Their enrolment sets a landmark moment for us at Quirky Kid as we continue to work incredibly hard to produce innovative and effective programs and resources that are tried, tested and loved in classrooms, clinics and lounge rooms around the globe.
About St Catherine’s School
St Catherine’s is the oldest independent Anglican girl’s school in Australia. St Catherine’s School was founded in 1856 by Mrs Jane Barker.
St Catherine’s is an innovative school and are Australian leaders in positive psychology and ICT in education. The School offers many opportunities in sport, music and the arts and our staff carefully guide and support students through her studies and encourage them to find an interest they will pursue with passion.
Social and Emotional Learning
Equally with their commitment to academic results and positive psychology, St Catherine’s school has demonstrated clear commitment to the Social and Emotional Learning of their students. We were impressed with the knowledge, focus, diligence and commitment the Learning Enrichment team demonstrated during our visit.
The Learning Enrichment team aims for inclusion for all girls, and Learning Enrichment programs are provided as in-class support and small group instruction. The Junior school is closely monitored from Kindergarten to Year 6 to make sure they are on track academically and with sound social and emotional skills.
About The Best of Friends and the School.
The implementation of The Best of Friends™ will take place progressively and will be closely supported by the program author and our Educational Developmental Psychologists Dr. Kimberley O’Brien.
Participants will receive a copy of the exclusive workbook developed by Quirky Kid. Facilitators and teachers will have access to a series of manuals and regular supervision as and when required.
Interested in offering ‘The Best of Friends™’ program at your school?
Currently, the program is available to a limited number of schools and organisations. The BoF program has a comprehensive implementation, evaluation and monitoring plan and we are keen to identify partners committed to SEL implementation and evaluation.
Schools can choose from a target (small group) or universal (classroom) format. We will provide all the implementation assistance required, including training, supervision and support for key staff members.
Social exclusion in the school environment is increasingly being recognised as a form of relational aggression or bullying, in which a child is exposed to harm through the manipulation of their social relationships and status (Edith Cowan University, 2009).
Social exclusion can take many forms, with children reporting a range of experiences from being deliberately excluded from a peer group to having rumours spread about them, being called names and being purposefully embarrassed. In any sense, social exclusion is fundamentally entails a lack of connectedness and participation from a peer group. Australian research suggests that approximately 1 in 6 children report experiences of social exclusion, however, this may under- represent true prevalence rates given the difficulties in measuring social exclusion which is often undertaken in covert and hidden ways (Edith Cowan University, 2009).
Who does it affect?
While belonging and connectedness to peers is important at any age, it is particularly relevant in adolescence. Research suggests that adolescents are particularly sensitive to peer rejection and as a group, may experience the most significant mental health effects such as depression and anxiety in response peer rejection. Adolescence is typically a time of increased independence from parents and family and increased dependence on their peer group. Identities are developed in relation to peer groups and peer group differences can become highly salient. The difficulty for adolescents is that ingroup and outgroup rules are fluid and as such, maintaining peer relationships can be fraught with complication (Leets & Wolf, 2005).
Studies on the neurological profile of children suggest that their brain areas for emotion (such as the Anterior Cingulate Cortex) become more activated in response to peer rejection with age, peaking in adolescence. In contrast, adolescents show significantly less activation in the brain regions which govern emotional regulation such as the Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex in response to peer rejection in comparison with younger children (Bolling, Pitskel, Deen, Crowley, Mayes & Pelphrey, 2011). This unique neurological profile for adolescents suggests that social exclusion at this age may be particularly distressing and that they may have significant difficulty in managing their distress.
Effects of social exclusion
Research suggests that the physical, emotional and mental health of children exposed to social exclusion can be compromised. For example, lower immune function, reduced sleep quality, reduced ability to calm oneself in times of distress, reduced self esteem, feelings of anxiety, depression and aggression have all been observed in children who have been excluded from a peer group (DeWall, Deckman, Pond & Bonser, 2011).
So what can we do?
