Research undertaken over the last 20 years provides compelling evidence that early and ongoing development of socio-emotional skills contributes to an individual's overall health, wellbeing and competence throughout life. Moreover, competence in this domain is now recognised as fundamental to school readiness, school adjustment and academic achievement. As a consequence, social and emotional learning (SEL) is an important theme in current educational policy, curriculum frameworks and classroom practice.
This chapter focuses on a particular group of vulnerable learners – children with special needs. These children are at high risk of developing social and emotional problems because their presenting conditions negatively influence growth in two critical areas of functioning: attention, planning and problem-solving; and language and communication (Stormont, 2007). It follows that delays in these areas routinely put in place the conditions not only for reduced opportunities to engage, interact and learn with others, but also the increased likelihood of developing challenging, unsafe and socially inappropriate behaviours.
In this chapter we introduce The Teaching Pyramid (Fox et al., 2003), a validated, multi-level model for promoting children's social-emotional development while preventing problem behaviour. Next, we discuss aspects related to making decisions about (a) what to teach and (b) how to teach. We then highlight the critical importance of social understanding for children with special needs and provide key evidence-informed strategies for teachers to use in their everyday classroom practices to strengthen SEL from early years through to the end of primary school. Finally, we argue the case for partnering families in order to strengthen SEL outcomes for these learners across school, home, and community environments.
Recommended Teaching Model for SEL
The Teaching Pyramid model (Fox et al., 2003) provides a strong framework for supporting SEL, particularly in the earlier years of learning. Its level of effectiveness in building social-emotional competence and preventing problems has been demonstrated not only with toddlers, but also with school-age children. The model is both educative and preventative. It comprises four hierarchal and interrelated levels of practice, with each level providing the foundation for the next (see Figure 21.1). Within this framework, behavioural intervention is viewed as a consequence of insufficient consideration given by teachers to the lower levels of the model – that is, to building positive relationships, providing supportive learning environments and the explicit teaching of social-emotional skills.