Developing Emotionally Literate Staff: A Practical Guide


Elizabeth Morris & Julie Casey

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    The sections I have written for this book are dedicated to the memory of Chris Lindup, respected colleague, friend and endless source of inspiration. Special thanks to Dr Robin Banerjee and the staff at Winston's Wish, Gloucestershire, for allowing me to draw so freely on their enormous expertise, to friends and colleagues Sally Whittingham, Maggie Walker, Brigid Allen and Jean Gross for their intellect, integrity and generosity of spirit. Thanks also to my wonderful family for their patience and the endless supply of ready-meals and love, and lastly to Simon for sustaining me with his humour and wit during the long nights of redrafting.

    Julie Casey

    My parts in this book would not have been possible without the unstinting generosity and patience of a great number of people – family, friends and colleagues included. For material and examples of what works, and what does not, I particularly thank all my students on the Certificate programme in Emotional Literacy. They all have a passion for the topic and share their professional successes and ‘learning opportunities’ with me and each other in a perfect example of collaboration and support. For practical help in keeping my feet on the ground and getting the right things in the right places at the right time, my personal assistant Rachel Carter has been a source of irreplaceable support. For his editing and critical analytical skills (which include taking his life in his hands when questioning some of my more deeply felt, but often untested, ideas), Tim Sparrow has been both brave and invaluable! Finally my thanks and love, as always, go to my niece, Rachael Morris, and nephew, Robbie Morris, who have provided unstinting emotional support with their encouragement and love, even though they have no idea what I'm writing about!

    Elizabeth Morris

    The authors and publisher are grateful for permission to use the following:

    Activity 7.5 from Corrie, C. (2003) Becoming Emotionally Intelligent, Network Educational Press, London (

    Resource Sheet 1: Maslow's hierarchy of needs from Toward a Psychology of Being (1999) Maslow, A.H., et al. Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc

    Resource Sheet 2: Relevance, Readiness and Resource from Fullan, M. (1991) The New Meaning of Educational Change, Cassell, London

    Chris Walker for the illustrations on pages 51, 59, 62, 73, 81, 102 and 113

    About the Authors

    Dr Elizabeth Morris, Principal of the School of Emotional Literacy, is a psychologist and specialist in the provision of emotional education. She is a member of the DfES advisory practitioner group on social and emotional competence development and was a developmental psychology consultant during the writing of the SEAL resource for the National Primary Strategy. She is the emotional literacy consultant for the National Positive Mental Health and Well-being programme in Scotland and advisor on emotionally literate approaches for Edinburgh's Children and Families Service. Elizabeth created the first post-graduate level certificate and advanced diploma in emotional literacy with Bristol University and her programme now runs throughout the UK. She trains and consults on emotional literacy internationally, visiting American, South African and European conferences in emotional education and mental health regularly to give keynote addresses and workshops on systemic and operational applications of emotional literacy development in schools and families. She has written extensively on self esteem and emotional literacy development and has books published in both Australia and the UK.

    In this book Julie Casey draws upon her wealth of practical and theoretical knowledge and experience in bringing together the three fields of education, emotional literacy and continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers and educational practitioners. In 1995 she achieved the award of ‘Britain's Best Teacher’ having spent sixteen years in the field of primary education. During this time she also obtained a first class degree in psychology, followed by an M.Ed in Educational Psychology, subsequently working in this field with individuals, groups and organizations as a specialist in Behaviour and Emotional Literacy. She is currently undertaking a doctorate at Bristol University looking at effective practice in teacher's CPD in the area of social and emotional learning. She is a published author in the field and has written for the Council of Europe on reducing violence in schools. Recently Julie has played a major role in the development and co-ordination of the Primary Strategy curriculum materials for developing children's social, emotional and behavioural skills (‘Excellence and Enjoyment: social and emotional aspects of learning’), as well as leading the development of the National Behaviour and Attendance Audit for KS1 and KS2, and contributing to a range of training materials for the DfES including the Primary Strategy and the National Programme of School Leadership – Behaviour and Attendance. For the past two years she has been a key member of the Government's practitioner body which supports and advises the DfES on issues related to Emotional Literacy and social, emotional and behavioural skills in schools. In addition, Julie lectures in emotional literacy development at Bristol University on the post-graduate level certificate in Emotional Literacy, and works as a consultant to clients such as the BBC, local education authorities and a range of educational organizations. Julie has four children and lives in Somerset.


