Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Techniques and Strategies to Reinforce Social Skills

Over the past few weeks in Year 2, we have been focusing on the school social skill: Encouraging Others.  To begin with, we taught the skill using the Y chart strategy outlined in A Clear Method for Teaching Social Skills.  Following a class discussion, the students made turtles to record their responses to the Y chart headings to demonstrate their understanding of what Encouraging Others looks like, sounds like and feels like. Below is a photo of the finished turtleswhich are currently displayed in our classroom.

We recognise that social skills take time to master and students need to have plenty of opportunities to practice skills. We have been working on a number of strategies to reinforce the Encouraging Others social skill in Year 2, which are outlined below.

Role Play -   Role-play is an excellent teaching strategy with many benefits including:
  • engages students
  • makes learning meaningful and relevant
  • builds confidence and;
  • teaches empathy.  
Our students have been involved in creating short role-plays that demonstrate how to encourage others, which they then presented to the class. They did a fabulous job!

A few tips to offer regarding using role-play with students are:
  • model role-play for the students
  • for the more reluctant role-players, do the first few role-plays in front of small groups of children (i.e., a smaller audience).
  • reassure students that all performances will be appreciated and respected and;
  • practice makes perfect: role plays are made for repetition.
Circle Time - A feature of our classroom environment is Circle Time. Positioning the students in a circle instantly creates a sense of community.  In Year 2 we use Circle Time to share and discuss thoughts, feelings and ideas.  The social skill Active Listening, the first ever social skill we taught to our Year 2 students, has lead our students to be respectful of the speaker and understand what it means to be a good audience member, as well as being proficient at taking turns.  In our most recent Circle Time session we asked our students to give examples of some of the comments they would hear, or have heard, from teachers and students encouraging others.  We passed "George", our class dragon, around the circle. Each student gave George an encouraging comment. 

Using naturally occurring incidents to reinforce certain skills - We recognise the importance of social skills being reinforced in authentic situations.  For this reason, we encourage our students to demonstrate the skill Encouraging Others throughout the day, in and out of the classroom. We regularly invite the students to share “success stories” of when they have 1) demonstrated a taught social skill and 2) witnessed others demonstrating the social skill.  In preparation of our upcoming school sports carnival, we have been practising the team sports as a whole-class. This has provided an excellent opportunity to practice the encouraging others skill and praise students’ efforts when they do.

As can been seen above, there are number of strategies we use to help reinforce social skills with our students.  We endeavour to teach and reinforce social skills in a supportive, fun and engaging way. We try to always think “social skills” in our interactions with our students in and out of the classroom. We are looking forward to trying new techniques and building our repertoire of strategies. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Stories from The Circle of Security ~ 7th August

On the 7th August, on a Wednesday Winter’s evening, a group of parents met with me for the first Circle of Security Workshop.  Even better, they returned the following Wednesday evening.  We have a break this week and then two more sessions together.

Guess what – We are all “hardwired” to feel secure, this need for secure relationships is “built in” to our most important interactions throughout every hour of every day.

The Circle of Security is a relationship based parenting/caregiver programme developed by Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert  Powell.  They are three of the originators of COS which is internationally acclaimed.  I was lucky enough to be trained by Bert when he came over from the USA at the beginning of this year.

Two important messages from our first session:

“All my child needs is for me to be good enough” which means there is room to make mistakes in parenting.

“It’s never too late” which means as we learn new ways of parenting, good things will happen for both our child and ourselves.

The best way to understand our child’s needs is to follow their lead; to watch and to see.  Sounds simple but with the help of our smartboard – looking at lots of children and parents together on a big screen -  we learnt how easy it is to “miss” the things we don’t know we are looking for.  A child’s needs may be hidden in the everyday rush and bother of parenting. COS is about helping parents to know what to look for, and so more importantly, once we know what we are looking for, we can easily see it.

I hope using clips from some selected movies helped.  However, it did involve looking at the clothes I used to wear in the early 1980’s.  Kraemer V Kraemer.  How young  - Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep!  How old I have become! But with the years may there also be stores of wisdom gathering in my brain matter to share with you all.

