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The social, emotional, cognitive and physical aspects of a person’s development are interrelated. Each influences and is influenced by the others. Consequently, it is not uncommon for students who have difficulty managing their emotions and behaviour to face great challenges meeting the demands of schooling. This relationship between troubling behaviour and academic problems is not always clear in terms of which comes first, but what is clear is that the presence of one greatly increases the risk of the other. For this reason, supporting students’ emotional, social and behavioural development through the Friendly Schools whole-school approach enables them to more effectively engage in their learning.

What is social and emotional learning?
Social and emotional learning is the process of developing and practising important social and emotional understandings and skills. These understandings and skills can be grouped into five key areas.

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  • Self-awareness skills help us to recognise and understand our feelings and value our strengths and abilities.
  • Self-management skills enable us to handle and direct our emotions in appropriate ways.
  • Social awareness skills help us to be aware and respectful of the feelings and perspectives of others.
  • Relationship skills aid us in dealing positively with relationship problems and other social conflicts.
  • Social decision-making skills allow us to consider the consequences of our actions for ourselves and others and make thoughtful, effective decisions.

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What are the benefits of social and emotional learning?
Students with well-developed social and emotional skills find it easier to manage themselves, relate to others, develop resilience and a sense of self-worth, resolve conflict, engage in teamwork and feel positive about themselves and the world around them. As such, the development of personal and social capability is a foundation for learning and for citizenship.

Improving social and emotional skills has a positive influence on children and adolescents’ attitudes, behaviours and performance. A review of 317 studies involving over 300 000 children and adolescents found that social and emotional learning programs were beneficial for children and young people both with and without behavioural
or emotional problems. Social and emotional learning improved participants’ coping skills and resistance to negative peer pressure; resulted in more positive attitudes about themselves and others; improved social behaviours and cooperation with others; decreased risky, antisocial and aggressive behaviours; and decreased emotional problems.

Social and emotional learning programs like Friendly Schools can even improve academic success, with students demonstrating higher marks and better school attendance, as well as heightened trust and respect for teachers, improved management of school-related stress, more participation in class and fewer suspensions. Other research suggests that social and emotional learning programs lead to better health outcomes for young people, including a decreased risk of tobacco, alcohol and illicit substance abuse, mental health problems and suicide, and sexually transmitted diseases.

These programs also show evidence of long-term effectiveness, especially if social skills are developed and consolidated across several years. Importantly, the positive effects of social and emotional learning can extend beyond the individual, with improvements in students’ social and emotional skills likely to have a positive influence on their peers, families and whole-school communities.
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How does social and emotional learning relate to the Australian Curriculum?
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The Friendly Schools framework fosters personal and social capability, identified in the national Australian Curriculum as a general capability for 21st-century learners. The chart below demonstrates how the five types of social and emotional learning skills identified through Friendly Schools research relate to the four organising elements of the personal and social capability learning continuum in the Australian Curriculum.

The Australian Curriculum states that when students develop their skills in any one of the above elements, it leads to greater overall personal and social capability. The more students learn about their own emotions, values, strengths and capacities, the more they are able to manage their own emotions and behaviours, and to understand others and establish and maintain positive relationships.

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How can teachers bring social and emotional learning into the classroom?
To make ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behaviour, children and young people need to learn how to empathise with others. However, many students have not yet had the life experiences to enable them to understand or relate to what another person might think, feel or believe in a certain situation. Children therefore benefit from explicit teaching and learning activities that interrogate the different perspectives of relevant individuals and groups, along with the varying decision-making processes they may apply to social situations such as preventing or responding to bullying.

With this in mind, Friendly Schools Plus classroom resources for students aged 4–14 are designed to help teachers address three key aspects of students’
school experiences shown to be related to improved social and emotional development:

  • promoting positive peer relationships
  • promoting positive teacher–child relationships
  • explicit teaching related to emotions, social knowledge and social skills

The resources use stories and literature, cooperative games, role-plays, problem solving and reflective activities to encourage students to identify and understand their emotions, consider the perspectives of others, negotiate tricky situations and make well-reasoned decisions. The aim of the classroom resources is to offer interactive and engaging learning activities that explicitly build social and emotional competencies in students in every year of their development.

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