This article on social skills concludes Behaviour Matters’ series on how implementing the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) initiative can have a positive effect on pupil behaviour

By way of an introduction to this article, have a go at filling in the boxes in the two tables below. In Table 1, put in four words or phrases that you feel describe how you behave in the four differing situations. In Table 2, write in the four words or phrases that you feel a colleague or friend would use to describe your behaviour in the same situations.

Table 1 (How you would describe your own behaviour – four descriptors for each situation)

At Work At Home At an Interview On Holiday/Party

Table 2 (How you think your friend or colleague would describe your behaviour – four descriptors for each situation)

At Work At Home At an Interview On Holiday/Party

First of all, did the same word or phrase appear in different situations? Also, did your friend’s descriptors match your own?

It is unusual for the same descriptors to appear in different situations, indicating that somehow we all learn to adapt or modify our behaviour in response to the social environment in which we find ourselves. Typical descriptions for each of the four situations might include:

At Work: focused, organised, collaborative, motivated

At Home: relaxed, calm, unstressed, content

At an Interview: on-edge, nervous, responsive, driven

On Holiday/Party: fun-loving, silly, carefree, adventurous.

How have we learned to assess situations and, more importantly, how have we learned the skills to behave appropriately in any given situation?

In a school or classroom environment, if we attempt to only teach these skills in a false, separated environment, then the pupil or pupils may well be aware of the skills but will not be given the chance to transfer these skills into the multitude of situations they face on a daily basis.

An example
Simon, a pupil who is withdrawn three times weekly from his main class group for social skills training, will invariably develop excellent social skills in the small withdrawal group, but will still struggle to cope when he returns to the main classroom environment.

The school environment, therefore, should provide opportunities for the teaching of discrete social skills, but should also recognise the need to enable pupils to transfer and practice these skills in a variety of social environments.

Practical tips
By definition (and in parallel to improving behaviour) well-developed social skills should allow the pupil to:

a) live and work as part of a community (school, classroom, home)b) value friendships and relationships with others in that communityc) work well in a group and be able to cooperate to achieve a joint and amicable outcomed) be able to resolve conflicts

e) solve problems by thinking of all the options, identify the pros and cons, and finally evaluate the outcome.

It is not possible, in the short space available in this bulletin, to go into detail about teaching the discrete social skills required to meet all of the above, but the following issues should all be given regular attention:

  • appropriate eye contact
  • appropriate use of humour
  • turn taking
  • active listening
  • risk assessment.

The circle time approach should be an integral part of taught lessons. Pupils should understand how communication forms the basis of socialisation, which means we should, in all our lesson plans, give consideration to the need to become confident speakers and effective listeners. Give pupils the opportunity to experience the speaking and listening process from the standpoint of observer, as sender and receiver of information in varied social environments, in a group and one to one.

Working in groups of no more than five, and using DVDs, photographs or SEAL photo cards, identify what is going on in the picture or film, allowing everyone in the group to provide input. Record the comments on paper, paying particular attention to how each member of the group sees the situation. What clues are they using? (They may consider body language, speech, self-beliefs, outcomes.)

Now, again working collectively, determine how to develop the scene, enabling the participants to feel valued and motivated, and giving due consideration to the needs of the group, self-esteem and any restrictions due to environment, and so forth.

It may be necessary to provide the opportunity for role-play within the activity. The activity should provide the pupils with the ability to develop skills in:

a) identifying conflict and threat, anxiety-inducing and unfamiliar situationsb) identifying feelings attached to those types of situationsc) practicing the skills needed to find out how people are feeling, and to relate in turn how you feel

d) solving problems and arriving at an agreeable resolution.

Developing appropriate and effective social skills will allow pupils to be self-aware, mange their feelings, stay motivated demonstrate empathy in varied situations, thus improving their own social and individual behaviour and reducing the need for you to manage their behaviour.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.