The goal of the REACH program is to enhance each student’s capacity to be happy, and resilient, and have a clear sense of purpose and direction.
In 2015 Comet Bay College introduced REACH (Resilience, Emotional Awareness, Careers and Health) in Years 7, 8 and 9. REACH is a pastoral care curriculum delivering quality social and emotional learning (SEL) programs in a classroom environment. Extensive worldwide research highlights the need to develop students social and emotional skills.
The need for SEL is summarised well by Hartup, ‘The single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not school grades, and not classroom behaviour, but rather, the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children. Children who are generally disliked, who are aggressive and disruptive, who are unable to sustain close relationships with other children, and who cannot establish a place for themselves in the peer culture are seriously at risk’ (Hartup, 1992, p.1).
Social and emotional well-being refers to the achievement of expected development milestones and the establishment of effective coping skills secure attachments, and positive social relationships. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is defined as, “ the process through which we learn to recognise and manage emotions, care about others, make good decisions, behave ethically and responsibly, develop positive relationships, and avoid negative behaviours” . Students with social and emotional distress will display internalising behaviours (anxiety, depression) and externalising behaviours (aggressive, violent, disruptive, bullying behaviours), and this has an impact on the child’s successful learning at school.
The Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals of Young Australians recognises Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools assists students to become successful learners, helping to improve their academic learning and enhancing their motivation to reach their full potential.
The Australian Curriculum (AC) states “the need to develop student’s social and emotional skills is critical to student success and the ability to both attain and use academic skills”. General Capabilities, Personal and Social Capacity (GCPSC) develops “personal and social competence as students learn to understand and manage themselves, their relationships, lives, work and learning more effectively. This involves recognising and regulating their emotions, developing concern for and, understanding of others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, working effectively in teams and handling challenging situations constructively.”
“Without social and emotional skills children cannot learn as effectively and cannot make the most of their learning. A child who is afraid in the classroom or in the schoolyard or bringing fears from home cannot concentrate on learning. A child who has not learned to consider others cannot use what they learn to make effective negotiations in the real world” (Social and Emotional Learning as a Basis for Curriculum, 2014).
In schools across Australia the most commonly identified issues impacting students learning outcomes and well-being are;
- Lack of self-‐regulation and disruptive behaviour
- Stress and anxiety in children and teachers
- Sensory overload impacting both student performance and behaviour
- Poor attention skills alongside the inability to retain information resulting in poor academic performance
- Increasing numbers of children expressing a sense of hopelessness and negativity
- Lack of empathy in children alongside an inability to recognize their own feelings
- Poor verbal communication skills leading to negative interactions with others
- Lack of connectedness
- Stereotyping of others which may lead to racist or sexist beliefs and behaviours
- Increased occurrence of risky behaviour such as drug taking and self-harm
- Inability to problem solve causing playground incidents and fights
- Prevalence of anger
- Bullying behaviours
Data from the Australian National Mental Health Survey emphasise for early intervention and prevention, the need for schools to take action, as it shows:
- Young people have the highest incidence and prevalence of mental illness across the lifespan,6 with more than a quarter of Australians aged 16-24 experiencing a mental disorder in the prior 12 months
- 21% of young people surveyed were experiencing a probable mental illness
- Females (26%) were almost twice as likely as males (14%) to be experiencing mental illness
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents (32%) were also more likely to be experiencing compared to 21% for non-Aboriginal
- Over 60% of young people with a mental illness were not comfortable seeking information, advice or support from community agencies, online counselling and/or telephone hotlines
- Mental health disorders have been shown to have significant detrimental effects on wellbeing, functioning and development in adolescence and are associated with impaired academic achievement, unemployment, poor social functioning, and substance abuse. These negative effects may extend well beyond adolescence, creating an ongoing cycle of distress and disadvantage
- Mental health disorders also put individuals at greater risk of attempting and/or completing suicide, suicide has recently overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of death for young Australians aged 15-24
- Young people experiencing mental distress were also more likely to be personally concerned about bullying/emotional abuse and family conflict, and were struggling with a higher number of concerns than young people who were not likely to be experiencing a mental health issue.
When given 12 topical issues including alcohol, body image, bullying/emotional abuse, coping with stress, depression, discrimination, drugs, family conflict, gambling, personal safety, school or study problems and suicide. The top three concerns were of youth were; coping with stress; school or study problems and body image.
