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Children’s School Lives Study: Report 7

Children’s School Lives Study: Report 7

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Teaching for student learning

Teaching and learning in SPHE provides a unique space where students can develop the knowledge, understanding, skills, dispositions and values they need to maintain healthy lives, make healthy choices and build respectful and caring relationships now and for the future.

At the heart of all teaching and learning is the relationship. Building supportive, caring and respectful classroom relationships which allow students to safely engage in dialogue and reflection and grow in awareness of themselves and others, is an essential foundation for effective SPHE. This requires the teacher stepping out of the role of expert and assuming the role of facilitator; acknowledging that many of the topics addressed in SPHE may be sensitive and complex and may not have easy answers. It also requires adopting an open, non- judgmental disposition and at the same time being able to skilfully question and probe assumptions, behaviours and viewpoints, within youth culture or society at large.

Teaching and learning in SPHE is grounded in values of respect, equality, dignity, inclusivity, responsibility, compassion and empathy.

Overarching features of effective teaching and learning in SPHE

When planning SPHE lessons, it is important to design learning that fosters awareness, dialogue, reflection and action.


Awareness is the ability to recognise and understand one’s own thoughts, emotions, values and behaviour. It includes understanding how different factors influence our sense of self and how we live our lives, including the influence of family, peers, the internet, gender, culture and social/cultural norms. This also includes an awareness that to be human is to be in relationships and that we all share a common humanity, dignity, rights and responsibilities.


Through dialogical teaching and learning students are facilitated to engage with a diversity of viewpoints; discuss and reflect on their own perspectives, values, and behaviours and those of others; enlarge their understanding of topics of relevance to their lives; and come to informed, thoughtful decisions based on their personal values, with due regard to their own rights and responsibilities and the rights and responsibilities of others. Respectful dialogue is aided by presuming a diversity of backgrounds, identities, cultures and experiences in every classroom and seeing this as a resource for learning.

Reflection[1] and action

This is about students reflecting on what they have learned and coming to their own personal insights and conclusions in response to their learning. It enables students to consider how the learning can inform their choices, behaviour and relationships, and discerning what it means for their lives now or for the future. Learning in SPHE is a ‘praxis’; an ongoing process of critical reflection and action, nurtured by dialogue with others.

Further characteristics of effective teaching and learning in SPHE

Effective SPHE teaching and learning in senior cycle:

  • involves regular consultation with students to ascertain their needs, questions and concerns and uses this information to plan teaching and learning aligned with the learning outcomes.
  • uses cooperative and experiential learning methodologies.
  • provides accurate and age-appropriate information.
  • is relevant to the real-world experiences of students.
  • builds personal, social and emotional skills and provides opportunities to practice these skills.
  • fosters students’ self-efficacy by affirming their capacity to think critically and act responsibly for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.
  • provides opportunities to discuss values, attitudes and beliefs that support healthy behaviours, at a personal and societal level.
  • Models respect for and affirms the value of a diversity of viewpoints, based on principles of human rights and human dignity, without wishing to impose a particular point of view.
  • affirms diversity as an aspect of human life, enabling all students to feel valued and included in the teaching and learning in their classrooms. This involves using inclusive and affirming language.
  • critiques social pressures and influences and creates awareness of how social, economic, environmental and cultural factors can influence decisions and behaviours related to health, wellbeing and relationships
  • uses a variety of methods to assess what students are learning and uses this information to provide feedback and plan the next steps in learning.


For guidance on teaching SPHE and suitable methodologies and resources see: SPHE Toolkit


[1]   Reflection is “the ability to take a critical stance before deciding, choosing and acting, such as, by stepping back from the assumed, known, apparent, and accepted, comparing a given situation from other, different perspectives, and looking beyond the immediate situation to the long-term and indirect effects of one’s decisions and actions. This enables individuals to reach a level of maturity that allows them to adopt different perspectives, make independent judgments and take responsibility for their decisions and actions.” OECD, 2020, Technical Report: Curriculum Analysis of the OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030.

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