and adopt a needs-led approach for sexuality education. While countries such as Holland, Sweden, and Finland already have compulsory sexuality education, the debate continues for others, such as Canada, the United States, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia (see Ricci, 2015).

The current need is reflected by observing mainstream media and news outlets, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and content readily available on the internet in general. The broader social media context often means that information and misinformation are readily available to young people. My aim in referring to this access to mis/information is not an attempt to engage with crisis discourses – to raise sentiments of fear for the loss of childhood innocence because that term is a social construct to begin with. Rather, it is a call to disrupt a particular view of childhood in order to take into consideration the contemporary landscapes and diversities of being a child.

Continuing the Dialogue

To break the cycle of silence around sexuality education in primary schools, there is not room for ambiguity in the curriculum. While recognising that sexuality education is the responsibility of the whole community, schools have a central role to play in ensuring all students have access to this important content. As a teacher educator, I acknowledge the challenges, and specifically time constraints, in covering all HPE content within a generalist primary school teacher education course, which further underscores the need to continually enhance my teaching, as well as the need for new opportunities for professional development to ensure teachers feel confidence and competence in teaching this content. Concurrently, dialogue needs to continue at all levels to support a fully inclusive and necessarily diverse sexuality education that does not shy away from reflecting the lives of all children and families today.


Audit Office of New South Wales (2012). Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools: Department of Education and Communities. Sydney: Audit Office of New South Wales. Retrieved from http://www.audit.nsw.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/246/01_PAB_Physical_Activity_Full_Report.pdf.aspx?Embed=Y

Board of Studies, New South Wales. (2007). Personal development, health and physical education, K-6 Syllabus. Retrieved from http://k6.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/go/personal-development-health-and-physical-education-pdhpe

Jennings, J. (2016). Respectful relationships curriculum aims to change a generation. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/respectful-relationships-curriculum-aims-to-change-a-generation-20160408-go1iwl.html

Leahy, D., Horne, R., & Harrison, L. (2004). Bass Coast Sexuality Education Project: Needs Analysis and Professional Development Evaluation Report. Retrieved from https://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/teachlearn/student/basscoastfinalreport.pdf

Martin, S. (2016). Safe Schools program: federal government unveils changes. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/safe-schools-program-federal-government-unveils-changes/news-story/ce2d4751b2068f6b3ecedede317954fd

Ollis, D., Harrison, L., & Maharaj, C. (2013). Sexuality education matters: Preparing pre-service teachers to teach sexuality education. Retrieved from http://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/252661/sexuality-education-matters-april-2013-online.pdf

Ricci, C. (2015). British MPs demand mandatory and modern sex education. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/british-mps-demand-mandatory-and-modern-sex-education-20150223-13mi4j.html

Richer, J. Quebec to introduce sex ed pilot project with ‘no exemptions’. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-to-introduce-sex-ed-pilot-project-with-no-exemptions-1.3209189

Stark, J. (2016). Axing of sex education program YEAH part of ‘ideological agenda’, experts claim. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/axing-of-sex-education-program-yeah-part-of-ideological-agenda-experts-claim-20160422-gocjxo.html

Ullman, J., & Ferfolja, T. (2015). Bureaucratic constructions of sexual diversity: ‘sensitive’, ‘controversial’ and silencing. Teaching Education, 26(2), 145-159.

UNESCO (2009). International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers and health educators. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001832/183281e.pdf

Walsh, J. (2012). Worried about the sexualisation of children? Teach sex ed earlier. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/worried-about-the-sexualisation-of-children-teach-sex-ed-earlier-10311



Dr Son Truong is a Lecturer in Health and Physical Education (HPE) in the School of Education, and a member of the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia. The following is based on a presentation he gave as part of a panel at the recent Australian Forum on Sexuality Education and Health (AFSEH) Conference.

