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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.



Arief, G. Liem, D., Ginns, P., Martin, A.J., Stone, B. and Herrett, M. (2012). Personal best goals and academic and social functioning : A longitudinal perspective Learning and Instruction 22 (3) 222-230.

Baumeister, R.F. and Leary, M.R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3) 497-529.

Blum, R.W. (2005). A case for school connectedness. Educational Leadership, 42(7), 62–70.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiences by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cornelius, H. and Faire, S. (2006). Everyone Can Win: Responding to Conflict Constructively Pymble Australia, Simon and Schuster.

Delors, J. (1996). Learning: The Treasure Within. Paris: International Commission on Education for the Twenty First Century, UNESCO.

Due, P. (nd) Mental Health among Adolescents and Young People in Denmark. Prevalence and Development over Time. National Institute of Public Health. Accessed June 15th 2015 http://www.velferdarraduneyti.is/media/1—formennska-2014/Pernille-Due.pdf

Durlak, J.A., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., Schellinger, K.B. and Weissberg, R.P. (2011) The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school based universal interventions. Child Development 82 (1) 405-432.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Ecclestone, K. and Hayes, D. (2008). The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education. London: Routledge.

Feinstein. L. (2015). Social and Emotional Learning: Skills for Life and Work Early Intervention Foundation, UK Cabinet Office.

Frederickson, N. (1991). Children can be so cruel: Helping the rejected child. In: G. Lindsay & A. Miller (eds) Psychological Services for Primary schools. Harlow, UK: Longman.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Ground-breaking research to release your inner optimist and thrive. Oxford: OneWorld Publications.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, Little Brown & Co.

Habermas, J. (1990). Moral consciousness and communicative action. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning, a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Rutledge.

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in Education: A Radical View. Sense Publishers.

Hromek. R. and Roffey. S. (2009). Games as a pedagogy for social and emotional learning. “Its fun and we learn things”, Simulation and Gaming, 40(5): 626–44.

Johnson, D.W. and Johnson. R.T. (nd). Co-operative Learning: Values and Culturally Plural Classrooms. http://bit.ly/1N6xnZg Accessed June 18th 2015

Kasser, T. and Ryan, R.M. (1993). The dark side of the American dream: Correlates of financial success as a central life aspiration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65(2), 410-422.

Lyubomirksy. S. (2007). The How of Happiness, Sphere.

McCarthy, F. and Roffey, S. (2013). Circle Solutions: a philosophy and pedagogy for learning positive relationships. What promotes and inhibits sustainable outcomes? The International Journal of Emotional Education 5 (1) 36-55.

McCashen, W. (2005). The Strengths Approach: A strengths based resource for sharing power and creating change. Bendigo: St Luke’s Innovative Resources.

Newland, L.A. (2014). Supportive family contexts: promoting child wellbeing and resilience Early Child Development and Care, 184:9-10, 1336-1346.

Noble, T., McGrath, H., Roffey, S. & Rowling, L. (2008). Scoping Study into Approaches to Student Wellbeing. Canberra, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Piliavin, J.A. (2003). Doing well by doing good: Benefits for the benefactor. In C.L.M. Keyes and J. Haidt, (eds) Flourishing: Positive Psychology and he Life Well Lived. Washington, American Psychological Society.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books, New York.

Roffey, S. (2005). Respect in Practice: The challenge of emotional literacy in Education. Conference paper for the Australian Association for Research in Education. http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/2005/rof05356.pdf

Roffey, S. (2008). Emotional literacy and the ecology of school wellbeing. Educational and Child Psychology 25 (2).

Roffey, S. (2010). Content and context for learning relationships: A cohesive framework for individual and whole school development. Educational and Child Psychology 27 (1) 156-167.

Roffey. S. (2011). Changing Behaviour in Schools: Promoting Positive Relationships and Wellbeing. London: Sage Publications.

Roffey, S. (2012). Teacher wellbeing, pupil wellbeing: Two sides of the same coin. Educational and Child Psychology 29 (4) 8-17.

Roffey, S. (2013). Inclusive and Exclusive Belonging: The impact on individual and community wellbeing. Educational and Child Psychology 30 (1) 38-49.

