BBQ conversations

Wednesday, 06 Apr 2022
I had the opportunity recently to attend an education conference in Sydney where the keynote speaker, Professor Donna Cross, queried the audience with what would you say at a BBQ if someone asked why schools are focussing so much attention on wellbeing and social and emotional learning strategies; shouldn’t they just focus on literacy and numeracy?

Professor Cross’s audience consisted of teachers with a wellbeing focus, counsellors and school principals, so she was preaching to the church choir but it was an interesting question. 

Before I endeavour to justify wellbeing development, I will first outline what it is. Social and emotional learning (SEL) supports students to acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. 

Five social and emotional skills are developed through explicit instruction, peer and adult modelling and social opportunities to practice these skills with their families and their peers in the classroom, playground and outside the school gate: 

1. Self-management - managing emotions and behaviours to achieve goals. 

2. Self-awareness - recognising emotions and values as well as strengths and challenges. 

3. Responsible decision-making - making ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behaviour. 

4. Relationships skills - forming positive relationships, working in teams, dealing effectively with conflict. 

5. Social awareness - showing understanding and empathy for others.

Research shows that children’s learning is influenced by a range of social and emotional factors. Children with social and emotional learning skills have better academic outcomes, as well as improved physical and mental health. They are more confident articulating their feelings, managing their own behaviour, creating more effective relationships with peers, teachers and family members and then having wider friendship groups. 

Longitudinal studies also suggest that effective social and emotional skills support employment prospects as they have increased prosocial behaviours. Add this to the context of Australia’s current youth record with drug use, depression, anxiety and suicide rate. The question, therefore, should not be why are we focusing on social and emotional learning but why aren’t we focussing more attention in this area? 

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