    A Note on Terminology

    The plethora of terms used to describe the skills involved in ‘emotional literacy’ reflects the multi-disciplinary origins of the concept. Often the terminology used gives a clue to its origin – the field of psychology for example, has given us ‘emotional intelligence’ while those coming from a health-related perspective are likely to refer to ‘emotional health and well-being’ (EHWB), with educationalists often preferring ‘emotional literacy’ or referring to ‘personal, social and health education’.

    In this publication we have chosen primarily to use the term ‘social and emotional learning’ (SEL), but also follow the conventions of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in talking about ‘social and emotional aspects of learning’ (SEAL) and ‘social, emotional and behavioural skills’ (SEBS) where these are more appropriate to the context. We take ‘emotionally literate’ behaviour to be behaviour in which positive SEBS are displayed.

    The concepts of emotional literacy are applicable to all contexts where children and young people are educated. We use the term ‘school’ or ‘organization’ in the widest possible sense to include PRUs, nursery settings, specialist residential settings and so on. For this reason we also refer generally to ‘staff’ or ‘adults’ rather than ‘teachers’, and include all adults working with children and young people within an organization.

    Finally we have chosen to refer to ‘children and young people’ in order to promote a holistic view of the individual existing within a variety of contexts, although we also use ‘pupil’ when referring specifically to a school setting.

    About this Book
    Aims and Objectives

    The aim of this development manual is to equip all staff with the competence, confidence and motivation to facilitate social and emotional learning in children and young people, both through an explicit ‘taught’ programme and through the creation and maintenance of a supportive ethos and environment congruent with the learning that the programme promotes. Specific learning objectives are detailed for each training module in Chapter 4.

    The book consists of:

    • an overview of the area of social and emotional learning (Introduction)
    • a rationale for the importance of staff development in this area (Introduction)
    • an overview of critical success factors and principles for implementing a staff development programme (Chapter 1)
    • a model ‘framework for implementation’ that takes into account all of these success factors and enables successful strategic planning via a step-by-step process. The framework includes a suggested time frame, task analysis and sample resource sheets to support each step, with all of these based on the experiences of many schools (Chapter 2)
    • information to enable the coordinator or training facilitator to put together an appropriate professional development programme to meet the needs of their own individual context, guidance on structuring safe and effective staff group sessions and a range of samples ‘starting and ending activities’ for motivating and engaging an overloaded staff, as well as ideas for supporting staff learning between sessions (for example, through setting up a coaching programme) (Chapter 3)
    • ten training ‘modules’ with suggested activities for use with staff groups to develop what staff need to know, understand and be able to do, in order to work effectively with children and young people in the area of social and emotional learning (Chapter 4). Each session focuses on an area of SEL (for example, conflict management; relationship skills; working as a team) and provides:
      • background knowledge plus useful concepts and models (some as pre-session tasks or readings which give participants an opportunity to consider how the subject matter ‘fits’ with what they know already, and to formulate questions, ideas, examples and so on)
      • a chance to explore and respond to the content at an adult level
      • an opportunity to build up an individual, confidential profile of strengths and weaknesses in emotional literacy (with support in further interpreting these)
      • the option of applying this learning to classroom and whole-school practice
      • opportunities for feedback and reflection, and to consolidate and embed learning through ‘intersessional’ tasks
      • links to the DfES SEAL cross-curricular materials (Primary Strategy, 2005) and other useful resources
      • a focus on ‘whole-school aspects’ to develop.

    School leadership teams will find it useful to read through the Introduction, critical success factors and underlying principles (Chapter 1), and to consider individually the implications of the steps outlined in the ‘Framework for Intervention’ (Chapter 2), before coming together to consider the feasibility of an initial commitment to the initiative (sometimes using the resource sheets provided to make that decision). Once the initial commitment has been made, the ‘framework’ will prove useful for the strategic planning of each step of the process, which is generally delegated to an appointed ‘coordinator’ or training facilitator who reports back to the SLT (Senior Leadership Team) at agreed junctures.