Roffey, S. (2014). Circle Solutions for Student Wellbeing. London, Sage Publications.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing. Sydney Random House.

Werner, E.E. (2004). What can we learn about resilience from large scale longitudinal studies? In Handbook of Resilience in Children. New York, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2010). The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everyone. London Penguin Books.


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

In control or in charge? February 26, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Engaging Learning Environments.
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from Adjunct Assoc. Prof Sue Roffey

Good class control is often seen as the hallmark of a good teacher. No-one likes chaos, least of all the students.  But surprisingly, there has not been much discussion of how this can be balanced with a strong teacher-student relationship: a relationship which has had a raised profile since the publication of John Hattie’s meta-analysis of effective education (Hattie, 2009).

Students of all ages do not like to be in a classroom where the teacher cannot ‘control’ the class.  It makes some individuals anxious and others frustrated and angry.  It does not lead to mutual respect and it certainly doesn’t promote a purposeful, engaged learning environment.  But neither does anyone like to be told what to do all the time and be expected to obey someone else’s rules or get into trouble – especially those students who struggle. Having some autonomy, opportunities to be creative and activity that is seen as meaningful is much more motivating than external pressure or reward (Pink, 2009).

I have worked in a variety of roles in education and written extensively on social / emotional issues in the school context including how to promote pro-social behaviour (eg Roffey, 2011) Much of the discussion on behaviour focuses on management in one guise or another, much less on what models positive interactions and the value of relational approaches to behavioural change – especially for our more vulnerable students who are often the most challenging.  Could we begin a conversation.to explore the difference between exerting control over individuals (or trying to) and being in charge of classroom processes? One does not promote an optimal learning environment and the other does.

In international research on relationships (Roffey 2012) one hallmark of a healthy relationship is equality. Even where one person is in a position of authority over another they can use this to empower and facilitate engagement in shared goals or they can direct,  boss and sometimes intimidate. It is extraordinary that in this day and age we have people in leadership positions who still believe that bullying is an appropriate way to motivate others and get things done.  Fear and authoritarian approaches lead to the establishment of a toxic environment- the opposite of social capital and the generation of emotionally safe learning environments. (Noble et al, 2008). Such approaches also do nothing to promote self-control or model pro-social behaviour.

What does this mean in the classroom and for teachers?  Here are some thoughts on ways of being in charge of a class without being controlling.

  • Establish classroom guidelines with students at the outset rather than impose rules. It takes a little time but saves time later.
  • Give students opportunities to take a lead.
  • Spend time building relationships – get to know a little about students’ lives and show an interest in them, not just how well they are doing in school  – it’s what the research says matters (NSW Commission, 2009, Murray-Harvey, 2010)
  • Use strengths-based language and avoid deficit labelling (Noble et al, 2008). Teachers need to maintain high expectations for their students – not just in academic attainments but in who they are becoming as people – those who are told they are naughty, lazy, hopeless  or ‘conduct-disordered’ think of themselves that way – it promotes low expectations and generates negativity.
  • Promote the positive – say what you value and like about students – if necessary dig deep!
  • Be well planned but also prepared to be flexible – some students need space to reduce negative feelings before they can focus on learning  (Fredrickson, 2009)
  • Make feedback specific (not shallow praise) and ensure that the student is engaged by saying something positive before any negative critique. We often shut off bad news and are more likely to tune into the positive.
  • Ask questions more often than making statements. It is both respectful and encourages thinking. This does not mean interrogation!  Listen to the answers.
  • Ask students to evaluate their own learning and feed back what works for them
  •  Use cooperative learning strategies wherever possible and try to make learning fun and meaningful – to do this you need to seek some hooks and drivers on which to scaffold the curriculum content:  how does this fit with students already know or are interested in?
  • Model making mistakes – there are lots of ways to say I could have done that better!  Hattie says mistakes should be accepted as part of education – if students are not making mistakes their learning is not sufficiently challenging
  • When a student says ‘ you can’t make me’ agree with them and give them back the responsibility – use such go with the flow’ strategies to reduce potential confrontation. It takes the heat out of situations. No-one should need compliance to maintain their self respect.