Creating an Optimal Emotional Environment for Learning: The Circle Solutions Principles and Pedagogy March 22, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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by Sue Roffey

There are some students who will achieve whatever the climate of the classroom. These fortunate individuals are likely to have supportive families who establish clear boundaries with high, appropriate expectations whilst offering unconditional love (Newland, 2014). These students will not be in the throes of family breakdown nor experiencing other major life changes. They will not be struggling with poverty, violence, bullying, racism, homophobia, mental or physical health difficulties nor experiencing any of the other adversities that life often presents. These students will have predominantly positive emotions about themselves and their worlds that enable them to be curious, engaged and confident.

All teachers, however, will be able to identify students who are dealing one or more of the issues listed above. Some have the personal and environmental factors that help them to cope (Werner, 2004) while others have fewer resources at their disposal. There will also be young people flying under the radar – who live within a less than favourable environment for their wellbeing but no-one at school knows what is happening for them and are unaware of the multiple factors that may be impinging on their engagement, learning, behaviour and social interactions.

Everyone has a need for social and emotional wellbeing and we do not necessarily know which students are struggling. In a supportive learning environment everyone takes responsibility for the emotional climate. This means that wellbeing programs need to be universal. Interventions aimed at a targeted population may not result in sustainable change. For example, where students lacking social skills are removed from the class for special training this may lead to a higher level of skill in those individuals but others still have the same perceptions: consequently when these students are re-integrated, previous behaviours are expected and reinforced (Frederickson, 1991).

Social and Emotional Learning

In 1996 the Delors Report for UNESCO outlined four pillars for learning in the 21st century. These are learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together. The first two are usually the focus of the formal curriculum but the second two are beginning to have more traction in education. Without pro-active intervention, the default position may be negative and the classroom becomes a toxic environment where bullying and other negative behaviours thrive. There is also increasing evidence that SEL impacts positively not only on social behaviours but also on engagement and academic outcomes (Durlak et al, 2011). Schools need to think through what is on offer for learning about the self and relationships, and ensure this takes place in a safe and supportive setting. As there has been some justifiable critique of SEL as ‘therapeutic education’ (Ecclestone & Hayes, 2008), the processes that underpin this learning need as much attention as the content.

The Circle Solutions philosophy (Roffey, 2014) addresses this within a set of principles that provide a foundation for both a supportive classroom and an optimal pedagogy for SEL. Given the acronym ASPIRE, these principles are agency, safety, positivity, inclusion, respect and equality.  This is a brief explanation of what this means in practice.

Agency. Learning in school is often didactic – teachers delivering information to students who are told what to do and how to do it.  Giving students agency is more in line with socratic learning – questions and discussion that lead to critical thinking and the development of ideas.

When students have agency they make decisions on behalf of themselves. This is about choice, but also about taking responsibility. Where students decide on class values and ground rules, bullying is less likely to happen because everyone has thought about how we all want to feel here. A focus on group work and collaboration means the whole class takes responsibility for the emotional climate for learning. It is not up to one or two people but everyone. When teachers give students agency this helps them identify different options, reflect on these and then decide for themselves. This enables them to choose how to act and then take responsibility for the choices they make, including accepting consequences.  It is learning from the inside out about how to be and how to live together well – not control from the outside in (Roffey, 2011).

Safety is embedded in the Circle pedagogy in several ways. Issues are addressed but never incidents, so students learn ways to handle experiences objectively rather than subjectively. Issues are addressed in an impersonal, indirect way – perhaps using the third person rather than the first.  Although participants often choose to give a glimpse of their own narratives, the Circle is structured to inhibit personal disclosure. This addresses some of the criticisms that have been levelled at SEL.  Many students are anxious about making a mistake or being put on the spot. When you are with a partner or small group it is much easier to experiment, take risks and present shared ideas. This promotes confidence. It is also easier to make a stand or stick up for someone if this is a group effort. Cooperative learning is valuable across the curriculum but especially so in SEL (Johnson & Johnson, nd). Some students may have learnt that others are unreliable. They may need to build up trust slowly over time both with fellow students and with teachers. Discussing what trust means, looks like and feels like is a way of exploring how to establish an environment where people can feel safe in trusting each other.