COS is about seeing the importance of being a secure base and safe haven for our child. When this is a constant that is reliable, a child can go out on the top of our circle to explore with curiosity.  We can allow this child to do this by delighting in them, enjoy with them their exploration.  We can also learn to be at the bottom of the circle when they need to come back to us for reassurance, comfort and protection.

These circles of learning are going on all the time between all humans. On and off, up and down, round and round the circle.  And so we now talk about ”Circle Stories” at our workshop.

Sometimes a child will behave in ways that challenge us and it looks and sounds as if they are deliberately winding us up, are being nasty, attention seeking and sometimes plain horrible.

This is when they are saying but not in words “help me organize my feelings, please because I can’t do it on my own.  I don’t know what I feel.  I am frightened of these feelings and they keep changing.  I need my cup filled.   I need your safe reliable hands.  I need you to “be with me”, so that when these particular feelings  build up and become intense, I will have you by my side as subside and I will survive them with your help.”

It probably doesn’t feel like this as the parent on the receiving end of a child yelling, kicking and screaming and maybe even saying “I hate you”.   At these times it is easy to forget we are the grown-ups.   We may be expecting our little ones to articulate their needs and feelings in words.  Is it really likely or realistic to expect our child to say something like this:-

“Dear Mummy, I know that you have a very busy working day today and you need me to be mindful of this.  I will notice you are becoming anxious and stressed . I will realize that the last phone call was from the child minder ,saying she cannot pick me up from school.  I will know, you have to go shopping after work and cannot do it before picking me and my younger brothers up and so we will have to come shopping too.  I will know that you will be dreading this because we will be tired and hungry and so we will probably misbehave.  I also know that Daddy told you earlier this morning as he was leaving for work that he won’t be home until late tonight.  And so Mummy, I am so sorry for not getting dressed quick enough and helping my brothers.  I am so sorry for day dreaming and I know that my yelling is giving you a head ache.   I will change my behavior straight away and put my need for help and support away because right now you need me to think and act like a grown up even though I am 7 years old.”

Our children need us to be “Bigger, stronger, wiser and kind”.  Whenever possible: follow my child’s need.  Whenever necessary: take charge.

This is what we are learning about.  We can only use the skills we have in our social skills tool kit.  It’s a bit like trying to unblock the toilet u bend without one of those wonderful plungers.  If we don’t have our tools with us or we only have broken ones that can’t do the job, we have to make the best of it.  We all do the best we can with what we have and so it makes sense to fill up our tool kit with new, reliable tools of quality.

If we have learnt that to let someone know we are angry we need to yell and that is all we have then that is what we will keep doing.  If we keep doing this then our child learns this “skill” and puts it in their tool kit.  How wonderful to find some new tools.

COS helps us to reflect upon our own experiences of being parented. It gives us clues as to why we might find certain emotions expressed by our children difficult to manage.  It is not about blaming our parents but about understanding they too did the best they could with the skills they were given.  Self-reflection is a major part of this workshop.  We do lots of watching, thinking and sharing.

Yes, our children seek our attention because they have needs to relay to us.  When this is done in a kind, appropriate way we usually respond positively but sometimes a child may not be able to put into words what they need.  They may act out in an unsafe way.  Remember, it is likely this child is frightened and needs us to be with them in a way that creates a safe, secure feeling.

Perhaps when you begin to say this child is attention seeking, add on ‘This child is connection seeking”. We all want to feel connected to others.  We are hard wired to be in relationships with each other.  When behavior becomes unsafe it means there has been a rupture in the relationship.  There has been a disconnection. 

Both child and adult seek reconnection and repair in the relationship.  It is simply that not every child or indeed adult has the knowledge and experience to provide the repair and re-connection. That’s what we are learning about because our children need us to be the grown-ups with these skills.

Always remember the great news that we are seeking to be “good enough parents” who have permission to make mistakes to learn and grow from them.   “It’s never too late to learn new skills and make changes.”

I hope you can tell, I am excited by COS and looking forward to our next workshop.

