Bounce Back! A positive education approach

Enhancing wellbeing, resilience and social-emotional learning in the primary years

Professors Toni Noble and Helen McGrath explain the features and benefits of effective social and emotional learning programs, and outline the evidence underpinning Bounce Back!

The ultimate goal of educators is to enhance students’ wellbeing and their capacity to succeed at school. At the heart of the NSW Wellbeing Framework for Schools are the goals of helping all students to connect, succeed and thrive. The Framework cites DEEWR’s definition of student wellbeing which was developed by the authors of this article and the Bounce Back! program (ACU & Erebus, 2008).

Student wellbeing is a sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships, and experiences at school. A focus on student wellbeing has led to an increased interest in positive education and social-emotional learning (SEL).

Positive education integrates the science of positive psychology with evidence-based educational practices to enable students to thrive and succeed academically, socially and emotionally (Noble & McGrath, 2015; McGrath & Noble, 2017).

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the collective term for a range of core skills and behaviours that enable students to understand and manage their own emotions, develop and sustain positive relationships with their peers, display empathy, support and kindness towards others, and set and achieve their own positive goals (CASEL, 2018; Durlak et al., 2011).

Benefits of social and emotional learning: connect, succeed, thrive

Reviews of worldwide research consistently indicate that SEL programs have a wide range of positive effects on student behaviour and learning. One significant large scale meta-analysis conducted by CASEL (Durlak et al., 2011) assessed the combined outcomes from 213 different school-based SEL interventions. It identified significant increases in positive social behaviour, a reduction in behaviour problems, and an 11 percentile point gain in academic achievement. The pilot study of the Australian KidsMatter Project also identified significant academic benefits in schools which were assessed as effectively implementing their SEL programs. The average academic performance of students in these ‘high implementing schools’ was superior by up to 6 months on national literacy and numeracy assessments (Dix et al., 2012). Bounce Back! was by far the most popular whole school SEL program, being chosen by 64% of the 101 schools in the KidsMatter pilot program. Bounce Back! is endorsed by KidsMatter.

‘Bounce Back! A positive education approach to wellbeing, resilience and social-emotional learning’ (2018 edition)

The multi-award winning Bounce Back! program was first published in 2003 to support schools and teachers in their efforts to teach skills for wellbeing and resilience, and to create safe and supportive school communities. It is a whole school social and emotional learning (SEL) program that teaches the core skills advocated by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic and Social-Emotional Learning). Additionally, the program includes activities for teaching students evidence-informed coping skills which are based on cognitive behaviour therapy. It was the world’s first positive education curriculum program when it was first published. It is now in its third edition (2018) as a hard-cover book that also provides access to an ebook with comprehensive online resources.

Bounce Back! is a whole school program that provides strategies and materials at three levels: K-Year 2, Years 3-4 and Years 5-6. Each level incorporates the same 10 curriculum units with age appropriate activities and is supported by curriculum correlation charts linked to the National, Victorian and NSW English and HPER curriculum.

Bounce Back! units

Core values

Honesty, fairness, acceptance of differences and

Social values

Inclusion, kindness, cooperation, friendliness, being respectful to others and self-respect

People bouncing back

Skills and attitudes for coping and being resilient


Finding courage in both everyday life and difficult circumstances

Looking on the bright side

Optimistic thinking and positivity skills


Amplifying positive emotions and managing uncomfortable emotions


Social skills for making and keeping friends and managing conflict


Using humour to connect with others, to cope better and to understand differences between helpful and harmful humour

Being safe

Skills for understanding, countering and managing bullying situations; skills for supporting others who are being bullied


Skills that lead to successful goal achievement (goal setting, growth mindset, overcoming obstacles); identifying your own positive character strengths and ability strengths

The video on Resilience: Bounce Back by Bounce Back! (2 min 37 secs) from WhisperCreative describes the core skills taught in the program:

Evidence-based teaching strategies for effectively teaching social and emotional skills

CASEL has used the acronym SAFE to identify the most effective features of a SEL program. These are: Sequenced, Active learning, Focused and Explicit (Durlak et al., 2011).


The most effective SEL programs are those that explicitly teach specific SEL skills (Durlak et al., 2011). This conclusion is consistent with the findings of Hattie (2011) and Marzano (Marzano et al., 2001; Beasley & Apthorp, 2010) that the explicit (direct) instruction of skills and understandings (whether we are talking about literacy, numeracy or SEL skills) has the most significant impact on positive student learning outcomes. The Bounce Back! program guides teachers on how to explicitly teach SEL skills, and then provides strategies and activities that enable students to practise and transfer these skills in classroom and playground activities. Each unit also includes a variety of take home tasks that encourage students to practise the skills outside the school context.


A sequenced program is a critical feature in the effective teaching of SEL skills (Durlak et al., 2011). As a whole school program, Bounce Back! sequences the teaching of SEL skills in 10 curriculum units from Kindergarten to Year 6. Interviews with teachers at schools which had been implementing the program for up to 12 years found that this sequencing of skills was one of the most important factors that contributed to it being teacher friendly and sustainable over time (Noble & McGrath, 2017), as illustrated by the following comments from teachers in the research study:

The organisation of the units is really, really helpful, especially for teachers who have never really taught most of these skills before and its developmental sequence of units (across all 3 teacher resource books) is really helpful.

The best thing is the structure of the program and the lessons that develop competency and social and emotional skills across years.