The right to silence. Some students do not have the initial confidence to speak up in a public forum and a class or Circle is not a safe place if they feel under pressure to do so. In Circles they are given the choice to ‘pass’  Evidence suggests that students will speak when they feel safe, have confidence and believe they have something worthwhile to say.

 Respect. Respect can be defined as being accepted, listened to, and not being judged. It also means simply being acknowledged.  One of the Circle guidelines is ‘when you are speaking everyone will listen because what you have to say is important.   This means listening to others when it is their turn’. Listening to what others have to say can only happen when there are opportunities to speak. Young people who have been silenced or have little control in their lives might shout to be heard. Often we shut these voices down as disruptive. The students who get listened to are the ‘good kids’ who get onto student representative councils.  One way of addressing this is to disband established groups by mixing people up so they get to talk – and listen to – those outside their usual social circles.  In Circles ‘pair shares’ are intended to seek commonalities and ‘paired interviews’ to discover another’s perspectives.

Students of all ages relish opportunities to reflect on and discuss things that concern them: not personal incidents but issues that touch on their lives such as friendship and feelings. There are many resources to support such conversations in safe and fun ways in Circles using photographs, stories, statements, games and role-plays.

Positivity. The burgeoning knowledge in neuropsychology promotes the value of an optimistic perspective, relational values such as kindness and gratitude (Lyubomirsky, 2007; Piliavin, 2003) and the connection between feelings and learning. It makes sense on many levels to promote the positive. Many young people do not think of themselves well: even those from supportive backgrounds may feel they do not meet expectations. Others may perceive classmates negatively and not be able to acknowledge the strengths they do have. Students need to tune into their own and others’ strengths and be able to use these in their relationships and in their learning.

A solution focus. We live in a problem-saturated culture. Although there are challenges to be overcome, it might be better to start with a solution rather than the problem. When people focus on ways to get rid of something they don’t like (such as bullying) rather than what needs to happen instead (inclusion, friendship, support) they spend too much energy on the problem itself. A solution focus envisages where you want to go and what you want to happen.

Positive Emotions. Positive emotions not only enable students to focus but they also facilitate creativity and problem solving. (Fredrickson, 2009) Positive emotions include a sense of belonging, feeling valued, safe, comfortable, cared for, respected and loved. Positive emotions are also experienced in moments of exuberance, excitement and shared humour. Laughter releases oxytocin into our bodies – this promotes connectedness and resilience. Promoting shared humour in Circle sessions is one of the main reasons students love them. They also respond positively to the playfulness that is embedded in many of the activities (Hromek & Roffey, 2009).


The Circle pedagogy uses energetic games to mix everyone up. This happens several times in a session. The expectation is that everyone will work with everyone else. This breaks up cliques, helps people get to know each other and facilitates new perspectives,  This happens most actively when pairs are looking for things they have in common. Everything in Circles happens in interaction with others, in pairs, small groups or in whole group activities.

Belonging and resilience: Feeling you belong is one of the most important factors in resilience and wellbeing (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). We know what it feels like to come into a place where we are warmly welcomed and some of us know what it feels like when the opposite happens.

Connectedness in school matters (Blum, 2005):  It is the most vulnerable children in our communities who are most to find themselves on the margins. Such students may not be compliant, courteous or conform. They may be aggressive, distracted and insolent. It can be difficult to like young people who behave in ways that are unacceptable in school. High expectations for behaviour are appropriate but rejecting poor behaviour is different from rejecting the student. Adults need to convey the message to all students, but especially those who struggle: ‘you are important, we want you here, it is not the same without you’.

Equality / Democracy: In a supportive classroom the teacher uses their authority to empower students rather than control them (McCashen, 2005). Equality is embedded in the Circle pedagogy, where participants and the facilitator sit in a Circle together to promote equality – and everyone participates in all the activities, adults and students alike. The quality of facilitation makes all the difference to both long and short-term outcomes for SEL (McCarthy & Roffey, 2013).  In a school where everyone has an authentic voice this promotes equality as well as responsibility towards what is in everyone’s best interests, not just an elite few. Alongside the important value of freedom is the equally important value of responsibility. One person’s freedom to play loud music at 4am impacts on the freedom of others to sleep. Working out what is fair can be complex but we need our young people to learn how to negotiate and resolve conflict. Unless students experience democracy in school they are unlikely to realise what it means in practice at the socio-political level when they are old enough to vote.