Children and adults all have a core need to be loved and valued within secure and lasting positive relationships (DeWall et al., 2011). Helping children develop and maintain these secure relationships both with their family, peers and wider social group is an important part of their development. Research is telling us that children become aware of social rejection from a young age (Leets & Wolf, 2005) and can reason as to why it is wrong to exclude others from preadolescence (Killen, 2007). Thus talking with your child from a young age about inclusion of others, feelings that occur when exclusion is encountered and strategies to manage social exclusion is important. Some helpful tips are:
For the excluded child:
Be open, available and calm when your child needs to talk with you. Children often worry about upsetting or worrying their parents, so it is important to remain calm and engaged with your child.
Be responsive to your child. Affirm to them that they have the right to be safe and feel secure and that you will help them by talking with the school and providing a safe haven at home. For older children, listen to the action that they would like you to take and negotiate with them when it would be appropriate for you to talk with the school, for example, if they are still being excluded at the end of the week or if things escalate.
Be affirming. Tell and show your child that they are unconditionally loved and valued as a person. Enlist the support of family friends to share positive messages about your child and engage in their gifts, talents and interests. Build a circle of security around your child.
Make your home a safe haven. Minimise the risk of online social exclusion and bullying by monitoring technology use and using privacy settings and parental controls. The change of email addresses and mobile numbers may be necessary.
Help your child manage emotional distress but talking about their feelings and developing some self-coping statements such as “relax, don’t take it personally”. Help your child focus on their gifts, talents and interests.
Build your child’s friendships. Having one close friend has been shown to strengthen a child’s connectedness to school and self esteem. Help your child identify a friend or friends that share similar interests and foster the friendship through play dates and scheduled activities.
Use the high five principal. Help your child identify five people that they can seek support from and /or things to do, one for each finger, if they are being excluded. For example, seek out a special teacher, find a friend in an older year, go to the library or offer their help to the teacher on duty.
Develop ways your child can have some clear boundaries. Help your child communicate their distress and name the inappropriate behaviour of others through statements such as “I don’t like what you are doing and you need to stop” , “That is bullying and it is not right”. Help your child know that they need to seek support if the social exclusion continues.
Develop a tone in your family and school that demonstrates an environment of mutual respect and responsibility.
Have clear and well communicated policies on bullying and social exclusion and explore these regularly with the school community.
Encourage class-based discussions on the meanings of ingroups and outgroups and common misperceptions, such as “kids who wear glasses are not good at sports”. Find examples in everyday life that will challenge these misperceptions. Extend discussions to help children realise the moral and emotional implications of social exclusion.
Facilitate teamwork and an atmosphere of inclusion by choosing working or sporting groups based on arbitrary characteristics such as birth months, favourite animals or having a rotating system by which every half day, the group rotates by one member.
Develop strong networks between teaching staff and children by including children in lessons, school activity planning and open discussions. Having the principal visible and available can also help develop an atmosphere of inclusion and connectedness.
Get the wider peer group involved. Social exclusion thrives when surrounding peers do not intervene. Help children understand why it is important to help others and strategies to do so, such as saying things like “stop that is not fair, leave her alone, she’s my friend” or know a teacher whom they can approach.
Again, programs like ‘The Best of Friends’ can be offered school wide to ensure the social skills and communication strategies are consistently applied.
1. Leets, L. & Wolf, S. (2005). Adolescent rules for social exclusion: when is it fair to exclude someone else? Journal of Moral Education, 34 (3), 343-362.
2. Killen, M. (2007). Children’s Social and Moral Reasoning About Exclusion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 6 (1), 32-36.
3. Bolling, D., Pitskel N., Deen, B., Crowley, M., Mayes, L. & Pelphrey, K. (2011). Development of neural systems for processing social exclusion from childhood to adolescence. Developmental Science, 14 (6), 1431-1444.
4. DeWall, C., Deckman, T., Pond, R. & Bonser, I. (2011) Belongingness as a Core Personality Trait: How Social Exclusion Influences Social Functioning and Personality Expression. Journal of Personality, 79 (6), 979-1012.
5. Edith Cowan University (2009). Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, CHPRC http://deewr.gov.au/bullying-research-projects
“Family, Society and School: Where do we want to go?” is the theme of the May 2012 Education conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, attracting 15,000 educators from around the world and as the only Australian speaker, I am nervous! Apparently, I will be fielding questions from the audience pertaining to the cooperative relationship between schools and families, otherwise known as Family-School relations.
Family-School relations differ between schools and between families. Some families are very involved, others are not. Some schools throw their doors open to parent volunteers, others do not. The question of, “where do we want to go?” encourages us to develop an ideal scenario for our children, incorporating the positive input of families, schools and greater society.