Mind Matters, 2012 reported 40% of school students as having low levels of social and emotional wellbeing, with a large percentage experiencing different social and emotional difficulties with the most prevalent being:
- Nerves, stress and worrying too much
- Not doing as well as they could
- Losing their temper a lot and sometimes quite mean to other people (bully)
- Difficulty calming down (poor resilience)
30% high school students (21% boys) engage in multiple high risk behaviours that interfere with school performance and jeopardise their potential for life success (Eaton et al, 2008). Other emerging trends in Australia show children exhibiting self-harm and suicidal ideation as early as Grade two. The ‘Reducing Youth Suicide’ (Commissioner of Children and Young People and Child Guardian in Qld, 2012) found:
- Youngest person to suicide in Australia in 2011 was 9 years old
- There is an increase in self-harm in the 10-‐14 year old bracket
- As children become older the risk of suicide increases
Comet Bay College student attributes data collated from 2014 Reporting to Parents showed:
- 51% work to the best of their ability
- 49% set goals and work towards them with perseverance
- Respecting others?
Student LEASA surveys conducted by Curtin University in 2013 reported a high number of students at the College are not;
- connected to their learning
- connected to the College
- taking personal responsibility
Research worldwide clearly demonstrates that students who receive instruction in SEL out perform their peers in the following ways:
- Show improved self‐esteem and commitment in school
- Lower levels of disruptive behaviour
- Experience less mental health problems in the future such as depression and anxiety
- Reduction in conduct and internalising problems
- Lower levels of emotional distress
- Improved social and emotional skills
- Improved attitudes about self, others and school
- Improved pro social behaviour
- Have more positive peer relationships
- Demonstrate caring, empathy, and social engagement
- Graduate at higher rates
- Gain on achievement tests and grades. Academic performance translates to an 11 to 17% percentile point gain in students’ test scores (Payton et al., 2008)
- Less likely to engage in high-risk behaviours that interfere with learning, such as violence and drug and alcohol use, or become delinquents
- Fewer behaviour suspensions
- Better student attendance.
Having resilience and problem solving (SEL skills) embedded in the curriculum early may better prepare students or the teenage years when they are more vulnerable to risky behaviours as well as disengaging with school. When students have heightened self and social awareness and feel good about themselves and others thus developing their social and emotional skills it helps them improve their life outcomes and their success. These skills significantly increased likelihood of students completing school. When students’ perception of themselves and their strengths is developed there is an improvement in their capabilities in seeking and achieving employment and contributing to society longer term.
Research both overseas and in Australia documents the most successful implementation of SEL is through a whole school approach with a structured program/curriculum. This ensures that:
- Students learn skills in a systematic way
- Students practice skills
- Teachers model skills during their interactions with students
- The teacher reinforces the skills everyday
- Teachers create specific opportunities for skill practice
- Teachers use natural opportunities for practice of skills
- All adults in the school use the skills
- The skills become part of school culture
PSC is defined as “a range of practices to develop students’ personal/emotional and social/relational dispositions, intelligences, sensibilities and learning state. The range includes 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” .
The two terms SEL and PSC are interchangeable. SEL is used by The Collaborative or Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) which is the leading organisation in understandings, research, networks and curriculum school practice in personal and social learning. Most educational programs around the world that integrate social and emotional learning are based on CASEL’s SEL framework.
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) are based on CASEL’s SEL framework, however, ACARA use the term PSC in regards to their General Capabilities.
REACH Curriculum Development Structure Target Areas
Target Area 1: Social & Emotional Learning
Successful practises in Pastoral Care are based on The Model for Effective Practise in Schools, which puts an emphasis on the need for providing pastoral care at different levels in schools. Support is needed to the general whole school as much as targeted groups and individual case work.
The inclusion of SEL in REACH supports The Model for Effective Practise in Schools by:
- Providing the support and information to staff, parents and carers to create an environment promoting positive mental health and well-being
- Delivering SEL programs through the curriculum to facilitate social and emotional learning for students and practise skills
- Building a promotion and universal prevention approach (proactive rather than reactive)
The SEL programs delivered in REACH are evidence effective, cognitive strength based programs, targeted to meet the students’ current needs. The curriculum has flexibility to accommodate any changes in the student’s needs. Listed below are Young Australians issues of personal concern and the evidence based SEL or PSCH programs implemented in addressing the issues.
Table 1: Young Australians issues of personal concern and REACH programs
All planning and assessments are based and link to the ACARA GCPSC and organised into the four interrelated and non-sequential elements; self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social management.
Element 1: Self-awareness
Self-awareness refers to being able to recognise and understand their own emotions, values and strengths, have a realistic assessment of their own abilities and a well-grounded sense of self-esteem and self- confidence. In developing and acting with this personal and social capacity, students demonstrate:
• Ability to identify, describes, and understands emotions as well as the causes of these emotions. This skill is important for both emotion regulation and for recognising when to seek help from others
• Ability to make accurate self-judgments
• A sense of internal motivation, and have a sense of satisfaction when goals are attained. This skill relates to an individual’s perception of his or her own ability to accomplish a goal or execute a plan and has been shown to shape long-term aspirations and career trajectories.