    The book is designed to be:

    • easy to use
    • comprehensive – with all information sheets, worksheets, checklists and case-studies provided as resource sheets or within the appendix
    • based on an effective model of professional development.
    The Model of Professional Development

    The programme is collaborative, with a whole-school focus sustained over time. A recent review of research on effective, collaborative CPD (Continuing Professional Development) for teachers of the 5–16 age range (Cordingley et al., 2003) concluded that this model of CPD had positive effects on:

    • teachers' attitudes and beliefs (including those about their self-efficacy – their ability to affect pupils' learning and increased confidence in their own learning)
    • teaching strategies and practices (staff were more willing to try out new ideas in their practice and demonstrated a greater commitment to changing practice)
    • students' attitudes and behaviours
    • students' achievements.

    The study also identified common features of successful CPD interventions and each of these has been included as an option within the programme. Examples of successful features of CPD include:

    • observation with professional dialogue including feedback (e.g. a coaching model)
    • processes to encourage, extend and structure professional dialogue (pre-reading and sessions within each module specifically provide these opportunities)
    • processes for sustaining CPD over time to enable teachers to embed learning in their own classroom settings (intersessional tasks, a reflective learning log and the coaching process all promote the embedding of learning) (Cordingley et al., 2003).
    What is Social and Emotional Learning and What Has it Got to Do with Schools?

    Social and emotional learning is generally considered to inhabit two broad domains: emotional or ‘intrapersonal’ learning covers the areas of learning that enable us to know and understand ourselves – to recognize and identify our feelings, to know our strengths and weaknesses, our preferences, beliefs and values, what motivates us and how we learn best, and to apply this self-knowledge to our choices and actions. It is this intrapersonal learning that underpins our ability to manage our feelings and to become internally motivated, self-directed individuals, able to take responsibility for our own behaviour and learning and to demonstrate persistence and resilience in the face of setbacks, failure or disappointment.

    Learning within the social domain (or ‘interpersonal’ learning) enables us to form social relationships, to cooperate with others, to resolve disagreements, solve problems and to celebrate and respect the similarities and differences between us. The fundamental skill for social learning is empathy – the ability to understand others.

    Thus there is a strong case to be made for the intrinsic value of social and emotional learning within education. Children and young people would (and many do) struggle to negotiate their way through the social and emotional demands of the school day without them. They represent those ‘skills for life’ which are necessary not just within schools, but in home, work and community contexts.

    But there is also the value of social and emotional learning that we might term ‘instrumental’. Daniel Goleman (1995) provides a robust body of evidence that links emotional intelligence to success in all domains of life. Of great relevance to schools, there is now a growing amount of evidence that academic learning itself (often viewed as the ‘legitimate’ remit of schools) is improved when social and emotional factors are explicitly addressed (Petrides et al., 2004).

    This evidence lifts social and emotional learning firmly out of the ‘deficit’ model of this work (as a specialist provision for children with special needs in this area) and into the mainstream arena. The promotion of the ‘Social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL)’ cross-curriculum materials in the UK (DfES, 2005) as an entitlement curriculum for all children attests to this change in status, as do references to the domains of emotional literacy in the Primary National Strategy (PNS) professional development materials Conditions for Learning (DfES, 2004a) and Progression in Key Aspects of Learning (DfES, 2004a).

    Today's educators have a renewed perspective on what common sense always suggested: when schools attend systematically to students' social and emotional skills, the academic achievement of children increases, the incidence of problem behaviours decreases, and the quality of the relationships surrounding each child improves. And, students become the productive, responsible, contributing members of society that we all want … Thus, social and emotional education is sometimes called the missing piece, that part of the mission of the school that, while always close to the thoughts of many teachers, somehow eluded them. (Elias et al., 1997)

    Putting in place a taught curriculum focusing on social and emotional learning, within a school ethos that values and consolidates this work, therefore pays important dividends. There is nothing else in the current educational world that is linked to so many significant educational agendas.

