Boys' inability to express their feelings may be the root cause of unacceptable classroom behaviour and can lead to lower attainment, a three year alternatives to exclusion project in Glasgow has found.
Teachers discovered significant improvements in behaviour after working closely with young primary children and their families on positive social and communication skills. Pupils and parents have welcomed the intervention.
Boys were encouraged to recognise their feelings and taught how to express them and to recognise that other people's feelings deserve respect. They were counselled on how to manage emotions such as anger and frustration and advised to stop and consider options before they acted.
A pilot project in five Possilpark schools, headed by Maureen Fairgrieve, head of St Cuthbert's primary, initially focused on primary 6 and primary 7 pupils but switched to younger age-groups as staff gained greater understanding. The city now hopes to do more work on emotional literacy after winning backing from Her Majesty's Inspectorate.
Mrs Fairgrieve said: "All children need emotional literacy because behaviour is a challenge to all of us. The bad behaviour of a four to five-year-old becomes the learnt behaviour of an eight to nine-year-old and by the time they are in secondary, behaviour patterns are set.
"Once pupils get the idea of being able to express their feelings, instead of hurting other people with their hands, feet and words, they begin to find ways of focusing on a solution."
Ninety per cent of the 100-plus pupils in the project were boys, many of whom were emotionally upset while their parents were exhausted trying to cope with their behaviour. "There was great relief all round," Mrs Fairgrieve insists.
A key aspect was a "reciprocal skills building programme", involving pupils, families and teachers, which emphasised skills children already had and others they needed.
"These are the same skills that the workplac is asking from education and some of them are key components of emotional literacy. We emphasised the skills that needed to be learnt, rather than the behaviour that had to be eliminated. Behaviour is not a personal failure but everyone's responsibility," Mrs Fairgrieve said.
She adds: "There was a definite improvement in behaviour and families really appreciated it. It also influenced the behaviour of any younger siblings in the family."
The city last week gave the go-ahead for a staff development programme to focus on emotional literacy. Three staff are likely to be seconded to train teachers and classroom assistants and promote back-up materials.
Around 180 assistants have already been trained as behaviour partners after the project found that they could keep targeted pupils on task as much as teachers.
Glasgow will set up its own website on behaviour to allow teachers to exchange best practice. "In the past 20 years, we have not given teachers the tools to handle behaviour," Mrs Fairgrieve believes.
THE SKILLS THEY NEED
* Self-awareness - recognising feelings.
* Personal decision-making - knowing the consequences.
* Managing feelings - how to handle fears, anxieties, anger, sadness.
* Handling stress - the value of exercise and relaxation.
* Empathy - understanding the feelings of others * Communications - talking and listening about feelings.
* Self-disclosure - talking in safety about private feelings.
* Insight - identifying patterns in your own emotional life and reactions and recognising that in others.
* Self-acceptance - seeing yourself in a positive light.
* Personal responsibility - recognising the consequences of decisions and actions.
* Assertiveness - stating your concerns and feelings without anger or passivity.
* Group dynamics - when to lead and when to follow.
* Conflict resolution - how to fight fair with other children, parents and other adults.