When setting up any lesson that deals with potentially sensitive subjects, it’s essential to begin by creating a safe, secure learning environment. This will help children feel confident to share their ideas, values and attitudes without fear of negative feedback from their peers. A safe learning environment with clear boundaries also helps teachers to manage discussions on sensitive issues with greater confidence.
The Relationships Education (formerly SRE or RSE) resources within SCARF include specially produced films and guidance for dealing with the particularly sensitive nature of this subject. These cover creating a safe environment, handling sensitive questions and using a question box or ‘Ask it basket’.
In order to establish a safe learning environment, it’s recommended good practice* to:
Although ground rules are most meaningful and effective when developed as a class, there are basic elements that should be encouraged, including:
Research by the PSHE Association about what teachers report to be the most effective ground rules that they works best when:
Some teachers also felt that getting children to sign an informal contract also worked well.
You will find short films that demonstrate setting up class agreements with both younger and older children in the SCARF resources.
The fact that humans are largely influenced by and conform to peer norms underpins social norms theory and practice. Humans feel safer and more emotionally comfortable when they conform, which explains the success of the fashion-led industries, not limited to clothes but food, cars, furniture, in fact almost all aspects of life.
Research has focussed on whether the perception of peer norms is the same as the actual peer norms, and findings across the world have shown that they are consistently quite different. Young people (and adults) tend to overestimate the amount of risky behaviour (bullying, substance misuse, sexual behaviour etc.) their peers are engaged in and underestimate the safe and protective behaviours of the peer group. Crucially, we are inclined to believe that the way in which the majority behave is most acceptable.
Therefore when the perception of ‘usual’ or ‘normal’ behaviour such as an exaggerated view of the normal amount of risk-taking behaviour becomes the prevalent or majority view we become more inclined to adopt that behaviour even when if it is contrary to an actual consumption proven by research – because this is less well known.
Practical application of Social Norms theory provides us with strategies which can actually make a tangible difference to young people’s behaviours. In essence, the more we can promote positive and healthy behaviours the more those behaviours increase within the group. By correcting the misperceptions of norms of behaviours the more likely the actual norms of behaviours will change.
The more we talk about and focus on extreme (negative/risk-taking) behaviour, in education programmes, the more we contribute to the misperception problems. We need to talk regularly and credibly about the fact that the majority exhibit healthy and positive behaviours.
Balanced Drugs Education and Relationships Education programmes will promote healthy norms challenging misperceptions of peers’ risk taking, and taking a preventative approach.
SCARF lessons strongly promote this approach and incorporate statistics to help children understand the true norms.
For more information, watch this film of the internationally renowned Social Norms expert, Professor Wesley Perkins.
* The PSHE Association offers members comprehensive guidance on setting a safe learning environment.