We are social beings; our identity and worldviews are constructed in our interactions with others (Habermas, 1990). The emotions we feel, manage and respond to are situated within a social context. Relationships and feelings matter and are the lynchpin of a supportive environment for learning. When a school, is run on the basis of the principles above this builds an emotional and relational climate where both teacher and student wellbeing are likely to be enhanced (Roffey, 2012). When wellbeing becomes core school business there will be greater student engagement with learning and therefore increased academic outcomes, more pro-social behaviour and higher levels of resilience.



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Associate Professor Sue Roffey is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is a psychologist, academic, author and creator of the Circle Solutions framework for social and emotional learning. sue@sueroffey.com

Teaching ‘shared humanity’ and promoting inclusive belonging in schools. Could this be an answer to radicalisation? February 10, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Inclusive Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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by Sue Roffey

The shooting of a police accountant by a teenage boy in Parramatta last year the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris have led to increasing calls to identify young people who are at risk of radicalisation. Although assessment of those at risk “shows a group of people clearly failing to gain satisfaction or friendship in mainstream Australian life” (Australian Strategy Policy Institute, June 2015) there appears to be no clear appreciation that what happens in schools can either contribute to or help address the problem. There is much that can be done but it needs to be pro-active and start yesterday.

In order to take preventative action we must understand at least some of the psychological motivations behind radicalisation.

Young people often have strong ideals and many need to feel they are important. Giving their all for a ’cause’ can be motivating if it turns you into a hero. A sense of belonging is also critical to psychological wellbeing and many young people look to groups and associations as a means of finding both belonging and meaning in their lives. Many of these hold out the promise of building a better world for future generations. This is an exhortation that has run throughout history – often with devastating results as many wars attest to.

Feeling connected is a major factor for resilience. It is one reason why marginalised young people often end up in gangs. Belonging that is exclusive rather than inclusive promotes rejection of anyone outside the group. We therefore need to do everything we can to promote inclusive belonging in as many contexts as possible. Feeling connected to school means you believe your presence matters, you are valued for who you are, not just how you perform; the learning environment is both positive and safe and you perceive your learning as meaningful.

In March 2009 the New Scientist reported on a study (Wike & Fraser, 2009) with the headline “Teen killers don’t come from schools that foster a sense of belonging”. Incidents of multiple killings in US schools took place in establishments where some students were seen as stars and others rejected as outsiders, even though they might be academically able. It was these marginalised individuals who perpetrated these atrocities, partly in revenge and partly to make themselves feel noticed at last. The killers reportedly showed no empathy for those they gunned down and had no apparent concern for their own safety or future.

Learning to Be and Learning to Live Together were identified as two of the four pillars of education for the 21st Century by UNESCO in 1996. The other two pillars are Learning to Know and Learning to Do. The overwhelming focus in schools on academic content can mean there is no time left for learning about relationships or exploring values. Any time devoted to understanding the self or developing relational skills can be deemed by some as a distraction from the ‘real’ purpose of schooling – educating for an economic future.

We not only have young people being radicalised, we also continue to have bullying in our schools alongside homophobia, racism, and increasing incidents of family violence and abuse in our society.

Much of the conversation appears to focus on reactive strategies. We cannot continue to put our energy into picking up the pieces. We need to actively teach our children and young people ‘shared humanity’ – helping them understand and appreciate how much they have in common with others.

They need to reflect on how every major religion in the world espouses a version of ‘ The Golden Rule’ – treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. More connects us than divides us, but unless we give young people structured opportunities to think and talk about this they may be at the mercy of those who want to denigrate and dehumanise those ‘not like us’.

