CHARTING COURSE: what we're doing about social-emotional literacy

SBS's Testing Teachers documented the experiences of talented new teachers as they went into some of Australia’s most challenging classrooms. As viewers, we gained a unique insight into how a classroom can erupt into chaos when teachers are inexperienced and where children have not yet learned to understand, manage and express their emotions appropriately, and have not yet developed empathy for others.  

Maurice Elias from Edutopia explains how this happens. He says that when students enter the school gates, they store most of their things away in their lockers. But one thing they cannot put away is their emotions. They carry these around with them all day, to every classroom. “For some students, this is a very heavy burden.”


Elias suggests that there is more at stake than a disrupted classroom if students do not learn how to regulate their strong feelings and develop the ability to empathise. They also have limited academic success.

A curriculum gap develops. The learning actually received in a classroom is very different to what teachers believe they are delivering. For instance, stories cannot be fully appreciated if you don’t understand the character’s behaviours, motivations and emotions; history and current events become dry, disconnected facts unless they’re enlivened by your ablity to empathise and understand what individuals have been through; and group activities can fail miserably if you're insensitive to other people’s feelings, not knowing when to support and when to back off. 

When students develop the ability to detect and express nuances like frustration, inspiration, elation, dejection, puzzlement, joy, uncertainty, and enthusiasm, they can grasp much more complex content and carry out higher order skills.


We call this vital skill ‘Social-Emotional Literacy’. It’s where individuals accurately read (perceive) their own as well as others’ emotions in their peer group, the playground, and within academic contexts they encounter in the classroom.  

Of vital concern to both parents and schools, these skills are absorbed by children from those around them, but must also be taught. At Brisbane Adventist College, we teach social-emotional literacy every year, just as we teach English and Mathematics. 

We achieve this by explicitly teaching The BAC WAY, by taking time and injecting intentionality into our approach to discipline, and by instituting various co-curricula programs aimed at specific social-emotional issues within targeted age groups and cohorts. 


Social-emotional literacy is like a library. We want our students to complete their education equipped with a full complement of ‘the classics’. Our business is, and has always been, more than merely readying students for a job or further study. Our goal is to ready them for now as well as eternity.  


  1. Edutopia's blog: Helping children develop emotional literacy
  2. Strategies for parents: Social and emotional learning
  3. Parent toolkit:Parents' guide to social & emotional development

AUTHOR: Principal Leanne Entermann writes a series of articles called Charting Course in which she talks about topics important to the future direction of the College.