Engagement, skill development and curriculum

Student engagement, the school curriculum and teaching cooperative and relational skills which support appropriate social and emotional behaviour are interrelated features of safe and supportive schools.

Three interrelated features of learning and teaching are essential for a safe school:

  • student engagement which creates awareness of safety and wellbeing issues
  • a school curriculum which builds students' understanding of safe, respectful, positive relationships
  • teaching cooperative and relational skills which support appropriate social and emotional behaviour.

Engaging students in activities that develop and encourage
pro-social values such as responsibility, fairness, empathy and justice helps expand their understanding and improves the quality of social interactions with others.

A strong focus on the explicit teaching of pro-social skills across the curriculum such as effective communication, relationship building, problem-solving and conflict resolution, helps develop skills to counter bullying. It also promotes a positive school culture that does not support aggressive or unfriendly behaviour.

There is broad agreement among educators and policy makers that schools have a crucial role in fostering students' social and emotional development. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs are a structured way to improve a wide range of students’ social and emotional skills. They aim to develop five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioural competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning 2015).

A number of studies have shown that increased social and emotional competence is related to reductions in a variety of problem behaviours including bullying (Smith & Low 2013).

Social Emotional Learning programs can work towards preventing bullying by helping students to develop skills in empathy, emotion management, social problem solving and social competence, all of which ‘can help orient youth toward more prosocial peer interaction and interpersonal problem solving, and provide students with strategies for coping effectively with peer challenges’ (Smith & Low 2013, p. 284).

Examples of international Social Emotional Learning programs include the United States Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which promotes the adoption of such programs in United States schools and produces a guide that identifies and rates evidence-based programs. Examples of Social Emotional Learning programs in Australia include KidsMatter for primary schools and early childhood education and MindMatters for secondary schools.

Visit the personal and social capabilities section of the Australian curriculum website.

Note: References to research will be regularly updated on this website.

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