Author: Melissa Bryson
What do social work and education have in common, other than social workers being present in schools? Well, they are more similar than you might think. When you look at a classroom of students what you are really looking at is a group, bonded by similarities (often age or grade and topic of discussion) that will be influenced by the same group dynamics as a therapy group. Students process information and learn to trust and share with classmates just like a group of strangers coming together for therapy. Therapists have already taken aspects of education and brought them into therapy using a psycho-educational approach. Likewise, educators can utilize aspects of therapy in the classroom setting. This approach can be useful in a classroom in order for students to learn content as well as process how that content relates to students’ individual lives.
First, educators should have a basic understanding of how psycho-education works and how we are already unknowingly using the approach. When used in therapy, psycho-education focuses on creating goals, skill building, and gaining a better understanding of a topic related to treatment, for example, healthy coping skills for anxiety disorders (May, Powell, Gazda, & Hauser, 1985). As sexuality educators we encourage our students to identify their morals and values to make decisions about sex, build skills to prevent unsafe or unwanted sex, as well as discuss general knowledge about sexuality, sexual health, relationships, and communication. The basic components of psycho-education are built into the framework of a good sexuality education curriculum, but there are more ways to use this approach to the benefit of a sex education classroom.We have all had, or heard about educators who have had, that one student or group of students who have trouble taking class seriously or who actively tries to derail the class by acting out. The way that we as educators deal with this disruption affects the ability of the group as a whole to learn and take away useful information from the class. Managing class room disruptions can be just as important as the curriculum we teach because if we let the disruptions take over the class then getting the material across becomes a moot point. Being aware of group dynamics can help educators prepare for disruptions and manage them when they arise. Currently educators are using psycho-educational theory to combat disruptive behavior and still foster a learning environment for students with behavioral disorders (Goldstein, Sprafkin, Gershaw, & Klein, 1983).
- Use structured learning. Include in your curriculums activities such as modeling, role playing, and performance feedback. Our students need structure and confidence building responses in order to guide their active learning process.
- Encourage problem solving life skills. When we relate our lessons to students’ lives they are more likely to participate and apply the concepts not only in class activities but also in real life.
- Create classroom guidelines. Use your guidelines throughout the duration of the class, not just for the first day! Classroom disruptions often break agreed upon class guidelines and therefore students can be held accountable by the same parameters they played a part in designing.
- Help students identify emotions and how emotions affect decision making. Often times we instruct students to discuss what they would do in a situation, ex. negotiating sexual intimacy in a relationship, asking someone on a date, etc. However asking students to also identify their own emotions and be aware of the emotions of others can result in more successful decision making.
- Normalize any and all reactions of students. Every person has different coping skills for stressful situations or situations they do not understand. Be sure to validate the experience of your disruptive students, and encourage them to participate in respectful ways instead of removing them from the classroom.
Now go forth my educators! Use the psycho-educational approach to benefit your curricula and encourage your students to gain knowledge and understanding of sexuality education.
May, H., Powell, M., Gazda, G, Hauser, G. (1985) Life skill training: psychoeducational traning as mental health treatment. Journal of Clinical Psychology,41 (3), 359-367.
Goldstein, A., Sprafkin, R., Gershaw, J., Klein, P. (1983) Structured learning: A psychoeducational approach for teaching social competencies. Behavioral Disorders, 8 (3), 161-170.