Practical strategies for positive change
• Pay attention to peer-to-peer interactions. Increase awareness, advocacy, and a willingness to take immediate, positive action (regarding how kids treat one another).
• Advocate for the underdog. Encourage kids to connect with children who seem isolated. Emphasize the value of inclusion.
• Interrupt any instances of meanness, name calling, teasing, deliberate exclusion, or physical or emotional violence. Simply (and calmly) noting that “we don’t do that here” or “we don’t use that word in this class” gives the message of inappropriateness without attacking the student.
• Use conflicts as opportunities to teach, build interactive skills, and positive attitudes and beliefs about others (rather than simply punishing violators).
• Build problem solving skills. (Ask questions instead of giving advice. Guide students to formulating their own solutions to problems and help them anticipate probable outcomes and alternatives.)
• Build social skills or friendship skills as needed. Many children don’t come equipped with the skills necessary to bond and interact positively with one another.
• Build emotional intelligence, resilience, and self-control.
• Teach conflict resolution strategies that are based on win-win principles. Help children consider the question, “How can we both (or all) get what we want” to seek solutions that honor the needs of everyone involved.
• Model tolerance and respect (avoid double standards).
• Work to deglamorize and eliminate elitist status of certain students over others. (Value all students, holding a wider range of possible contributions in high regard.)
• Provide opportunities for service for all students. Often the weakest students (behaviorally and academically) perform extremely well in this role and likewise show the greatest growth from participation in peer-helping programs.
Remember, we don’t teach tolerance by punishing intolerance.
Excerpted and adapted from The Win-Win Classroom, by Dr. Jane Bluestein © 2008, Corwin Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Update, April 2022: When I started teaching (early 1970s), there was a popular assessment tool we called a “sociogram.” We’d ask the kids in our class (or one of our classes) to name three students they’d like to work with or sit with for a particular activity, like a field trip.
Graphing the responses by drawing arrows to and from the students in the class, each of whom were represented by circles or boxes with their names, would reveal the social network and help identify patterns of reciprocity, status, alliances, prejudices, and isolation.
I was delighted to come across a recent social media post that suggested that this practice was coming back into fashion, helping teachers identify kids who may be off the social-dynamics radar and who may need help developing friendship or leadership skills.
Of course, we observe many of these patterns, but having a graphic representation—even though these dynamics can change from day to day—can help validate our observations, and often will bring attention to some of the more “invisible” kids in our classes.
I included this topic in my very first book, Being a Successful Teacher. A revised excerpt from that chapter notes:
Regardless of how task-oriented you or your management may be, social factors impact your classroom climate. While many of these issues remain outside of your control, the more information you have about the social dynamic of your class, the more able you are to use that information in your teaching.
Sociograms visually represent relationships among members of a group…, in this case interaction preferences within a given classroom. When completed, the sociogram generally reflects patterns in the dynamic of the group and may be helpful in providing information about the social desirability of the individuals in that group. This data-collection process has been included on the assumption that social skills are important components of the “whole child” and that the teacher can play an important role in the child’s social development.
Social skills are among the interdependent variables that make up a student’s self-concept, which is related to a student’s performance in school…* Depending upon the structure and instructional management, social status and desirability can have a tremendous influence on the success a student may experience in a particular learning situation.
While sociograms may be valuable for identifying social leaders and groups, they are probably best suited for identifying socially isolated children. These students often “have limited opportunities for ‘social learning’ and are more likely to have problems in their school careers and later in life.” * With this information, you may be able to accommodate the need for social development in your students.
Particularly with “behavior cases” and social isolates, “the negative characteristics related to the problem, in this instance, low peer acceptance, poor social skills, and lack of self-esteem, can be fairly enduring without intervention.” *
Providing high-success interactive activities can build a student’s self-concept. Putting a student in a helping role, as a peer tutor or committee chairperson, for example, is likely to reinforce a student’s belief in his own social competence.
Finally, this instrument can provide information that will can help you in grouping students. Heterogenous groups require distributing students according to, among other variables, leadership capabilities and social desirability. Pairing students who might not have chosen to work together can further broaden the experiences and learning for all involved.
* From Developing Responsible Learning Behaviors Through Peer Interactions, doctoral dissertation by Jane Bluestein, University of Pittsburgh, 1980, pages 18-19.
© 1980, 1987, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein
Stressful or Painful School Experiences that can affect learning and behavior in negative ways
Rules and Boundaries
Guidelines for Reinforcing Positive Student Behavior
Dealing Successfully with your Students’ Parents
Getting Away with Success
Handling Negative Student Behavior
Industrial Age vs. Information Age Classrooms
Guidelines for Offering Choices
Behavior Management: Intervention Strategies
Win-Win Ideas for Administrators
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