05 September, 2019

Teaching resilience

A reasonable expectation of teachers?
It is not unusual or unreasonable for teachers to "resist" taking on more and more.

One recent example, "It's not a school's job to teach your children resilience. Teachers are busy enough already" (more...).

About resilience
Resilience is fundamental to everyone's success and well-being now and in the future.

In particular resilience is fundamental to learning. Learning involves attempting thoughts and actions that one does not yet know how to do. All learning includes the risk of failure hence the need for resilience.

Learning, success and well-being all involve social and emotional aspects. We continually construct and reconstruct our knowledge, actions, arrangements and relationships, mostly in everyday interactions with others. This means that improving resilience involves social and emotional learning in the context of the activities and cultures of the school, its families and community.

The idea that resilience is something that can and should be taught by the student's teachers is true but the notion can be counter-productive, especially when teachers have to demonstrate that they have "taught resilience" as part of an industrial production model of education. The ridiculous demands on teachers to demonstrate that they have "taught X" is the major cause of "teacher resistance", narrowing of the curriculum and plateauing of student outcomes.

Teaching resilience
In fact all successful teachers, families, schools and communities naturally "teach" resilience as a matter of course. Teaching and learning resilience are best integrated into the whole life and work of the school, its families and community. It includes planning, modelling, coaching, support and celebration. Think of how toddlers learn and extrapolate that to make it developmentally appropriate for the learner.

Real-time integration of the teaching of resilience into the life and work of the school maximises the effectiveness of the "teaching' while minimising the extra demands on teachers. They are indeed "busy enough already".

A foundation of social and emotional learning
My final school had Program Achieve as its core education program. And there are numerous other social and emotional programs that provide a useful and comprehensive pedagogical framework for schools (and their teachers to adopt and live). Ideally the concepts and practices can also be shared with families and the community.

What to do...
An example from my last school involved assisting a small number of students who, when faced with a new learning task, would almost immediately recognise that they did not know what to do. They would then give up and/or seek help from the teacher.

By working with these students to better understand their needs we devised a strategy for

05 July, 2017

Understanding Social Emotional Learning


I have been mulling over how to understand the social-emotional learning component of School-wide Positive Behaviour Support. The following is a summary of my current thinking

For me, at this time, I see SEL as
  • a major component of a school's taught, shared and lived curriculum
  • complementing the academic curriculum
  • enabling teaching, learning and belonging by and for all.


From listening to schools in the LSN-PBS Network, and monitoring a lot of what is on the net, it seems to me that there are probably four SEL teachable dimensions:  

  • Thinking & expectations
  • Social skills
  • Habits of Mind
  • Emotional literacy
As such, these four dimensions represent an SEL curriculum that develops a way of thinking and acting that is in the best interests of all concerned. that is a curriculum that is likely to support success and well-being for all.

1. Thinking, expectations/rules/agreements - These key school aspects are described and articulated in various ways. They are intended to guide everyone's ongoing actions and interactions but and detailed meanings change from context-to-context, from setting-to-setting. To understand, appreciate, accept and support the school's requirements involves substantial social-emotional learning. The expectations have to be met, the rules observed and/or the agreements kept. The capacity to do so involves social skills, habits of mind and emotional literacy.

2.  Social skills - The ability to use verbal and non-verbal communication skills that enable successful interactions between members of the (school) community. That is to meet one's own needs in acceptable ways and to support the needs of others. For example, Teachers frequently use 

  • Attentive listening (from Tribes....)
  • Active Supervision (SWPBS...)
  • Restorative Inquiry (Restorative Practices...)
  • Affective Statements (Tribes, RP...)
  • Showing appreciation (Tribes, RP...)
  • ...
3.  Habits of Mind - Patterns of thinking and acting in one's own best interests and leading to ongoing success. For example, You Can Do It!!proposes several 'habits of mind, including...
  • Accepting myself
  • Taking Risks
  • Being Independent
  • I Can Do It
  • Giving Effort
  • Working Tough
  • Setting Goals
  • Planning My Time
  • Being Tolerant of Others
  • Thinking First
  • Playing by the Rules, and
  • Social Responsibility ... see http://www.youcandoit.com.au/AboutYouCanDoIt/
  • ...
For a more scholarly list, see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habits_of_mind

4.  Emotional Literacy

  • Identifying, relating and communicating one's (emotional) responses to experience, and
  • Understanding and appreciating those of others.

Implications arising
It seems to me that there are some major implications from the above:

Firstly, emotional literacy underpins success including the successful use of social skills and the development of useful habits of mind.

Secondly, the key elements of most structured SEL programs include elements from each of the above SEL dimensions. Consider Tribes as a simple example. The Tribes elements are
  • Attentive Listening = habit of mind + social skill + emotional literacy
  • Showing appreciation / No put-downs = social skill + emotional literacy
  • Right to pass = emotional literacy + social skill
  • Mutual respect = emotional literacy + social skill
  • [Focus on task = habit of mind + emotional literacy]

Thirdly, social skills, habits of mind and emotional literacy are not subject to the law of physics: they are not universals in a determined sense. They are emergent, cultural and situated. This may mean that your school can simply choose its own preferred approach, and if done well, the school will make a profound contribution to the life and work of those involved, both now and in the future.

Fourthly, and keeping this last point in mind, consider your school's key expectations, e.g., "Be Safe, Be Fair and Be a Learner"

Discussion Starters
  • What are the required social skills that will enable all staff and students to meet these expectations?
  • What are the associated habits of mind that will make meeting the school's expectations natural and easy for staff and students
  • What emotional literacy is required of staff and students in order for them to understand, appreciate and achieve the school's expectations?
  • What educational strategies does your school currently have in place to develop the social skills, habits of mind and emotional literacy required?
  • What needs are not currently being addressed? That is, what are the gaps in the school's continuum of support in these areas, and how do you know (data)?
  • Possible next steps for our school?

    10 October, 2013

    Demonstrating a Restorative Circle

    Recently I had a request for a video (~10 minutes) of students participating in a restorative circle. Brief snippets are readily available within other videos but I am not aware of any that exist, except in snippets (e.g., in the West Philadelphia video on SaferSanerSchools). If you can help, please let me know. My response to the request was as follows.
    Making such a video would have some major complications. It would not be easy...
    • There is the issue of confidentiality in real circles for serious incidents. 
    •  And there are the challenges of acting and filming simulated circles given the age of the participants and the physical layout of circles (ideal for participants but difficult to record on video)
    However, it is common practice to use role plays to demonstrate Restorative circles in workshops. This needs some setting up before hand so that the "players" have some idea of their context:
    • what happened,
    • what their character might think
    • who else might have been affected
    • and what might be done to repair the harm
    Interestingly, this "setting up" is very important and needs to happen in real-life situations. To keep everyone safe and minimise further harm it is important to get the participants' agreement to participate before taking things to the next level. There are three main levels above making affective statements
    1. Restorative Questions individually to victim* and offender* - may be sufficient for essential learning and to reduce the likelihood of minor incidents recurring
    2. Restorative Meeting jointly with victim and offender - may be sufficient to resolve a less serious issue or incident
    3. Restorative Conference (a larger circle to resolve a major issue or incident): victim, offender, other stakeholders (others effected and supporters)
    Participants need to know what their experience is likely to be if they engage in the next level:
    • what the rules will be;
    • who will be involved;
    • what questions will be asked;
    • and that they will be safe, respected and supported
    1. Facilitators need to have a good idea of how things will go at the next level before initiating it. A facilitator should not take a matter to a higher level unless he/she is reasonably confident about the step being successful for all concerned.  Unfortunately it is possible for more problematic content to be revealed at the next level. Facilitators need to be able to handle such situations and sometimes a meeting or conference has to be cancelled or postponed.
    2*. In many situations the key players are both "victims" and "offenders" - people don't usually do the "wrong thing" for no reason!! Thus it is important not to assign victim and offender roles too strongly. Restorative practices may be well structured but they are also open.

    06 October, 2013

    Introducing Restorative Practices to a group

    Recently I received a request for suggestions regarding possible arrangements for a proposed workshop on Restorative Practices. The workshop would introduce restorative practices to a group of representative students from several schools. In response I made the following recommendations:


    Use a circle and work through the restorative questions to set the scene - something along the lines of:
    - What sort of things happen at your school?
    - What do you think when these things happen?
    - Who is affected when they happen?
    - What is needed to repair the harm done?
    - Who might be able/prepared to see this happen ?

    Also get lots of the restorative question cards to give out to everyone. They are available from IIRP 

    Perhaps the best resource for comprehensive implementation of Restorative Practices in schools is at SaferSanerSchools. And the key reference for school staff is Whole School Change - Overview

    There are lots of other great school resources available from the web
     - Villanova College is a great example of a good highly successful school using Restorative Practices really well
     - West Philadephia is a great example of a highly challenged school using Restorative Practices really well. Information available from SaferSanerSchools 

    If you are working with staff, they need to understand the Social Discipline Window - it will help them make better sense of what is happening. 
    [Note: I often change the term 'Control' to 'Challenge' to make the model more relational, and more consistent with the idea of 'working WITH' rather than 'working ON' students. The idea of  'controlling' is also fundamentally misleading and unrealistic except perhaps in the short-term]


    In schools, Restorative Practices are not just about fixing problems that have occurred. As elsewhere, Restorative Practices are about building community within, and beyond, the school. Restorative Practices are also educational and provide an powerful basis for social and emotional learning by all members of the school community - staff, students, their families and other stakeholders.

    08 January, 2013

    Emotions - hardwired or taught?

    Nicola Preston's presentation to the IIRP UK & Ireland 2012 Conference includes the following slide:

    This slide could be a great starting point for reviewing current arrangements for Social and Emotional Learning in any school.

    In particular it raises the questions of 
    • what (emotions) will be taught, and 
    • what pedagogies will be used.
    Obviously conventional notions of curriculum as delivered content are unlikely to be all that successful. Rather it is necessary to situate much of the learning within the everyday lived (emotional) experience of the students and other members of the school community.  Fortunately there is a rich set of everyday possibilities available - see Pedagogies for SEL

    21 September, 2012

    Restorative Schools - some major trends

    My online newspaper, Restorative Schools, is out today and every Friday.

    As well as useful resources there are several reports of big reductions in suspensions in a number of US schools and school systems using Restorative Practices. The reports are based on data from previous school  years. The numbers of students suspended and/or excluded has been mind-boggling (at least to me) and the reductions achieved have been very impressive.

    Other trends include
    • increasing pressure to reduce suspensions and exclusions
    • the introduction of laws in some parts of the world to mandate the use of restorative and similar practices in schools
    • endorsement of Restorative Practices by a wide range of authorities
    • initiatives by cities around the world to become Restorative Cities
    • schools playing a leading role in the spread of restorative practices within communities
    All the best,

    26 July, 2012

    Demonstrating order

    When harm is done it is relatively easy to identify the primary relationships that have been damaged and need to be restored. In serious matters, restorative practices address close secondary relationships by including supporters of both the offenders and victims.

    Well-meaning authorities may attempt to "keep the door open" for those who have caused some harm by implementing minimal consequences. For example, a court may apply a suspended sentence for a serious offense. In terms of the social discipline window, such approaches can be perceived as high support - low challenge. However, this can undermine the confidence of bystanders and their relationships with those involved and the system (justice system, school...). A bystander is anyone who knows that harm was done, before, during or after the fact. 

    High challenge - high support approaches include the completion of substantial well-managed challenges by those who have caused harm. As part of the restoration of relationships, such challenges are likely to be known to those directly involved in any restorative processes. Communicating the successful completion of real challenges can be important for wider bystanders who need to know that justice has been done, and that there is order including social discipline.