The value of social and emotional literacy

As adults observing and working with children and adolescents, we value witnessing the positive and enjoyable emotions they demonstrate each day. However, we know that they also encounter confusing and/or complex emotions that they will have to deal with. Therefore, understanding where these varied emotions come from, how they can sometimes ‘hinder’ our logical thought processes, and ultimately how they can be managed, takes time and lots of practice.

At Oak Hill we take pride in helping our students learn their own ‘emotional vocabulary’ so they can identify and recognise the variety of feelings/emotions humans have. Through discussion/videos/charts/photos etc. students develop language to express and manage their emotions; they learn how to feel more confident, in control and happy. In addition, they begin to understand that their learning experiences are more successful when their emotions and cognition work in tandem.

By the time they leave the two-year programme at Oak Hill our students have interpersonal tools they can use as they transition through school and adulthood. For example, they are more able to focus on a task that requires concentration, they can sooth themselves if they feel upset and think about how best to liaise with those they don’t agree with.

What’s social about social skills?

Social skills is the term that refers to an individual’s ability to interact with others. At Oak Hill, our approach in this area is implicitly linked to our mission of transforming students into confident, resilient, and independent learners by supporting and developing their academic, social/emotional skills and executive functioning.

In addition, the ground-breaking work of renowned psychologist Alfred Adler (1870-1937) guides some of our social skills work at Oak Hill. Adler believed that for children to feel empowered, they needed to feel connected and capable; that they count and have the courage to feel secure in themselves and in their relationships with others (Lew and Bettner 1996). These terms are generally referred to as the 4Cs: Connect – Capable – Count – Courage.

Making and keeping friends

Like many other schools, some of the students who come to Oak Hill may have difficulties making or keeping friends. Some may have moved school many times, others may have co-occurring differences which means they may need help learning how to develop relationships.

At Oak Hill, we ensure the students understand individual differences, helping them appreciate that everyone has something special to contribute.

Developing appropriate communication skills also helps our students when they are socialising at their Home School or talking/playing with siblings and family members. We work hard to help students learn that these skills are an essential part of life, enabling them to relate to, and connect with, people in many different settings.

A broad range of social skills to develop

The personal, emotional, and social growth of students is of course not limited to their time at school. Throughout the school year we focus on a variety of topics such as: practicing conversation skills, recognising facial expressions, giving and receiving feedback, showing gratitude, giving eye contact, praising and expressing thanks to others, developing self advocacy, understanding learning differences, knowing when to adopt coping strategies, building resilience, being kind, taking turns, expressing feelings, celebrating inclusion, taking part, operating outside of our comfort zones and adapting to change and transition.

A multi-sensory approach – from practice to automaticy

As a specialist programme for students with learning differences, we provide a structured, supportive, and multi-sensory approach to learning. Using visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and tactile tasks our students learn in a variety of ways. For example, through role play, story telling, crafting sessions, discussion groups, inspirational speakers and via technology.

Working on one skill at a time, teachers discuss and demonstrate tasks, providing multiple opportunities for students to practice, ask questions and receive feedback. Our small, nurturing environment allows the students to develop knowledge and confidence in a safe and supportive atmosphere, ready to transfer these skills to their everyday situations.