Watch this space for more Circle stories. 

Hilary Campos
SHPSH Social Worker                  

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Heartbeat of Sacred Heart

This year we have introduced a programme called Heartbeat

This programme (officially called Drumbeat) uses hand drumming to engage young people. The drum used in this programme is a Djembe. 
  • It’s exciting  (cool) 
  • It’s easy to play (reduces fear of failure)  
  • It’s powerful  (demands attention) and;
  • Playing it is physical (releases tension)                                                                                                                                             
The drum is an instrument many people feel comfortable with and playing it with others is a way of communicating. 

The programme is taught to groups of 8-10 students over a period of 10 lessons and ends with a performance which gives recognition to their achievement
Sessions are structured and have specific themes that explore issues such as:-        
  • Values
  • Peer Pressure
  • Identity
  • Teamwork and;
  • Emotional Expression   
It provides a safe place to explore human relationships and practise the skills that enable healthy social interaction, connection and self- esteem.

Throughout the programme participants are involved in a range of practices to achieve outcomes such as recognising and regulating emotions, developing empathy for and understanding of others, establishing positive relationships, working effectively in teams and handling challenging situations constructively.

The drumbeat program is currently being delivered in over 500 schools and organisations across Australia and New Zealand and there is much evidence to its success. Further information about Drumbeat can be obtained from the website www.holyoake.org.au/drumbeat                                                                                                            

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Social Skills: Parent Involvement

At Sacred Heart, we recognise the importance of parent involvement when it comes to reinforcing social skills introduced at school. We currently encourage parent support and participation in a number of ways.

As mentioned in the previous post 
A Clear Method for Teaching Social Skills on our blog, Social Skills Y charts are sent home to the Year 2 parents for discussion and reinforcement. By doing this, parents can use the same language and students see the importance of applying the learnt social skill across different settings. The feedback from parents has been positive and it has been very encouraging to see parents actively involved in the teaching and learning process by discussing with their children the focus social skill and looking for opportunities to reinforce it outside of the school environment. 

Through notices in our school newsletter and posters around our school grounds, we have also been raising awareness about the social skills that we are focusing on as a school and have been encouraging the school community to take part in the The Ripple Effect Initiative by asking them to embrace the skills through role modelling. Another valuable feature of our newsletters is the regular links that we have been making to the articles written by parenting expert, Michael Grose, found at Parenting Ideas. This excellent blog offers advice to help parents (and educators) develop happiness, confidence and resilience in children. Our school also currently subscribes to a weekly newsletter from Parenting Ideas, which provides us with professional quality tips and strategies that we share with the school community via the newsletter. 

This very blog aims to not only document our journey and disseminate information regarding student well-being, social skills and engagement, but also to involve parents and the wider community in the process. It is imperative that as a school community we remember to always think "social skills" and use every naturally occurring opportunity to teach and reinforce social skills. We look forward to continuing this journey and we are excited about what the future holds. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

A Clear Method for Teaching Social Skills

In order for students to acquire social skills more effectively, students need to understand why they are learning the skills, ways the skills can be practiced,  how well they use the skills and how they can be improved. With this in mind, a clear method for teaching social skills is required. One approach that the Year 2 teachers have been using with great success involves the use of Y charts. The following Y chart was developed by the Year 2 students following a class discussion regarding the social skill: Including Others.

The method the Year 2 teachers follow to introduce, teach and reinforce a social skill is as follows:

  • Introduce the social skill. The skill is always one that is needed by the students in the current classroom context.
  • Hold a class discussion about the chosen social skill: What it looks like/sounds like/ feels like
  • Teacher records students’ answers on the Y Chart. Write what the students say – it needs to be in their language!
  • Display and refer to the chart as often as possible.
  • Practise/use the skill. A variety of strategies are used, including: role play, games, social stories. All specialist teachers and educational assistants are actively involved with reinforcing the skill. In addition to this, the Y Chart is sent home to parents so that it can be reinforced.
  • Evaluate students' use of the skill/provide feedback. Review and reflect: How well did I use the skill? How well was the skill used by others? How can I improve my use of this skill in the future?