    Improving Learning and Achievement

    The key role of emotional factors in the process of learning itself (and its consequent impact on the standards agenda) has only recently been recognized. In brief, the ‘emotional brain’ plays a central role in accessing; ‘fixing’ and recalling information as every piece of sensory information that enters a pupil's mind is immediately tagged with an emotional label. That happens before it enters the higher circuits of cognitive thought and memory. Students will remember and easily make sense of information that comes tagged with pleasurable emotions, rather than that which is linked with the uncomfortable.

    Improving Behaviour

    Behaviour is another educational agenda that is connected with emotional literacy. Every behaviour pattern is driven by an emotional state. Often the behaviours that are experienced as more challenging happen when a student has no effective strategy for handling an underlying emotion. Perhaps this is because they have not learnt or rehearsed a variety of strategies, supported by a developing understanding and awareness of their emotional states. This means that they are left with little option but to act out, sublimate or deny how they feel.


    Attendance at school has many emotional associations. Pupils who opt to stay away or remove themselves from school are usually driven by strong emotions. For them school may be an environment where they feel hopeless and helpless, where they have no sense of belonging and believe that they have little to offer. Alternatively, they may be positively drawn to environments other than school where they do feel valued (with peers), or to subcultures where they can use the strengths they believe they have, such as reading the social dynamics amongst adults on the street and using that knowledge to profit financially and gain ‘street cred’. This then leads into the crime agenda that is another key issue both socially and politically.


    A strong agenda over recent years has been that of inclusion which also has distinct links with emotional and social aspects of learning. The emotional state of a class is affected by the emotional state of each individual within it. Students who struggle to access learning for a wide variety of reasons or are victims of stereotyping and victimization can end up in emotional states that are very destructive to themselves – and perhaps to others. Modelling the celebration of diversity, openness and acceptance and building the skill of empathy can do much to soothe the intensity of emotions in classrooms and facilitate inclusion.

    Teacher Recruitment and Retention

    Finally, teacher recruitment and retention is an educational agenda strongly linked to social and emotional factors. Where behaviour and attendance are poor, staff feel disempowered and demotivated. Both staff and students end up feeling insecure and threatened, in an environment which must be secure for learning and teaching to take place. Frequently staff leave in a state of emotional ill-health; stressed and unhappy, angry and bitter. At the same time, the social status of teachers has dropped and this adds to the emotional pressure on remaining staff.

    In order to counteract these effects, the focus on emotional literacy needs to extend to the emotional health and well-being of the staff themselves. With support and opportunities to develop their own emotional literacy, the emotional climate of a school can become one of safety and respect. Schools which focus on the emotional health and well-being of staff (as well as that of pupils) are less likely to experience recruitment and retention difficulties and are more likely to have better attendance records amongst staff. They are therefore also less likely to need to find cover for staff amongst a rapidly diminishing pool of labour, with all the attendant ‘fall-out’, disruption and pressure.

    Aren't We Already Doing it?

    Social and emotional learning is not something that we are presenting as new to schools. There is much excellent practice that already promotes it and many professionals have been fundamentally involved in developing and improving this area of education for many years. Much of the subject matter of social and emotional learning is the explicit (though not exclusive) focus of, for example, the Foundation Stage personal, social and emotional area of learning, Religious Education, assemblies, and the transpose acronym and definition: Pers., Soc, and Health Ed. (PSHE)/citizenship Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE)/citizenship curriculum. Many schools develop the area further through the NHSS (National Healthy Schools Standard) and by using circle time, philosophy for children (P4C), the provision of school counsellors, peer mediation schemes and so on. It is important that whatever work is undertaken in schools builds upon existing staff skills and complements what is in place already.

