How do children learn to build quality relationships?

Connection is at the heart of successful learning and behaviour change. Denise talks to Dr Sue Roffey about why learning social and emotional skills in schools matter.



Dr Sue Roffey is a psychologist, academic, author, activist and speaker. As the developer of Circle Solutions, the Wellbeing Australia network and the Aboriginal Girls Circle, Sue has a long history of working in education around social and emotional learning. Sue is currently focused on her work with the Growing Great Schools Worldwide organisation as well as writing. Sue also continues to work at universities in the UK and Australia and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools.


The lowdown

Quality relationships influence wellbeing. While this is universal, it is particularly true for young people struggling with adversity.  Healthy, high quality relationships build resilience and make for a more enjoyable and positive life.

In schools, prioritising wellbeing and valuing positive relationships results in more engaged, more resilient and higher achieving students. Teachers at these schools report high levels of happiness and better teacher retention.

Schools with challenging students need to create a positive, nurturing and flexible school environment to foster strong relationships and community wellbeing. The teacher-student relationship has one of the bigger affect sizes on student achievement. The skills needed to build positive relationships can be taught to teachers and students.

Sue Roffey’s ASPIRE principles establish a positive social environment which allows learning to take place. The ASPIRE principles interact to create healthy, positive relationships in the classroom and beyond.

ASPIRE stands for:

  • Agency –mutual decision making and control
  • Safety – both psychological and physical, allowing mistake
  • Positivity – a solution focused approach, the use of strengths-based language, shared laughter and play
  • Inclusion – a sense of belonging where each student is valued and welcomed
  • Respect – for both individuals and cultures through listening
  • Equity – treating students according to their needs

Sue Roffey’s books offer practical daily tips for long term change in classroom culture and to improve student behaviour and wellbeing. Basic strategies based on sound psychological research is an important way for teachers to improve their own practice and student outcomes.


Additional resources

Check out the Growing Great Schools projects:

Grab a copy of Sue’s latest or best-selling books:

Read about Sue’s academic research:

Watch Sue’s presentation at the Mind & Its Potential conference:

Find out more about the Australian Aboriginal Girls Circle: