We continually construct (and re-construct) our knowledge, actions (and inter-actions) and arrangements, moment by moment, context by context.

Cognition may have two major (but complementary and overlapping) elements
And the role of the teacher is to mediate the learning, that is engage* with the learner, helping to address any 'dysfunctions' in the thinking and learning processes of 
  • Input
  • Elaboration and
  • Output 
Thinking including our expectations, is important because what we think about our experiences plays a vital role in shaping both
  • our perceptions of  what happened - perception is reality
  • our specific thoughts about how well (or otherwise) 'what happened' matches our expectations
  • our feelings about the experience (as we perceive it)  - our feelings come from our thoughts rather than from our experiences
  • our responses to the experience - largely as an outcome of our feeling (emotions get us into motion)
The sequence of processing tends to be as follows. When we have an experience
  • we then have thoughts about that experience including how well it matches our hopes and expectations
  • and these thoughts result feelings which prompt
  • our actions in response to the experience
These steps can take place very quickly, especially if they are entrenched. So much so that we may not be aware of the thoughts involved.

Unfortunately, our thinking is so rapid that we may be unaware of even having specific thoughts or feelings. This is one reason why we often use "feel"and "think" interchangeably in everyday conversation.

It is also the reason that we often fail to recognise the role of fear in problematic behaviour. A person's fear is not problematic to others until it is converted to anger which results in aggression. The conversion can happen so quickly that no-one is aware of the underlying fear.

Over time we develop patterns of thinking based on our expectations and paradigms (models of how things should be). For better or worse, these patterns can become entrenched as "habits of mind".

Social and emotional learning is often associated with confirming or challenging our
  • perceptions - "Did Josh actually intend to hurt you?"
  • expectations - "Is there a reason why it is important for you to be the leader every time?"
  • paradigms -"Josh can't take turns!!"
As social beings we are influenced by the thoughts and feelings of others - it saves us having to work out everything for ourselves in every situation. This is why explicitly stating the (school) expectations can be useful.

Thinking and school expectations

School expectation may be explicitly stated as hopes, expectations, rules and/or agreements. They are also tacitly implied by the actions of those who represent the school and community.

Explicit statements of expectations need to reflect the intended outcomes for the student. They also need to be consistent with the actual practices and arrangements within the school. Consistency is important - it is easier when
  • the expectations apply to everyone involved in the life and work of the school
  • the expectations are frequently highlighted and made explicit 
  • the school acknowledges and celebrates achievements in meeting the expectations
These key school ‘expectations’ are not unique to the school. They are derived from community and society in general since the school acts on behalf of the wider community and society. To be valid and useful, the school’s expectations need to be consistent with the ‘requirements’ of the community and society. At the same time, they need to described and articulated in various ways to make them more accessible to the students who need to respond.

The school’s expectations are intended to guide everyone's ongoing actions and interactions but the detailed meanings change from context-to-context, from setting-to-setting. Thus, they need to be continually constructed and reconstructed moment be moment in within the life and work of the school

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 judgement informed by emotional literacy and action involving social skills and habits of mind.

Rules represent boundaries beyond which expectations have not been met and the associated activity is unacceptable. There are only three basic social/school rules:
  • No harm (care) – self, others, property
  • No disruptions (consideration) – work and play
  • No offense (courtesy) – other community members
Expectations are more likely to be expressed in positive terms but they also imply boundaries beyond which activity is unacceptable. For example:
  • "Be safe, Be your best, Care for the rest"  (Exeter Primary School)
Incidents and issues need to be understandable and manageable in relation to the expectations. Development and restoration is about enabling a member of the school to moving towards achieving the expectations in all contexts.

Building blocks of thinking

Greenberg has developed 10 Building Blocks Of Thinking from her work with Feuerstein. While these were originally developed in relation to classroom learning they are equally valid for social and emotional learning

These are prerequisite skills upon which thought processes are based. The teacher evaluates the learner's level of competency and use of these Building Blocks and seeks to help develop those that are underused.
  • Approach to Task/Experience: Beginning, engaging with, and completing an event, including gathering information, thinking about the task and situation, and expressing thoughts, feelings and/or actions related to the task and situation.. 
  • Precision and Accuracy: Awareness of the need to automatically be exact and correct in understanding and using words and ideas. 
  • Space and Time Concepts: Understanding basic ideas about how things relate in size, shape, and distance to one another (space); and the ability to understand measurement of the period between two or more events and/or changes that occur due to these periods (time). 
  • Thought Integration: Pulling together and using at the same time multiple sources of information which are a part of a given event. 
  • Selective Attention: Choosing relevant pieces of information when considering thoughts or events. 
  • Making Comparisons: Awareness of the need to automatically examine the relationship between events and ideas, especially in determining what is the same and what is different. 
  • Connecting Events: Awareness of the need to automatically associate one activity with another and use this association in a meaningful manner. 
  • Working Memory: Enlarging the thinking space in order to enter bits of information from the mental act, retrieve information stored in the brain, and make connections among the information gathered. 
  • Getting the Main Idea: Awareness of the need to automatically find a fundamental element that related pieces of information have in common. 
  • Problem Identification: Awareness of the need to automatically experience and define within a given situation what is causing a feeling of imbalance.
Greenberg also elaborated a set of eight Learning tools

These tools are needed if a person is going to be an active generator of information and not just a passive recipient. The teacher assists the learner to develop and become aware of their use and value of:
  1. Inner Meaning: An awareness of significance to oneself that provides intrinsic motivation for learning and remembering.
  2. Self Regulation: Controlling our approach to learning by using metacognition (thinking about what you are thinking and how you are feeling) to determine factors like readiness and speed.
  3. Feeling of Competence: Knowing we have the ability to do a particular thing. Lack of this tool often results in laziness and other avoidance behaviours; presence of it results in feeling confident and motivated to learn.
  4. Goal Directed Behaviour: Taking initiative in setting, planning for, and reaching objectives on a consistent basis.
  5. Self Development: Being aware of our uniqueness as an individual and working toward becoming all we can be.
  6. Sharing Meaning: Communicating thoughts to ourself and others in a manner that makes the implicit explicit.
  7. Acceptance of Challenge: Being aware of the effects emotions have on novel, complex, and consequently difficult tasks; knowing how to deal with challenge.
  8. Awareness of Self Change: Knowing that we change throughout life and learning to expect, nurture, and benefit from it.


Some schools explicitly teach philosophy in order to enhance student thinking.  In doing so they inevitably address social and emotional issues.