    The existence of this expertise and good practice begs the question: Do we really need a stronger focus on these aspects of learning? The authors' work with schools which have implemented a range of environmental and taught programmes designed to improve pupils' social and emotional skills (including the PNS SEAL materials (DfES, 2005) suggests that this is indeed the case. Some examples of ‘additionality’ as identified by schools (many listed by those who were already judged to be performing well in this area) include:

    • a heightened profile and status for social and emotional learning
    • the ‘legitimizing’ of this area of work when talking to governors, parents and other stakeholders
    • the use of the programme as an overarching framework to encompass and give coherence to other initiatives already in place with greater consistency throughout the school (in both formal and informal contexts) in the language used to speak to children and the way that behavioural incidents are handled
    • a sense of individual and corporate responsibility at all levels of school life towards focusing on the social and emotional aspects of learning (as opposed to the previous assumption that such matters were the sole responsibility of the PSHE coordinator) and with greater clarity about specific aims leading to more consistency of practice
    • greater credibility arising from working to a clear and rigorous set of learning intentions (in an area in which aims and objectives have been somewhat ‘slippery’)
    • Increased progress in children's knowledge, understanding and skills in the area of social and emotional learning when a spiral curriculum enables staff to build upon children's existing skills, as opposed to the sporadic progress noted when more ‘ad hoc’ arrangements were in place.
    Why Focus on the Adults?

    The aim of a taught social and emotional development programme is to focus children and adults on the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) and help children and young people to develop social, emotional and behavioural skills, knowledge and understanding (SEBS). Children and young people need these to manage both socially and academically, at school and beyond. As educators we are doing more than imparting a body of discrete knowledge; we are attempting to develop compassionate, responsible, creative and cooperative citizens for tomorrow's world. So why is it so necessary to train staff for this task when we have seen that much of it is already taking place?

    Providing staff with development opportunities and training in the area of social and emotional learning is critical to successful learning in this area for children and young people for the three main reasons outlined below.

    Staff Development Opportunities Help to Bring about a Supportive, Warm and Encouraging Environment

    This is related to the important role of school environment. Because the primary content area of social and emotional learning is the child or young person, and the desired outcome is an ability to use social, emotional and behavioural knowledge, understanding and skills in ways that maximize life opportunities, there are implications for structuring the overall environment to support the learning that does not arise in relation to other, more traditional subject areas.

    Within the social and emotional curriculum we might, for example, explore strategies for conflict resolution, building friendships and managing difficult feelings, but the real learning happens with the repeated application of these within the wider environment which establishes new responses in place of the ‘default’ settings from earlier learning. In order to support the development and consolidation of the skills we focus on within the social and emotional curriculum, we need to provide a ‘learners’ environment' – somewhere that feels safe for children to take a risk, to put into practice and ‘try out’ their developing skills and understanding. We might liken this to the adult experience of learning to drive a car – we recognize the need to learn, practise and consolidate skills in the safety of little used back-streets; we don't send learners out on the motorway to practise! And how much greater is the need for safety when the object of our focus is not something we do, but how we are as individuals with all the vulnerabilities which we fear may be exposed?

    The importance of the environment is not restricted to ‘learners’, however. Even as professional skilled adults our ability to deploy our social and emotional skills varies on a continuum from sophistication to incompetence depending on context. In a new environment, in situations in which we feel threatened or disliked, in times of stress, exhaustion and uncertainty, even the most emotionally literate adult can find themselves behaving in emotionally ‘illiterate’ ways.

    One compelling reason for developing staff knowledge, skills and understanding in the area of emotional literacy is therefore to enable them to structure a facilitative environment – a task which requires an understanding of the environmental factors that facilitate or hinder the development of children's and young people's social and emotional learning.

    Staff Development Opportunities Support Adults' Ability to ‘Model’ Emotionally Literate Ways of Behaving

    Of the many factors that contribute to the overall ethos or environment of the school, that which has the greatest significance in encouraging pupils to apply their learning and consolidate their skills is the adult modelling that they experience (the way we interact with pupils and with each other, the language we use, the way we demonstrate that we value ourselves and others). You may have come across these wise words:

    Don't worry that you do not think the children are listening to you; worry that they are watching everything you do.

    Typically, adults working in education have had little input in this crucial area and few explicit opportunities to explore or develop their own skills, knowledge and understanding – essential prerequisites for modelling emotionally literate behaviour.