Both Year 2 teachers recognise that social skills take time to master. Time is needed both for explicit teachng of the skills and for the informal practice of the skills in authentic situations. All of the above needs to take place in a supportive accepting environment, one where students feel comfortable to make mistakes.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Social Skills for Teaching

We believe that when making decisions about which social skills to teach, it is essential to consider the needs of our students as well as identify the skills that will support and develop our school's vision and circle of courage. In discussion with staff, we select social skills that we feel will benefit all of our students and assist us to achieve our school aims. Each class teacher also identifies skills specific to his/her class to teach and reinforce. To help us with our selection of social skills for teaching, we have drawn from the suggestion of social skills in Bennett, Rolheiser and Stevhan's Co-operative Learning: Where Heart Meets Mind (1991). A sample of these social skills include:

  • Active listening
  • Using quiet voices
  • Taking turns (equally)
  • Asking for help
  • Praising
  • Giving compliments
  • Receiving compliments
  • Moving quietly around the school
  • Expressing support – no “put-downs”
  • Staying on task
  • Being gentle
  • Saying kind things
  • Checking for understanding
  • Encouraging others
  • Criticising ideas, not people
  • Disagreeing in non-hurtful ways
  • Saying please and thank you
  • Occupying the same place co-operatively
  • Controlling anger
  • Ignoring distractions
  • Negotiating
  • Being responsible
  • Accepting differences
  • Being assertive in acceptable ways
  • Being a good support
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Reaching agreement/consensus
  • Acknowledging worth of others
  • Following through
  • Following directions
  • Being organised
  • Being confident
  • Showing persistence
  • Getting along
  • Asking questions
  • Summarising
  • Including others
  • Expressing non-verbal support/encouragement
  • Celebrating success
  • Being self-controlled (keeping hands and feet to yourself)
  • Making eye contact
  • Being positive
  • Respecting personal space
  • Playing fairly
  • Being a good winner
  • Being a good loser
  • Appropriate tone of voice
  • Suggesting (not bossing)
  • Offering help

What can you add?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Ripple Effect Initiative: Whole-School Approach to Social Skills

We see the teaching of social skills to be integral to achieving our school vision. At Sacred Heart, we recognise that social skills learning is most effective when it is fun, engaging and students apply what they have learnt to authentic situations. We also recognise the important role of parents, primary care givers and the wider community in helping our students to become proficient at using social skills. For this reason, we have adopted a whole-school approach to teaching and reinforcing social skills with our students. 

In 2013, The Ripple Effect Initiative was introduced and has been “making waves” through our school community. With each new social skills focus, students have the opportunity to practice skills and see the ripple effect it brings to people and situations around them. We began by focusing on the social skill: Giving compliments (as seen below). This particular skill links closely with the Belonging and Generosity elements of our school vision. We wanted our students to feel secure in giving and receiving compliments, as this is a powerful skill in counteracting criticism.  We set our students the challenge of giving one person a real compliment each day over a two week period. We also asked all the adults in the school community to play a part by modelling the skill to the students, with the intention of improving our own social skills as well as the students.

In the short time that we have implemented The Ripple Effect Initiative, we have been very pleased with the effect that it has already had on our students’ social skill development. We are looking forward to the implementation of our next whole-school social skill - Encouraging Others.

PEP Strategy: Proximity, Eye Contact, Privacy

One strategy by Mendler that provides a low-key response to behaviour is the PEP Strategy: Proximity, Eye Contact, Privacy. This strategy enables teachers to blend corrective and appreciative messages; this helps to create a more positive classroom environment and help minimise power struggles.

When implementing the PEP strategy,  Mendler advises that teachers need to move in closely to the student (proximity), establish a connection (eye contact) and then to quietly affirm or correct behaviour (privacy).

This YouTube video demonstrates the PEP strategy.

