The Social and Emotional Learning that allows our students to flourish

In the last newsletter, our Principal, Richard Anderson emphasised our School’s thorough approach to managing situations of conflict and bullying. Our approach is holistic, proactive and preventative, and encompasses three layers:

  • Explicitly teaching social emotional skills
  • A caring and supportive school culture
  • Restorative justice practices and the opportunity to grow and learn from mistakes

It was therefore timely to unpack the specific teaching and learning that occurs at each year level to support and guide our young adolescents every day, in developing their personal and social capabilities.

The relationship between social and academic learning has been made very clear in recent times. Evidence strongly suggests a positive wellbeing leads to better learning; certainly not new information though, for those of us who work with young people each day.  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. These skills are critical in developing and maintaining a positive and healthy wellbeing.

At St John’s Grammar, students develop personal and social capability as they learn to understand themselves and others, and manage their relationships, lives, work and learning more effectively. Personal and social capability involves students in a range of practices including recognising and regulating emotions, developing empathy for others and understanding relationships, establishing and building positive relationships, making responsible decisions, working effectively in teams, handling challenging situations constructively and developing leadership skills.

There are clearly many opportunities to learn and practise these skills in school life and they are not exclusively bound to the Health and Personal Development learning area. Our extensive pastoral care programs, with our House system at the core of this, provide countless opportunities to develop these skills. Likewise, our Wednesday Wellbeing Series program complements the learning in the curriculum and adds another targeted approach to enhanced social and emotional learning of our students. Our Chapel program adds richness to this learning, as does the many opportunities that involvement in the co-curricular camps / retreat program and extensive extra-curricular program presents. In addition to all of this, the building of positive relationships is a high priority of all teachers and we strongly believe every learning moment with a student has the potential to be a pastoral learning experience too.

However, explicit teaching and learning of social and emotional skills does occur in the Health and Personal Development learning area. The Personal Development aspect has a strong focus and this is why, at St John’s Grammar, we retain the Health and Personal Development learning area name, rather than ‘Health’ as it is named in the Australian Curriculum, combined with Physical Education.

In Year 7, students participate in Health and Personal Development lessons each week with a focus on Positive Education components including character and values education, gratitude, goal setting, and optimism. The Optimistic Kids program is the signature program in Year 7 and provides a platform for students to manage challenging situations both now and in the future. Optimistic Kids helps students to understand the link between thoughts and feelings and gain experience in dealing with the ‘most-likely’ rather than ‘worst case’ scenarios. Students also learn to re-frame setbacks as ‘temporary’ rather than generalising them to other areas of their life (i.e. catastrophising). This not only assists students to see a problem in perspective, but to recognise that they have a choice about how to respond.

In Year 8, this learning is continued with a deeper focus on self-awareness and social awareness. Students develop a greater understanding of relationships, diversity of perspectives, and their own unique identity.

In Year 9, students participate in the Rite Journey program. This signature program has been purposely created to complement the role of parents and caregivers in guiding their child into young adulthood. It provides the opportunity for students to participate in a year-long rite of passage experience in separate boys’ and girls’ classes.

Learning how to be an adult male or female in any society requires guidance, mentoring and a great many conversations. In our society today, young people often turn to their peers, the internet and the media to source their knowledge and guidance. During the Rite Journey, students have important conversations about what it is to be a respectful and responsible man or woman in our society. As each student journeys through the year, they will explore four main themes; Relationship with self, Relationship with others, Relationship with Spirit, and Relationship with the world.  A unique feature of The Rite Journey is the seven steps that form a contemporary rite of passage, aimed at honouring each child’s transition into young adulthood.

In Year 10, we have introduced a new program this year; Purposely WELL. This program has been established to build on the learning experienced in the Rite Journey and to further assist the transition to Senior School and young adulthood. A dynamic and contemporary program, enhancing wellbeing is a critical component of this course and a key feature of each unit. Students are challenged to grow themselves, by thinking about their purpose and how they can bring meaning to their lives through their interactions with others. They use their own foundation as the platform for positive decision making and risk taking to manage challenges both now and in the future.

In Year 11 and 12, social and emotional learning is certainly still of great significance for our students. Learning is structured through our House System, with weekly themed conversations occurring in small groups. These provide an opportunity for our senior students to reflect on their own experiences, and the choices they make, under the guidance of a trusted mentor in their Head of House or Home Group teacher. These themes are also linked to the Wednesday Wellbeing Series program and the Chapel program.

Clearly, at St John’s Grammar we strongly believe in supporting every child to develop a positive wellbeing, strengthened by highly effective personal and social skills. This is a very big reason why our students can confidently step outside our school gates after graduation, already flourishing and ready to fly.

Carlee Mitchell

Leader of Student Wellbeing