    Staff who hold attitudes of empathy, respect, openness and optimism create a fertile environment for pupils to easily absorb much of the social and emotional learning they will require. An essential element of that positive attitude is confidence. For staff to teach or model good SEBS, they need to feel confident about why they are doing what they are doing and their level of competence.

    Although the focus is on developing the professional skills which will enable them to support children, pilot studies suggest that the skills, knowledge and understanding covered in the training materials are often experienced as engaging, motivating and fun because of their relevance to life outside of school.

    To Develop Staff Ownership, Confidence and Competence in Delivering the Taught Social and Emotional Curriculum

    As with any ‘subject matter’, staff will benefit from the opportunity provided by staff meetings or inset sessions to familiarize themselves with the materials and suggested teaching styles and structures. Research suggests (Goleman, 1998) that the most effective learning opportunities for developing SEBS involve participative, experiential and interactive activities which prompt individuals to engage at a personal level and to construct their own understanding. Some staff may already feel comfortable with these teaching styles and use them across the curriculum, while for others they may present new and potentially threatening challenges.

    Evidence from the authors' experiences and from the schools involved in the PNS SEAL pilot suggests that having opportunities for focusing explicitly on, and ‘trying out’ such experiential methods, has a significant impact on staff attitudes and willingness to adopt such strategies in the classroom. The suggested training plan provides such opportunities for staff.

    A further and more fundamental reason for offering staff development opportunities in this area lies again in the differences between the nature of the content matter for social and emotional programmes and more ‘academic’ subject matter. The content areas covered in social and emotional programmes often elicit strong emotional responses in adults as well as children and young people – there are very few of us, for example, who have not been touched in some way by loss or bullying. For this reason, we need to ensure that adults have had the opportunity to engage with, explore and experience the material at an adult level in order to become aware of, and be able to deal with, their own responses before working with children.

    This is not something that can be learnt from a book and repackaged in child-sized bites. Because our emotions and social relationships are so integral to being human we need to feel the lessons with ‘all of us’ so that they become part of who we are. The experience of going through some of the material with a more personal focus helps us become aware of our own strengths and those areas for development in emotional literacy.

    Experiences enable us to become aware of and consider our beliefs which in turn shape our responses. For example, if we believe that children are actually very skilled in these matters and are choosing to not use their skills productively we will feel angry and frustrated and have a negative attitude. We may even underplay lessons in these areas because we believe that they will make little difference. However, if we believe that children are doing their best with the resources they have and that for whatever reason they do not possess the full resources needed in these fields, we will be more likely to have a positive attitude and feel interested and determined. The process of becoming ‘emotionally literate’ as an individual or as an organization must engage both hearts and minds.

  • Appendix to Chapter Two

    Publications Providing Emotional Literacy Profiling Tools for Children and Young People

    Developing the Emotionally Literate School by K. Weare, published by Paul Chapman Publishing (2004). This book contains a comprehensive listing of assessment tools and their applications.

    Individual Emotional Literacy Indicator (8–15) by Elizabeth Morris and Caroline Scott, published by SEL Publications (2003)

    Individual Emotional Literacy Indicator for Young People 16+ by Elizabeth Morris and Caroline Scott, published by SEL Publications (2004)

    Class Emotional Literacy Indicator by Elizabeth Morris and Caroline Scott, published by SEL Publications (2003)

    Whole School Emotional Literacy Indicator by Elizabeth Morris and Caroline Scott, published by SEL Publications (2003)

    Emotional Literacy, Assessment and Intervention by A. Faupal, published by NFER Nelson. (Two are available, one for ages 7–11 and one for ages 11–16)

    UK Companies Offering Emotional Literacy Profiling Tools and Consultations for Adults and Schools

    School of Emotional Literacy


    Centre for Applied Emotional Intelligence




    Ei (UK Limited)


    SEAL (Society for Effective Affective Learning)


    A comprehensive list of useful organizations, resources and sources of support can be found in Appendix 9 of the Guidance in the PNS SEAL Resource (DfES), 2005


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