Brian Mendler Podcasts - Link and Key Points

Brian Mendler Podcasts
Brian Mendler
During 2010 Brian Mendler held a series of podcasts that outline key strategies and thinking behind dealing with and approaching student behaviour.
Below is the link to listen to the podcasts as well as key elements from each.
Brian MendlerPodcast - Sept 2010
1.      Helping parents is the biggest issue in education
2.      Prevention, Prevention, Prevention
3.      Relationships are so important – what are three things you know about your most challenging student that they do outside of school outside of school
4.      Know your students “unbelievably” well.
5.      Students listen to teachers only when you have credibility and their trust or a connection with them.
6.      If you value something…grade it – Lateness, uniform, manners, organisation. Get students then to help others with the problem.
7.      “What do I do when…” figure out what the reason is to why they are misbehaving. Then figure out the - what to do.
8.     4 Reasons children misbehave
Attention – not enough (desperate for attention) or too much at home (expect it at school) Ignore when you can, give private attention. (Bad attention in life is better than no attention)
a.       Doctor analogy - same symptom, different reasons.
Power/Control – (responsibility, autonomy, independence) make decisions for themselves. Other kids feel power/control somewhere else in their life.
Competence – feel good at being good at school. Contrive situations for students to succeed  - privately.  Build, scaffold opportunities for students to succeed.  Differentiate.
Belonging – relationships, being a part of something (altruism)
9.      Don’t focus on the behaviour, focus on the why. Figure out what is going on below the surface.
Brian Mendler Podcast - Oct 2010
      10.  Include all kids all the time
       11.  Mentoring  - give guidance and support. Volunteering.
12.  Consequences/ Grading what you value – should promote learning.
13.  Bullying  - Ricky story (19x)– When kids can’t help or control themselves. Practise by role playing to learn behaviours.  “I don’t care what you say”…then walk away. ..Kids are sometimes conditioned to react in a certain way. They need to practise to say and do the right thing.
14.  Bullying is not worse today than it ever was. It’s always been bad!
15.  Bullying education should be as important as other learning areas.  40 minutes of bullying practise and prevention…practise, practise, practise
16.  Follow up bullying forms (What I did, What I should have done what I will do next time) are good only if there is follow up practise and training. 
17.  Trace bullying in the school.
18.  Everyone plays a part in bullying. They need to practise what to do. The bully, the victim and the bystanders. There could be a curriculum. A bullying specialist.
19.  Retrain student behaviour.
20.  Consequences  - Doing the same thing and expect a different result. Headache analogy. Headache persists and keep taking Panadol…..
21.  Do what’s best for kids. Asking “is this working?” Is it making things better or worse.
22.  Talk to kids privately.
23.  Reward the whole class not just one person. Keep kids liking each other rather than rewarding just one or two. This pits kids against each other.
24.  Competition: good only if people are not forced to do it! Kids competing in a class is not good if they are not willing to compete.
 Brian Mendler Podcast Nov 2010
1.      Teachers should tackle discipline in the classroom without administration.
2.      Things “should be” different for vulnerable students.
3.      In regard to academic progress, worry about where kids are, not where they should be.
4.      Have a disciple plan to where you want to go, but a plan that is flexible.
5.      Look at what is right there, use the interest that the students have.
6.      In having a behaviour policy, allow for flexibility. Use judgement, have a policy but all final decisions are made by teachers/people involved.
7.      Rearview mirrors analogy for student misbehaviour: Three rearview mirrors in a car (rear mirror and two side view mirrors) so you can look behind you with different perspectives. Students look at their behaviour from different percpectives (their own, other students, teachers...)
8.      The front windshield is always larger because moving forward is the most important thing.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Allen and Brian Mendler

The work by Allen and Brian Mendler in their books, articles, podcasts and videos has guided our research towards understanding student well-being and has helped to reframe our thinking in regard to managing student behaviour. We consider the work by Allen and Brian Mendler to be invaluable in regards to helping teachers foster positive relationships with students, discovering the link between behaviour and learning and approaching student discipline in a dignified way.

Linked below is Brain Mendler's blog site that suggests many strategies and approaches to effectively managing student behaviour.