Element 2: Self-Management
Self-management is regulating one’s emotions to handle stress, manage their emotions and behaviour, control impulses, persevere in overcoming obstacles, set personal and academic goals, develop self-‐discipline, resilience, adaptability and initiative. In developing and acting with personal and social capacity, students demonstrate:
• Emotion regulation which involves learning to manage feeling overwhelmed and to adopt strategies that help re-establish a state of balance after feeling overwhelmed. This aspect is particularly important as students experience more challenging coursework in high school and have to handle emotions such as test anxiety.
• Students who can cope with stress have been found to transition more successfully and perform better academically.
Element 3: Social Awareness
Social awareness is the ability to perceive and understand other peoples’ emotions and viewpoints, show understanding and empathy for others, identify the strengths of team members, define and accept individual and group roles and responsibilities, be of service to others, and recognise and use family, school, and community resources. In developing and acting with personal and social capacity, students demonstrate: Ability to understand and respect others’ perspectives in social interactions. This ability has direct implications both for the development of healthy interpersonal relationships and for moral and prosocial behaviour.
• Ability to identify situations in which social support can serve as a resource for managing problems. For example, parental and peer support during the transition to secondary schooling is important in lowering anxiety levels and helping students to meet the academic demands.
• Ability to work well in groups and relate to others from different cultures and backgrounds. For example, students’ worries about how to interact with others from diverse backgrounds
• connecting students to a network of supportive peers can reduce feelings of loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and increase school retention
Element 4: Social management
Social Management refers to the ability form positive relationships, manage and influence the emotions and moods of others, cooperate and communicate effectively with others, work in teams, build leadership skills, make decisions, resolve conflict and resist inappropriate social pressure
Relationship skills include establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation; resisting inappropriate social pressure; preventing, managing, and resolving interpersonal conflict; and seeking help when needed.
Target Area 2: Personal, Social and Community Health
PSCH is a strand from Australian Curriculum Health and Physical Education Syllabus. PSCH PSCH is organised into three sub strands and six focus areas supporting students to make decisions about their own health, safety and wellbeing. The content develops the knowledge, understanding and skills to support students to be resilient, and enables them to access and understand health information and empowers them to make healthy, safe and active choices.
Diagram 2: PSCH Sub Strands and Focus Areas
PSCH in REACH develop students’ knowledge, understanding and skills in the six focus areas enabling them to:
• Investigate the impact of transition and change on identities
• Evaluate strategies to manage personal, physical and social changes that occur as they grow older
• Practise and apply strategies to seek help for themselves or others
• Investigate and select strategies to promote health, safety and wellbeing
• Investigate the benefits of relationships and examine their impact on their own and others’ health and wellbeing
• Analyse factors that influence emotions, and develop strategies to demonstrate empathy and sensitivity
• Develop skills to evaluate health information and express health concerns
• Plan and use health practices, behaviours and resources to enhance the health, safety and wellbeing of their communities
• Plan and implement strategies for connecting to natural and built environments to promote the health and wellbeing of their communities
• Examine the benefits to individuals and communities of valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity
Target Area 3: Career Development
Career development in schools provides young people with the tools they need to make informed career decisions and transitions from secondary schools throughout their lives. It helps students prepare for their future through the acquisition of skills, knowledge and competencies required to self-manage their own careers. It focuses young people’s attention on recognizing or creating opportunities, making informed choices and defining and achieving their career goals.
The REACH Program aligns with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) Victorian Careers Framework and Careers and Transition Resource Kit. This framework is based on the National Partnership on Youth Attainment and Transitions and Australian Blueprint for Career Development eleven core competencies.
The program is a continuum of learning, based on the three stages of career development: self-development, career exploration, and career management. These stages are reflected through six steps in a young person’s acquisition of skills for career development. Through planned career development learning, young people;
• Discover their strengths and talents, explore the world of work and their place in it
• Focus on their values and interests
• Use decision-making skills to plan their learning and career programs
• Decide on their best options and opportunities
• Apply their skills and knowledge to their learning and career planning.
These steps provide the skills and knowledge for lifelong career self-management, and will assist students to:
• Understand and manage influences relating to career planning and lifelong learning;
• Develop skills, knowledge attitudes and behaviours to make career decisions;
• Apply their learning to achieve educational and career aspirations;
• Build resilience in their capacity to manage change throughout their lives; and
• Develop and update an annual Career Action Plan that reflects their increased learning, builds on previous planning and identifies future actions.
Career Development links to ACARA General Capabilities and REACH planning and assessments link specifically to PSC. SEL in Careers “improves career readiness by developing leadership skills, long-term career and life plans, and taking responsibility for one’s own life trajectory as a student gets older (Kress & Elias, 2006).”