How can pupils’ self-awareness, one of the principal domains of the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) initiative, contribute to improving their behaviour? Dave Stott explains

Developing self-awareness is an aid to enabling young people to further their understanding of themselves. Understanding how they learn, and that feelings, thoughts and emotions have an impact on their behaviour, is central to being able to set realistic goals.

It is vitally important to also include the self-awareness of adults working in the teaching and learning environments. Being aware of triggers and early warning signs is an essential component of being able to subsequently manage those feelings and emotions appropriately.

Keeping the above in mind, it is clear that the domains of social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) needs to be embedded in the culture of the organisation and involves all stakeholders, teachers, non-teaching staff, pupils and parents.

Being self-aware allows pupils and adults alike to understand what is needed to enable them to work at their best. It is also important to make the connection between how the working environment can affect thoughts and emotions, which in turn drives your observable behaviour. Self-aware pupils are able to take responsibility for their actions and can choose appropriate responses to how they are feeling.

For many pupils the early warning signs or the physiological changes that take place when faced with a confrontation or emotional problem can be misinterpreted. Self-aware pupils will recognise the changes taking place – such as increased heart rate, temperature change, dry throat – and will understand that these are clear messages to aid their own behaviour management. Conversely, the same will apply for a whole range of feelings and emotions, for example: anxiety, excitement, euphoria, fright, inquisitiveness, expectancy, boredom, interest, comfort, feeling under threat.

The teaching and learning environment needs to recognise the need for pupils to experience these emotions, and to raise the issue of self-awareness for their management. The environment should be both safe and yet challenging. Opportunities should be provided for pupils and staff to get to know themselves better and to understand their own feelings.

Practical Tips
In linking SEAL to improved behaviour (particularly within the domain of self-awareness), schools should be providing opportunities for pupils to consider the following:

  • knowing when and how a pupil learns most effectively. There is a need to provide pupils with learning opportunities that allow for individual work, collaborative work in groups – giving consideration to visual, auditory and kinetic learning (VAK)
  • developing skills and strategies that allow individuals to take responsibility for their actions and their own learning. It is important to help pupils learn by using consistent and effective praise, but also to consider how pupils develop skills to cope with both success and failure
  • recognising that it is OK to feel good about activities and work done well. Use of positive comments and how to respond appropriately. Too many pupils find it very difficult to accept even honest and well-meant praise or compliments as they cannot link how it makes them feel with their observable behaviour, eg:

Teacher: ‘That’s an excellent piece of work, well-written and well presented.’
Pupil: ‘No it’s not, it’s rubbish!’

A lack of self-awareness has caused the pupil to respond inappropriately to well-meant positive feedback

  • recognising how it feels when you find something difficult to do. Highlighting verbal and non-verbal language, such as verbal comments, which may be wrongly directed, together with facial expression and body language.

The SEAL guidance document, ‘Developing children’s social, emotional and behavioural skills, a whole curriculum approach, Primary National Strategy,’ highlights the following as essential skills within the self-awareness domain:

  1. I can identify, recognise and express a range of feelings
  2. I know that feelings, thoughts and behaviour are linked
  3. I can recognise when I am becoming overwhelmed by my feelings
  4. I know that it is Ok to have any feeling, but not Ok to behave in any way I feel like.

Consequently, it is the role of the teacher to use these essential skills as the basis for activities within the teaching and learning environment. Activities that include turn-taking, giving and receiving positive comments, dealing with success and failure, and understanding verbal and non-verbal language will promote the understand of emotions and self-awareness.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 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.