The Best Case Scenario
In my opinion, the best case scenario for primary school students is to see their parents regularly interacting with teachers, other parents and students in the school grounds. Similarly, I like the concept of parent volunteers in the classroom for reading support, weekend working bees in the school vegetable garden to generate a sense of belonging at school, as well as open communication between educators and parents on any given day. Younger siblings who feel welcome in playgrounds with parental supervision are more likely to experience an easy transition from home to school upon commencing Kindergarten.
In reality, our child psychology clinic commonly receives referrals from frustrated parents seeking support when their children are refusing to attend school, or when both parent and child would like to change schools after months or years of family-school conflict. Other parents report strict school policies limiting parent-teacher contact to avoid a bottle-neck of parental traffic in classrooms before and after school. We also work with the parents of children with diagnosed Learning Disabilities or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These families most regularly request classroom or playground observations. Some mothers sing the praises of schools, doing everything possible to increase classroom support for their child and others reports teachers have suggested they seek out another school option to gain more appropriate support.
Inside a Brazilian School
The Quirky Kid Clinic started researching school culture in 2006 as part of the School Days Project. The video below offers insight into what a school in Brazil looks like, through the eye of 10 year old, Riana, a student from Curitiba in Southern Brazil.
When parents disengage
A global perspective on Family-School relations suggest many schools are struggling to receive any support from parents. In Northern Brazil, for example, teachers often report minimal involvement from parents despite their attempts to make contact, particularly when there are large sibling groups attending the local school. In some cases, parents are working long hours to support their large families while others with limited educational opportunities in their own childhood, may lack confidence and avoid engaging with teachers.
There are many reasons parents disengage with teachers and this phenomenon is common across all socioeconomic groups. How many time-poor parents in Australia put school activities on the bottom of their agenda? And how many others find the active parent community overzealous and off-putting? Most importantly, how can we reach all parents and teachers in a meaningful way to ensure a common connection in the interest of the student community?
When I ask the young clients I work with about their family’s involvement with the school, they commonly report their parent’s opinion of the school, stating, “Mum wants me to change schools because my teacher won’t tell us anything”. In my experience, when parents have a negative opinion of the school, the teacher or the homework policy; students typically follows suit, with an identically negative opinion. Mental note, never put a teacher down in the presence of a child! Parental opinions count, at least in the eyes of your school-aged children.
Educational psychology research emphasizes the importance of consistency between home and school to increase a child’s sense of stability in both settings. A student’s connection to school is increased with parental involvement in activities such as reading support or canteen duty. Students with a sense of stability and connection to school are less inclined to ‘drop-out’ of school or struggle with academic motivation. Parental motivation to become involved in school activities is similarly relevant in this story, as a means of modeling a positive life skill to young people.
Generating change in Family-School relations
School events, such as a disco, fete or sports carnival often generate support from parents when resources are limited. Importantly, parents have the capacity to positively influence the school-family relationship. An active parent community will generate ideas for fundraising or similar and delegate jobs between themselves. Schools soon learn the value of this input. Alternatively, schools wishing to generate more parental involvement would do well to promote the benefits by acknowledging families for their participation while providing diverse opportunities to appeal to a broad range of skills, from gardeners to craft assistants. Parents who volunteer to assist with sports or weeding at school, typically report the benefits of physical activity as well as fostering the parent-child relationship. Being present at school is also an opportunity for parents to observe their child’s friendships; to gain insight into teaching techniques and to gain confidence within the school community. Making a start on Family-School relations requires both parents and teachers to find traction and build momentum before the results become clear.
So, family, society and school: where do we want to go? My aim is to be part of a supportive, functional and resourceful community where educational aspirations are achieved and dreams are encouraged. Every school could be a microcosm of the same ‘warmth and generosity’, demonstrated by the most committed and kind-hearted teachers and school volunteers. The ones who dig deep within themselves to present all children with a world of opportunities and unwavering stability. But let’s not forget to mention the potential of time-poor working parents, who would love nothing more than to volunteer and see more of their school-aged children! By making the family-school relationship a priority in our society, children not only have the pleasure of recognizing a familiar family face in the school crowd; we also begin to work towards a common goal.