It is necessary for teachers to make it possible for students to work well together—an undertaking requiring diplomacy as well as consistent effort on your part. Social inclusion is such a vital aspect of any student’s life that the effort can often result in beneficial dividends for everyone in the classroom.
One of the most important ways to make sure all students feel that they are valued members of a class is to work to remove the barriers to social acceptance that may exist among them. For example, 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 may occur because 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. Helping everyone learn how to interact in an acceptable, courteous manner will take time and consistent effort on your part.
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 and that you are providing that opportunity.
· Show your students the correct ways to interact with each other. Teach courtesy. It will not take long before students become aware of the expectations that you have for acceptable behavior. 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. It may take a while until you get to know your students well enough to be aware of the social differences that exist among them, but vigilance on your part will make it easier to help students learn to work together well.
· 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 instruction and don’t have time to discover their classmates’ negative character traits.
· Promote tolerance and acceptance with a display of posters, bulletin board displays, and encouraging mottoes.
· Encourage students to share experiences and personal information about their family, culture, and goals while working with each other.
· 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 frequently, 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.