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Integrating Social Emotional Learning & Positive Behaviour for Learning - Part 2

In the first part of this series, we looked briefly at the growing impact of neuroscience on our understanding of children’s behaviour and how this is steadily bringing changes within the field of education. Research shows that prosocial and problem behaviours are mediated by social, emotional and cognitive processes. Punitive responses to complex and challenging behaviours, such as suspensions and exclusions, are therefore more widely recognised as short term fixes to what are often entrenched social-emotional difficulties and socio-economic disadvantage. Such sanctions rarely produce positive, enduring outcomes for students but risk encouraging further disengagement from learning and anti-social behaviour.

"No one thinks punishment will teach a kid math or to read... why we put behaviour in a different category of developmental delays is beyond me."

Dr. Ross Greene

Furthermore, our response to the way the pandemic has shaped our lives is bringing fundamental shifts away from a purist focus on academic learning to more wholistic, student development and psycho-social initiatives in schools. Now more than ever, academic and social-emotional learning must be viewed as being inextricably linked and fundamental to deeper learning. The growing body of research supporting the link between wellbeing, behaviour and learning is at the point now where it is unlikely we will return completely to our pre-covid ways of schooling.


Watch this interview on the 'Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning' podcast, with behaviour experts Jessica and John Hannigan, the authors of SEL From a Distance: Tools and Processes for Anytime, Anywhere. The interview discusses a collection of tools and processes for social and emotional learning that can be applied in any learning environment.


These changes I believe are reflected in the moves within the Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) movement towards an increased focus on the explicit teaching of positive behaviours using evidence based social-emotional learning programs such as Second Step. Social emotional learning (SEL) when embedded with academic learning and functioning within the overarching Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) framework is now increasingly considered to be ‘best practice’. For this to be achieved effectively, it is essential that teachers and school leadership teams are firmly committed to this approach and have a thorough understanding of both SEL and PBL.

What are some key strategies to help your school integrate SEL & PBL?

  1. Implement SEL and behaviour support through a single team in your school – important to this is ensuring that at least some of your key staff overseeing the SEL program sit on your PBL team.

  2. Map the Social Emotional competencies being taught onto the Behaviour Expectations Matrix, which is a living document that guides the teaching and reinforcement of expected behaviour. It supports the use of a common language by the whole school community in fostering the development of skills.

  3. Teach SEL using the PBL instructional system – look at the school data as a PBL team and with your staff decide what skills need to be taught and at what frequency and intensity. Your PBL team could also look at other supplementary sources of data other than behaviour incidents such as student attendance, school opinion surveys and case management referrals to determine the social-emotional skill deficits that underpin behaviour difficulties for large numbers of your students. An example of this might be when your PBL team detects that there is a high number of behaviour incidents being recorded in relation to conflict amongst students on the oval during lunch time sport matches. Rather than using mostly sanctions as the primary management strategy (e.g. banning children from games or from using the area), an alternative could be a school wide focus on teaching problem solving steps and applying them to these situations. This would be more consistent with an SE (social-emotional) skills-focussed approach and over time more likely lead to a decrease in major conflict and fewer recorded incidents. This could be enhanced with more targeted support for small groups of students if required, to provide extra opportunities for the development and application of social problem-solving skills.

  4. Consider how your school will manage misdemeanours in a way that is consistent with a developmental SE skill-based approach to behaviour. The Second Step program includes an invaluable resource called the Talk-it-Over Tool that provides visuals and scripts to assist staff and school administrators to discuss behaviour issues with students using the applicable key concepts/language of the Second Step program.

  5. Update key school documents, such as your Student Code of Conduct (school behaviour policy), wellbeing and pedagogical frameworks with explicit statements that reflect your school’s prioritisation of teaching SEL and behaviour competencies.

  6. Ensure adequate resourcing to support PBL and SEL is allocated in the school budget. All teachers and administrators will need to be fully trained and supported as well as specialist teachers, administrative officers and teacher aides. This ideally would include instructional coaching and even technical assistance for classroom teachers.


Hear how Briar Road Public School have successfully integrated Second Step lessons and SEL within their existing PBL framework using student data to drive every decision.


Allowing your staff time to become very familiar with the content of the SEL program your school has chosen is important to ensure that the PBL and SEL union has fidelity and produces the desired outcomes. Second Step, an evidence-based SEL program provides free online SEL training and extra online resources to support implementation in the classroom and across the school. Positive Pieces Education can also provide direct support with implementation through workshops and individual consultations with your school.

"Genuinely pursuing an integrated, whole-child approach to education will require substantial innovation in policies and practices, but children’s brain development, and the learning that depends on it, are at stake."

The Brain Basis for Integrated Social, Emotional and Academic Development, The Aspen Institute, 2018


Positive Pieces Education is the Australian and New Zealand publisher of the Second Step social-emotional learning program. Learn more


Barrett, S; Eber, L; McIntosh, K; Perales, Kellly, Romer, N (April, 2018). Teaching Social-Emotional Competencies within a PBIS Framework


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