Our Student Engagement Policy

As a result of our participation in the RAP program, we had a shift in our thinking in regards to managing student behaviour. This started with renaming our Discipline Policy to a Student Engagement Policy. This shifted the focus away from an autocratic, authoritarian approach to a democratic, restorative and authoritative approach. In making this shift, we became more mindful of how the teacher directly influences behaviour and how important it is that the teacher models the skills he/she expects from the students.

Our Beliefs:
  • Treat all students respectfully and with dignity
  • Treat each student as an individual
  • Focus on the reasons "why" the behaviour is occurring (Attention, Competence, Power/Control, Belonging)
  • Consequences should be respectful, related to the behaviour and restorative
  • Fairness over equality

Our Student Engagement Policy, developed by the staff of Sacred Heart, follows.

Sacred Heart Primary School, Highgate
Student Engagement Policy
Policy Statement:

Students are engaged when they are fostered with a sense of Belonging ("I am important to someone"), Mastery ("I am able to solve problems"), Independence ("I am in charge of my life"), Generosity ("I am considerate to others").

A Positive Learning Framework For Teachers

Prevention - Teacher 
Self Awareness 
Prevention - Lesson Design
Corrective Actions
Teach the behaviour you want to see.
You cant always treat everyone in exactly the same way. Fair versus Equal.
Stay in control of yourself - poise. Keep Calm
Optimism is crucial, take good emotional care of yourself.
Classroom physical environment is engaging and organised/practical.
Stay personally connected to students without taking misbehaviour personally.
Model the skills you want students to use.
Be willing to work with all students.
Create community networks.
Always treat students with dignity.
Practices at the Start of the Year and/or Day
Foster relationships with students. Get to know to them
Begin the day by welcoming each student by name.
Recognise absences.
Have the learning agenda for the day visible for the class. Include switch off/cool off time
Develop class expectations with the student ownership.
Lesson Design
Whole class attention
Explicitly state the learning and behaviour expectations.
Give clear outcomes of the lesson. By the end of this lesson...
Model the learning by example or thinking out aloud.
Student motivation- hook for learning.
Recall prior learning
Be organised!
The teaching and learning strategy has student involvement.
Incorporate informed collaborate learning strategies when appropriate.
Use questioning and responding strategies
Provide variety of learning strategies.
Allow for student choice and autonomy when appropriate.
Promote student success, make it hard to fail.
Check for understanding against outcome.
Student self-reflection
Teacher reflective practice.
Link the learning to the students' world.
Link to further learning.
Consequences should be respectful, related to the behaviour and restorative.
Fairness over equal.
The types of consequences are left to the teacher discretion.These can be developed with the student and foster a sense of responsibility and learning from the behaviour.
More for serious misbehaviour the leadership team and parents may become  involved.
Low Level Responses
(minimal/no disruption to lesson flow)
Keep calm
Use dignity
Use minimal language, avoiding talking too much, listen more.
Eye contact  - non verbal
Use Privacy Communication/gestures/signals.
Redirect students back to learning.
Regular positive feedback.
Moderate Level Response
Keep calm
Circle time
Acknowledge and empathise but redirect back to learning.(I
understand that...but lets back to learning)
Diagnose why the behaviour is occurring. (Attention, Competence, Power/Control, Belonging)

Offering choices - giving students responsibilities for actions.
If necessary, use consequences.
Consequences should be respectful, related to the behaviour and restorative.
Fairness over equal.
For serious misbehaviour, the leadership team and parents may become involved.
Restorative Responses.
Avoid why questions
Use restorative questioning.
What happened?
What were you thinking at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who has been affected by what you did?
How can we fix the problem?
Use the LAAD Strategy for conferencing with students.


Carr-Greg, M. (2012). Conflict Resolution. Retrieved from: https://www.slideshare.net/secret/9fVqdGeTp9bOQL. Last accessed Sep 2012

Circle of Courage (2008). Response Ability Pathways - Guidebook. USA: Cirlce of Courage Institute.

Mendler, B, Mendler, A and Curwin R (2008). Strategies for Successful Classroom Management . California: Corwin Press.

McDonald, T (2011). Classroom Management: Engaging Students in Learning. Melbourne: Oxford University.