The evidence says that not only do students respond more positively within such an educational environment but also that teachers have a better time with a stronger sense of professional achievement. (Roffey, 2012a).  There are many wonderful educators doing just this but others don’t seem to get it!  We need to challenge the myth of control and build the conversation to promote healthy and empowering relationships in school – at all levels.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive. Oxford: OneWorld Publications.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning, a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Murray-Harvey, R. (2010). Relationship influences on students’ academic achievement, psychological health and wellbeing at school. Educational and Child Psychology, 27(1), 104-115.

NSW Commission for Children & Young People (2009). Ask the Children:
Children speak about being at school.
Available from http://www.kids.nsw.gov.au/kids/resources/publications/askchildren

Noble, T., McGrath, H., Roffey, S., & Rowling, L. (2008). A Scoping Study on Approaches to Student Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations (DEEWR).

Pink, D. (2009) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.  New York Riverhead Books

Roffey. S. (2011) Changing Behaviour in School: Promoting Positive Relationships and Wellbeing  London Sage Publications

Roffey, S. (Ed) (2012) Positive Relationships: Evidence-based practice across the world.

Roffey, S. (2012a) Pupil wellbeing: Teacher wellbeing: Two sides of the same coin.   Educational and Child Psychology 29 (4) 9-17.

Dr Sue Roffey is an Adjunct Associate Professor in in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

First things first – reframing discipline practices to reduce school suspensions September 4, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Dr Brenda Dobia

In her first post, Brenda Dobia examines the trends in school suspensions and comments on approaches for schools to reduce suspensions by encouraging positive behaviours.

The NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations recently made the Sydney Morning Herald with the heading Parents want naughty students to serve time in school. Parents from the Central Coast were questioning departmental guidelines on suspension and the ways some schools were implementing them. They argued for clearer communication with parents, the right of appeal and the option of in-school suspensions.

This follows a recent report highlighting a 33% increase in long suspension rates in state public schools between 2005 and 2009 (Uniting Care Burnside, 2011). The data for suspensions shows disproportionate trends, with regions that have higher rates of social disadvantage showing higher rates of suspension.  Similar disparities have been found in other states and internationally (Hemphill & Hargreaves, 2009). In their Australian study Hemphill et al (2010) found that the higher rates of suspension in disadvantaged communities remain significant even after controlling for factors such as antisocial behaviour, gender, age, family functioning, peer group and academic failure.

Excluding students from school frequently compounds academic difficulties and undermines engagement. Suspension increases antisocial behaviour and has negative impacts on students’ wellbeing in both the immediate and longer term (Hemphill et al, 2010). With 42% of suspensions handed out for ‘persistent disobedience’, there is a clear need for more proactive approaches to encourage appropriate behaviour and re-engage students who may be struggling with school for a variety of reasons.

Effective school strategies address student behaviour and wellbeing. While setting clear limits for behaviours that place students or others at risk of harm, a critical focus is placed on teaching and supporting pro-social behaviours that contribute to students’ sense of personal efficacy and acknowledge their contributions to the school community.

Schools and teachers who adopt this approach understand that discipline does not mean punishment. Discipline, deriving from the latin word disciplina which means ‘instruction’ or ‘knowledge’, is fundamentally about teaching. Effective teachers have a range of teaching strategies at their disposal to help students succeed in learning constructive behaviours.

Establishing the right settings to encourage positive behaviour is key. In Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), or Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL), getting the whole school on board in order to come up with a set of clear, positively framed expectations is a vital starting point. Ensuring that everyone agrees on the core expectations and that students are taught what it means to be respectful, be safe or be responsible (for example) in the playground, in the corridors, at the canteen or the bus stop, means that everyone knows what is expected (Mooney et al, 2008). Students’ efforts to demonstrate positive behaviours are recognised and valued.

To ensure success a consistent approach is needed. Often parents and teachers think consistency means meting out the same punishment regardless of circumstances. This rarely provides the best outcomes. Efforts to be consistent should emphasise consistent expectations. Providing effective support to meet expectations is crucial.

Just as with any other aspect of the curriculum, different children will need different levels of support to meet behavioural expectations. Some children learn what is expected quickly and need little prompting. Often these are children who already have effective skills for regulating their emotions and getting on with others. For others it is a huge stretch. Targeted approaches that provide focused support according to the specific needs of the child may be needed.