Active forms of learning

Two recent research studies (Noble & McGrath, 2017; McGrath & Noble, 2011) found that the use of children’s literature was a particular strength of Bounce Back!, helping educators to feel more confident about teaching the skills and understandings that contribute to the development of wellbeing and resilience. This is illustrated by the following comments from teachers:

  • ‘I do think it’s easy to teach. I choose a really enjoyable, fabulous literature piece and I will teach ideas through that.’
  • ‘The children’s picture books are the absolute stand out in the program for me. They are all so relevant and the kids can relate to them so well.’
  • ‘The use of high quality children’s picture books and follow-up literature and language activities is great.’

The program’s recommended books, films and videos enable teachers and students to discuss real life issues (for example, friendships, setbacks) in a safe and comfortable way. After the devastating Victorian bushfires in 2009, the Victorian Department of Education offered Bounce Back! training workshops to schools in the seven regions most affected by the fires. Research indicated that teachers’ use of the program’s recommended books supported their capacity to help students to cope more effectively with the aftermath of the bushfires and in general to behave more confidently, resiliently and pro-socially (McGrath & Noble, 2011).

Bounce Back! also makes the learning of SEL skills active by using graphic organisers as scaffolds for learning. These include the BOUNCE BACK acronym of 10 coping statements, ‘dos and don’ts’ charts for social skills, drama activities such as reader’s theatre and role plays, and highly engaging educational games and quizzes for reinforcing what has been learned. The program also incorporates cooperative learning strategies such as ‘team coaching’ and ‘cooperative heads together’. These offer robust ways to explicitly teach social skills and build positive peer relationships, and to achieve good academic outcomes. Marzano and colleagues reported a composite high effect size of 0.73 on student learning for cooperative learning (Beesley & Apthorp, 2010) and Hattie (Visible Learning Plus, 2017) reported an effect size of.59. Bounce Back! also includes a range of collaborative problem solving (thinking) tools such as the ‘ten thinking tracks’ and ‘cooperative controversy’ which encourage students to think and discuss curriculum issues critically, creatively, empathetically and ethically in small groups. These strategies and tools facilitate student voice and the development of problem solving skills and responsible decision making.


A focused approach requires a clear understanding by the teacher of the personal and social skills they are teaching through their chosen SEL program (Durlak et al., 2011).To assist teachers to clarify specific learning goals, the introduction to each Bounce Back! unit provides a concise list of the key skills and understandings that are encapsulated in the unit’s lesson activities. A section on ‘teacher reflections’ in each unit encourages teachers to reflect on their own teaching practices, as well as the personal practices that contribute to their own wellbeing. For example in the ‘success’ unit, teachers are encouraged to reflect on their use of process praise to encourage a growth mindset in their students (Dweck, 2006) and to identify and engage their own strengths as teachers and in other aspects of their lives.


The Bounce Back! program has been highly effective over many years because it is based on a combination of sound educational and psychological theories and evidence-based teaching strategies. It provides a diverse range of practical strategies and resources for teaching primary school-aged students how to cope with the complexity of their everyday lives and to learn how to ‘bounce back’ when they experience sadness, difficulties, frustrations and challenging times. The use of high quality children’s literature and videos, thinking tools and educational games, as well as relationship-building strategies of cooperative learning and circle time, ensure a highly engaging curriculum that promotes effective academic, social and emotional learning.

References and further reading

Australian Catholic University and Erebus International. (2008). Scoping study into approaches to student wellbeing: Literature review. Report to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Canberra.

Beesley, A. & Apthorp, H. (Eds.). (2010). Classroom instruction that works, second edition: Research report. Denver, USA: McREL International.

CASEL (Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning). (2018).

Dix, K., Slee, P.T., Lawson, M.J. & Keeves, J.P. (2012). Implementation quality of whole-school mental health promotion and students’ academic performance. Child and Adolescence Mental Health, 17(1): 45-51.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D. & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1):405-432.

Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset, the new psychology of success. New York, USA: Random House.

Greenberg, M.T., Domitrovich, C.E., Weissberg, R.P. & Durlak, J.A. (2017). Social and emotional learning as a public health approach to education. The Future of Children, 37(1):13-32.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London, England: Routledge.

Marzano, R.J., Pickering, D.J. & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

McGrath, H. & Noble, T. (2003). Bounce back! A classroom resiliency program. Teacher’s handbook. Sydney: Pearson Education.

McGrath, H. & Noble, T. (2018). Bounce back! A positive education approach to wellbeing, resilience and social-emotional learning. Lower Primary, F-Year 2; Middle Primary, Years 3-4; Upper Primary, Years 5-6 (3rd ed.). Melbourne: Pearson Education.

McGrath, H. & Noble, T. (2011). Report on the evaluation of the impact of training teachers in bushfire-affected schools to use the Bounce Back! program. Victorian Department of Education and Early childhood.

Noble, T. & McGrath, H. (2015). The PROSPER school pathways for student wellbeing: Policy and practices. Netherlands: SpringerBriefs in Well-Being & Quality of Life Research.

Noble, T. & McGrath, H. (2017). Making it real and making it last! Sustainability of teacher implementation of a whole school resilience program. In Wosnitza, M., Peixoto, F., Beltman, S. & Mansfield, C.F. (Eds.), Resilience in education: Concepts, contexts and connections. New York, USA: Springer.

Noble, T. & McGrath, H. (2018). Bounce Back!

NSW Department of Education. (2015). The Wellbeing Framework for Schools. Sydney: NSW Department of Education.

Pearson. (2018). Bounce Back!.

Visible Learning Plus. (2017). 205+ influences on student achievement.

How to cite this article – Noble, T. & McGrath, H. (2018). Bounce Back! A positive education approach to enhancing wellbeing, resilience and social-emotional learning in the primary years. Scan, 37(3).

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