Guest Post: Relationships, Resilience, Belonging and Behaviour

Concerns about young people are in the headlines virtually every day. We hear about deteriorating mental health with rising levels of anxiety, depression and self-harm; pupils who have very little self-worth and looking for places to belong; relationships that are toxic across communities and behaviours that are hard to deal with. So what can teachers do about any of this?  If it can sometimes feel like an insurmountable challenge, keep reading! 

The UNESCO framework for education comprises of these five pillars of learning:

  1. Learning to Know – the development of skills and knowledge needed to function in this world e.g. formal acquisition of literacy, numeracy, critical thinking and general knowledge.
  2. Learning to Do – the acquisition of applied skills linked to professional success.
  3. Learning to Live Together – the development of social skills and values such as respect and concern for others, and the appreciation of cultural diversity.
  4. Learning to Be – the learning that contributes to a person’s mind, body, and spirit. Skills include creativity and personal discovery, acquired through reading, the Internet, and activities such as sports and arts.
  5. Learning to Transform Oneself and Society –the knowledge, skills, and values for creating lasting change in organizations, communities, and societies.

Following government policies and fearing damning OFSTED reports, many schools have focused almost exclusively on the first two pillars of learning putting academic knowledge and skills above everything else.  Education has largely ignored social and emotional understanding and skills for nearly a generation and we are now faced with inevitable negative outcomes. This is especially true for children not having the positive experiences outside school that enable them to develop healthy functioning and relate well to others.

Feelings and relationships permeate school culture. Unless positive policy and practice is threaded through every interaction, the default may be negative.  Children need to learn how to be and how to live together well.  The SEAL program was a valiant attempt to address social and emotional learning (SEL)  and there will be a new relationship and sexuality curriculum from next year.  One reason SEAL did not have as good an outcome as hoped is that there was not enough attention paid to how to do it. Talking about important issues needs to be a safe place for both young people and their teachers.  

The ASPIRE pedagogy underpins what happens in Circle Solutions and it is this that makes this intervention qualitatively different from any other similar program for SEL. ASPIRE stands for Agency, Safety, Positivity, Respect, Inclusion and Equity and each of these principles is demonstrated in clearly defined practice. 

Circle Solutions is an evidence-based, engaging pedagogy for children and young people of all ages. Teachers say that students ask for Circle sessions and often choose to moderate their behaviour to abide by the simple guidelines so they can be included in the activities.  The outcomes of improved relationships, less bullying, acceptance of difference and pro-social behaviour such as kindness and inclusion are said to generalise outside the Circle to everyday interactions both in the class and outside. The agency and inclusion principles make pupils responsible for the emotional climate of their class as they decide together how people should be treated in order for everyone to be happy at school.  The safety principle means that students work in pairs and groups, not individually and no-one is ever put on the spot or expected to talk about their own situations or experiences.  Circle Solutions is strengths and solution focused with discussions on issues, never incidents.


These are just a few of the quotes from both primary and secondary students: 

“I have learnt to be more confident with myself and not to put myself down”

“I mostly enjoyed when we were working in partners to achieve a thing with a whole class”

“I learned I had a voice”.

And their teachers:

“My class love it, and there is never a negative attitude towards it by the children”

“It’s been great at encouraging the kids to listen to one another and accept that all have a different viewpoint.”

“They’ve learnt to think of themselves differently, because part of what we do in Circles is reflect on you and yourself and your community, and who you want to be. For some of those individuals, that’s turned them around.” 

The next Introduction to Circle Solutions is in Covent Garden, London on Monday October 14th.   This session is for those who want confidence in running Circles Solutions with pupils.  The Intro is a pre-requisite for the two-day Trainer program for those who are looking for accreditation to train schools.

For more details and booking see

For queries contact

Sue Roffey FRSA FBPsS is a psychologist, academic, author, activist and speaker and the Worldwide Director of Growing Great Schools.

Read more about Sue here 

Are you a trainee teacher, NQT, teacher, headteacher, parent or  just someone who cares about education and has something to get off  your chest in a Schools Improvement Guest Post? Follow this link for more details at the bottom of the page.

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Categories: 1st POST, Guest Post, Health, Leadership, Learning, Mental Health, Primary, Secondary, Teaching and Training.


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