Recently the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released its report PISA 2015: Reporting Australia's Results, which surveyed more than 14,000 students in 758 Australian schools. Some media commentary focussed on its chapter “The school learning environment”, which stated: “About one-third of the students in advantaged schools, and about half of those in disadvantaged schools, reported that in most or every class there was noise and disorder, students didn’t listen to what the teacher said, and that students found it difficult to learn.”
So what’s the solution to this? While some have called for a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to improve classroom behaviour, Principals Australia Institute believes the key lies in social and emotional learning (SEL). Research points to these wellbeing-focussed programs as being an important part of the solution to student discipline problems.
Paula Cosgrave, principal of Findon Primary School in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, agrees. Her school has been engaged with the KidsMatter Primary program since November 2013, and in that time Paula has seen behaviour at the school improve.
“If students are taught how to be social, make and keep good friends, if they are taught how to identify their feelings and emotions and be able to regulate these, to restore a damaged relationship, to learn to respect self and others, then individual and collective behaviour will improve,” Paula says.
Social and emotional learning has benefits for teachers and school leaders too. “By forming these relationships and knowing what makes their students ‘tick’, teachers are better equipped to understand how their students learn,” says Paula. “They are more empathic and are able to get the best learning out of their students which ultimately improves learning outcomes for students across the school.”
Good mental health is a prerequisite for good learning, which is a principle Paula has seen in action at Findon. “If you don’t have a social, emotional and mentally well student who is connected, feels safe and secure at school and who is explicitly taught to regulate their feelings and emotions,” explains Paula, “then no amount of English, Maths or Science will ‘stick’ for this child.
“Knowing your students, tapping into who they are, through a social and emotional learning program, and building a trustful relationship with them, has a profound impact on student’s mental health and wellbeing.”