It is important for teachers to make it easy for their students to work well together—an undertaking requiring diplomacy as well as dedicated effort. Social inclusion is such a vital aspect of any student’s life that the effort often results in beneficial dividends. What are some of the most common barriers to social acceptance in school? Many students could feel excluded because they do not know their classmates. It is a mistake to assume that students know each other well. Even students who have attended school together for several years may not know much about their classmates.
Another barrier is that your students may live in different neighborhoods. If you teach in a school where students may live at a distance or come from very diverse neighborhoods, it is likely that they have not had many opportunities to interact with each other outside of school.
In addition, students who have not been taught how to behave courteously or who have not learned socially acceptable ways to resolve conflict often struggle to form appropriate relationships with their peers.
Perhaps the greatest barrier that you will have to help your students overcome is the perception that they may not have much in common with a classmate whom they do not know well. With effort and persistence, you can assist students in learning to recognize their commonalities so that they can learn to accept and support each other. Use the tips in the list that follows to guide you as you work to help students remove the barriers to peer acceptance.
Make sure that each student’s strengths are well known to the rest of the class.
If a student has an unpleasant history of failure or misbehavior, make it clear that it is time for a fresh start.
Show your students the correct ways to interact with each other. They need plenty of models and monitoring until they have learned to cooperate productively.
Let each student shine. Every student should believe that he or she is really your favorite.
Be sensitive to the differences that divide your students and to the potential for conflict that those differences can cause.
Make it a point to recognize students who work well with others. Whenever possible, praise the entire class for its cooperative attitude.
Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other. These do not have to take up a great deal of time, but can be done in brief activities scattered throughout the year.
Plan enough work for your students to do so that they are focused on school and don’t have time to discover their classmates’ negative character traits.
Promote tolerance and acceptance with a display of posters and encouraging mottoes.
Encourage students to share experiences and personal information about their family, culture, and goals while working together.
Make it very easy for students to understand class routines and procedures and to follow directions well. Students who know what to do are less likely to make embarrassing mistakes for which they can be teased or excluded later.
Be careful that you model appropriate behavior, thereby encouraging your students to do the same. Don’t give in to the temptation of rolling your eyes or losing your patience when a student blunders in front of classmates. Your actions could set that student up for social exclusion later.