Teaching children emotional literacy

10th February 2006 at 00:00

Calum Macinnes, one of the P7 class teachers at Alexandra Parade Primary in Glasgow, has been handing his class over to Alan McLean approximately once a week for the past two months. It's early days for the programme to have made any real impact on pupil behaviour. The attention to date has focused on putting pupils into their classroom stances, Mr Macinnes says.

"The children have to decide whether they are happy within that stance, or would prefer to be in another stance - and how to get into another stance or out of the one they are in.

"The main focus is on what motivates them - whether they motivate themselves or whether it's feedback from the teacher that motivates them."

He adds: "I've been finding it more useful as I go along. If the child can be more self-aware, that can only be a good thing. Obviously, it's going to work for some children better than others."

Feedback from the pupils has led him to conclude that he should, perhaps, talk to them more when coming up with class rules.

"As the teacher I have got to come up with the rules, but if they can understand the rules a bit better, then that would have a more positive effect."

The programme contains a lot of reminders of good practice about building relationships with pupils. At this stage in his career - only four-and-a-half years out of college - it was more of a reinforcement of what he had been taught in teacher training.

The pupils, he says, have been very motivated by their work with Alan McLean, particularly a motivation workshop for teachers, which they were asked to lead in Edinburgh last month.

"Initially I had a bit of a worry that the programme might identify negative stresses among peers. I was worrying about how that might translate into the playground or classroom - but it hasn't happened."

The children now recognise that everyone is different: people react in different ways and are motivated in different ways, he says.

There has been an improvement in behaviour in the last couple of months, but all classes undergo peaks and troughs, he points out. There is nothing concrete at this stage to link the two things.

Nevertheless, he concludes: "It is something we can use in handling behaviour. It is something that has given me an opportunity to get to know the children a little bit more. The kids are more motivated to talk about themselves and have learnt more about how they tick."


John Moar, headteacher at Firth Primary in Orkney, is using the motivated school programme for staff development in his 80-pupil school.

"It's a whole attitude and a way of looking at life. The whole principle is to get the teachers to understand what motivates them themselves as people, and then to understand that exactly the same things motivate pupils. In that way, you build up empathy between the two. Teachers are much more aware of what they have to do to motivate and inspire their pupils."

He sees the principles of The Motivated School as underpinning the new child-centred curriculum for excellence.

"We have completely rehashed all our school policies, making Alan's work on motivation the underpinning principle. It is a way of framing everything - formative assessment, direct and interactive teaching, citizenship, creating a dyslexia-friendly school and so on. It is crucial to what a school is all about. It is teaching children emotional literacy."


Paul Raffaelli, acting headteacher at Dunbar Grammar in East Lothian, has decided to make The Motivated School the first whole-school project undertaken by him and his staff, although it is also part of the development work of the school cluster.

"It articulates with our second project, which is improving teaching and learning in S1 and S2 and raising expectations and attainment at these stages," he says. "This is one of the areas which HMIE said we were good at but not very good at."

He has carried out a survey of first-year pupils' views of all their class subject teachers, using an electronic questionnaire as well as surveying staff themselves for their views.

Thus, for instance, a teacher could be asked to grade him or herself on whether they think they use praise a lot in class. Likewise, the S1 pupils will be asked to respond, for each of their subject classes, on whether praise is used a lot. The results will allow teachers to compare their own rating with the rest of the staff, and their own subjective rating with how pupils perceive them. If there is a gap, the teacher can then think about why that has happened.

"The survey is not to be used against individual teachers, but is for them to look at. The findings won't be shared with anybody else," says Mr Raffaelli.

But the overall findings will be examined with faculty heads. At a later stage, he hopes to invite Alan McLean into the school to work with staff and pupils.

"To me, it comes down to feelings and identifying your own feelings as a teacher and how that affects your teaching craft, plus being aware of pupils in the classroom - not just those with challenging behaviour, but also the quiet child in the corner who wouldn't say boo to a goose."


The seven attitudes that pupils strike, according to Alan McLean in his book 'The Motivated School':

1 Actively focused

2 Leader

3 Quietly focused

4 Pest

5 Upset and hiding

6 Lippy

7 Upset and angry

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