Schools can provide activities that connect students with each other – not just their mates but with those they don’t usually associate with. We can teach empathy. In the light of what we share we can value diversity. We can enable young people to understand their emotions and therefore raise awareness of how these might be manipulated.

There are skilled educators doing this all over the Western world and changing perceptions and behaviours as a result. But this is often under the radar where social and emotional learning does not fit with current policy. We are now paying the price for ‘learning to be’ and ‘learning to live together’ being jettisoned in favour of more time spent on formal curriculum goals. We need to revisit the balance in education for all our futures.

Reference:  Wike, T. L., & Fraser, M. W. (2009). School shootings: Making sense of the senseless. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14(3), 162-169.


Associate Professor Sue Roffey is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is a psychologist, academic, author and creator of the Circle Solutions framework for social and emotional learning. sue@sueroffey.com

My child: 5 important things teachers need to know October 22, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Inclusive Education.
Tags: ,

 By Marion Sturges

 As a mother of a child with special needs, what follows are the five most important things I wanted to share with teachers as you undertake the very important job of teaching my child.

 1. It is important that you listen carefully – both to me and to my child. This is important for a number of reasons. Teachers may well know the curriculum, but as a parent I know my child and his issues better than anyone else. I have sat in on hours of appointments with specialists, itinerant teachers, doctors etc. I have held my child’s hand and wiped his tears when he underwent hurtful interventions or traumatic and risky tests. Further, I deal with the many day to day issues that arise with my child. I’m the one who comforted him when he was told that he couldn’t drive for an unlimited time two days after he got his L plates. I’m the one who ensures he is fed a balanced diet, is dressed for the day, does his homework and that he gets enough sleep. Teachers please don’t be afraid to tell me that you don’t know what to do when dealing with my child and when you are confused or don’t understand something. I love it when teachers are willing to seek my advice and knowledge. It tells me that you value my experience, my opinion and are willing to work with me in educating my child.

  2. Don’t be afraid to set high expectations for my child in your class. Sure, make allowances or adaptions or accommodations and yes provide scaffolding and direction, but also make sure my child is challenged. You need to truly believe that my child is capable of learning when given appropriate opportunities and supportive environments. You may just be pleasantly surprised by what my child shows you he can do. Further give my child a chance to experience success once you have challenged him and then celebrate that success with him. This encourages my child to always want to succeed. As I wrote this piece I asked my son what advice he would have for any of his past or present teachers and his answer was that he likes it when his teachers “treat him like every other child but also help him when he asks for it.” 

 3. Use any special knowledge or interests my child has to your advantage. Further don’t be afraid to use these interests in building your relationship with my child or as a motivational tool. Ensure that you provide ample opportunities for my child to tell you what he knows – there is nothing he likes better. For example, my son has always been incredibly interested in space – he hopes to be astrophysicist. I suspect his knowledge around space would rival most teachers’ knowledge – certainly he knows a lot more than me about it. What a wonderful human resource to have in your classroom. Let go of the need to be in control and let my child share his knowledge with others. You don’t always have to be the ‘teacher.’   

 4. Remember, however hard it might be dealing with my child or however difficult you feel my child is being, just getting through a day is challenging for him.  My son is exhausted when he gets home as he negotiates the physical, academic and social challenges he faces each school day. My son came home from a participating in a sports carnival in so much pain that we had to carry him to the bath. I imagine that the day was challenging for his teacher’s aide but I am certain she wasn’t the one sobbing from physical pain that night. 

 5. Look beyond my child’s disability. His disability is just one part of him. Just as other children have blue eyes or freckles my child’s disability doesn’t and shouldn’t define him. My son is more than his disabilities. I want his teachers to see the sensitive, smart, kind hearted and hardworking child he is. 

 My hope is that this has given teachers something to think about, both those just beginning their teaching journey and those more experienced. Most of the parents of a child with special needs that I know, simply want the same thing you do – the best for their child. My greatest wish is for supportive, thoughtful, caring, and knowledgeable teachers, as they undertake their all-important work in educating my child.

Marion Sturges is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

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