The reasons why some children have trouble conforming to school behaviour expectations are often complex. Perhaps they have had limited experience of effective modelling at home; perhaps there have been disruptions to their lives which have been difficult to cope with; perhaps they have been treated unfairly and as a result are on guard for any hint of possible injustice; perhaps they have experienced trauma that has undermined their trust in others and led to erratic emotional responses. There are many more possible reasons for student misbehaviour, including reasons relating to students’ experience of school.

While schools and teachers are not responsible for circumstances arising outside the school context that influence student behaviour, they can still be responsive to students’ needs. A whole school approach is required to promote positive behaviour and wellbeing. Rather than relying on a system of regulations and sanctions, successful school initiatives are geared to promoting positive relationships, preventing problems where possible, and intervening early where necessary by bringing together students, teachers, parents or carers and support services in order to tailor their approach to the particular needs of the student (Graetz et al., 2008).

Students who experience school as a place where they are cared for, listened to and treated fairly feel more connected to school (Murray-Harvey & Slee, 2007; Resnick et al., 1997; Rowe et al., 2007). School connectedness has been found to reduce behavioural problems (Loukas et al., 2010), increase wellbeing (Shochet et al., 2006) and improve school achievement (Bond et al., 2007).  Building a climate of caring and connectedness between students, staff and parents places emphasis on the quality of relationships. It turns out this is a far more effective way to enhance wellbeing, reduce school suspensions and improve learning (Dix et al., 2011; Slee et al., 2009). By the way, it makes teaching more satisfying too.

References:  Arlington, K. (2011).  Parents want naughty students to serve time in school, Sydney Morning Herald, July 30. [online] www.smh.com.au/national/education/parents-want-naughty-students-to-serve-time-in-school-20110729-1i47o.html#ixzz1TjpUNNgn.   Bond, L., Butler, H., Thomas, L., et al. (2007). Social and school connectedness in early secondary school as predictors of late teenage substance use, mental health and academic outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40, 357.e9–357.e18.   Dix, K. L., Slee, P. T., Lawson, M. J. & Keeves, J. P. (2011). Implementation quality of whole-school mental health promotion and students’ academic performance. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. [online]doi: 10.1111/j.1475-3588.2011.00608.x.    Graetz, B., Littlefield, L., Trinder, M., Dobia, B., Souter, M., Champion, C., Boucher, S., Killick-Moran, C., Cummins, R. (2008). KidsMatter: A population health model to support student mental health and wellbeing in primary schools. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 10(4) 13-20.   Hemphill, S. & Hargreaves, J. (2009). The impact of school suspensions: A student wellbeing issue, ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal. 56 (3/4), 5-11.    Hemphill, S.A., Toumbourou, J.W., Smith, R., Kendall, G., Rowland, B., Freiberg, K. & Williams, J. (2010). Are rates of school suspension higher in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods? An Australian study, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 21(1), 12-18.   Loukas, A., Roalson, L. A. & Herrera, D. E. (2010). School connectedness buffers the effects of negative family relations and poor effortful control on early adolescent conduct problems. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 1-10.   Mooney, M. Dobia, B., Barker, K., Power, A., Watson, K., & Yeung, S., (2008). Positive Behaviour for Learning: Investigating the transfer of a United States system into the New South Wales Department of Education and Training Western Sydney Region schools: Report. Penrith NSW: University of Western Sydney. [online] http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/19702.    Murray-Harvey, R. & Slee, P. (2007). Supportive and stressful relationships with teachers, peers and family and their influence on students’ social/emotional and academic experience of school, Australian Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 17(2), 126-47.   NSW Dept Education and Training (2010). Long suspension and expulsion summary 2009. Sydney NSW: author. [online] https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/detresources/suspexpul2009_oEuDLGhsYu.pdf.   Resnick, M., Bearman, P., Blum, R., Bauman, K., et al. (1997). Protecting Adolescents from Harm – Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Journal of the American Medical Association, 278(10),823-822.   Rowe, F., Stewart, D. & Patterson, C. (2007). Promoting school connectedness through whole school approaches, Health Education, 107(6), 524-542.   Shochet, I. M. , Dadds, M. R. , Ham, D. & Montague, R. (2006). School connectedness is an underemphasized parameter in adolescent mental health: Results of a community prediction study, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 35(2), 170-179.   Slee, P. T., Lawson, M. J., Russell, A., Askell-Williams, H., Dix, K. L., Owens, L., et al. (2009). KidsMatter Primary Evaluation final report. Melbourne: beyondblue. [online] www.kidsmatter.edu.au/uploads/2009/10/kidsmatter-fullreport-web.pdf.   Uniting Care Burnside (2011). School suspension briefing. [online] www.childrenyoungpeopleandfamilies.org.au/__data/assets/file/0008/61784/110411_School_Suspension.pdf

