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How to Help Every Student Fit In

Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning
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Here is a brief except from The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide designed to help you remove the barriers that can hinder peer acceptance in a classroom.

Although it is important for teachers to make it easy for their students to work together well, the undertaking requires diplomacy as well as dedicated efforts. Social inclusion is such a vital aspect of any student’s life, however, that the effort often results in beneficial dividends. Begin by identifying some of the barriers that could have a negative effect on your students.

          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 very many opportunities to interact with each 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, however, 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 your students can learn to accept and support each other. Use the tips in the list below 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 conflicts 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 families, cultures, dreams, 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 so that you encourage your students to do the same.

Don’t give in to the temptation of eye rolling or losing your patience when a student blunders in front of classmates. Your actions could set that student up for social exclusion later.

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Julia G. Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She has been a teacher in the public schools of Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina for more than thirty-five years. Thompson has taught a variety of courses, including freshman composition at Virginia Tech, English in all of the secondary grades, mining, geography, reading, home economics, math, civics, Arizona history, physical education, special education, graduation equivalency preparation, and employment skills. Her students have been diverse in ethnicity as well as in age, ranging from seventh graders to adults. Thompson currently teaches in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she is an active speaker and consultant. Author of Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, and The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide Professional Development Training Kit, Thompson also provides advice on a variety of subjects through her Web site, www.juliagthompson.com; on her blog, juliagthompson.blogspot.com; and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TeacherAdvice.

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Guest Friday, 09 December 2016