Brenda Dobia is a Lecturer in social ecology and education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. A psychologist and lecturer in educational psychology, she is particularly concerned about student wellbeing as the basis for student management practices in schools. She is a lead researcher in the PBL research project in NSW, and has previously been seconded to the Australian Psychological Society as National Resources Coordinator in the Kidsmatter project, in which role she was instrumental in developing Kidsmatter curriculum materials.

Are we missing vital opportunities to teach? The value of non-emotional responses to negative behaviour April 3, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Dr Danielle Tracey

In this post, Danielle Tracey points out the educational opportunities that can arise when children engage in negative behaviour.

Few would argue that enhancing the social and behavioural functioning of children falls outside the parameters of what teachers and parents strive to achieve. I hope that my post will provoke consideration of how we currently accomplish this, and more importantly, how we appear to miss vital opportunities to achieve this goal.

To demonstrate my position, I’d like to introduce you to two scenarios that centre around ‘Jack’, a Year 1 student in a local school.

Scenario One

At school Jack has difficulty completing a subtraction sum on a timeline in class. His teacher comes over to his desk, praises him for his effort and then begins to explicitly teach him the correct process through instruction and demonstration. The teacher then asks Jack to complete two more questions while she watches and guides him towards the correct answer. She will keep a closer eye on his performance in this area over the coming lessons.

That afternoon Jack arrives home and walks in with his shoe laces untied. His father patiently sits with Jack and first demonstrates how to tie the laces, then takes Jack’s fingers and takes him through the movements whilst verbally instructing each step. His father then asks Jack to give it a go himself, and encourages each attempt made by Jack.

With these two supportive environments it is no doubt that Jack will soon become successful at both completing subtraction problems and tying his shoelaces.

Scenario Two

In the playground Jack becomes very excited about a new discovery (a dinosaur egg in the playlawn) and rushes to tell his teacher who is on playground duty. He barges through, oblivious to the fact that his teacher is already in conversation with the Principal. His teacher reprimands him for his actions and says that he is being rude, and sends him immediately on his way.

At home, Jack and his older brother have just purchased the new release Ninjago Lego which is a big hit. Jack snatches the Lego from his older brother in frustration as he has been unable to have a good look at the character. His father enters the room and immediately expresses his disappointment at the boys for their inability to share, confiscates the Lego and sends them to different ends of the house to play independently until they can “learn to play together nicely”.

The difference between the two scenarios

This is the same teacher, and the same parent, who react so differently in these two different situations. Why do we deal with these two situations so differently? Why is it that when seemingly negative behaviour occurs within a young child we move into a discipline mode rather than an educative one? Is it the high emotion of misplaced behaviour, or the assumption that the child has been ‘bad’ and their intention to harm was deliberate rather than mistaken? Whatever the underlying reason, in responding negatively to negative behaviour we are missing an ideal opportunity to teach children appropriate social and behavioural skills.

In the early childhood years, professionals have long recognised the occurrence of mistaken behaviour instead of misbehaviour, and these concepts have been well explored by authors such as Gartrell (2011). Once a child moves out of early childhood, however, we appear to lose the ability to view the child and their behaviour in this way.

So, the challenge is placed before you… the next time a young child demonstrates “poor behaviour”, try to remove the emotion from the situation and teach and guide the child toward appropriate behaviour as you would if they were struggling in any other skill. Or is this easier said than done?

ReferenceGartrell, D. (2011). A guidance approach for the encouraging classroom (5th edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Danielle Tracey is a Lecturer in Educational Psychology in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

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