Sometimes its easy to identify who is being bullied or rejected in your classroom. Sometimes it happens so subtly, that even the most perceptive teacher misses it.
Rejection is a part of life. We hear this often. Kids can be mean. The real world is full of rejection. They need to develop a tough skin.
Sure, these things may be true of the world. But do they have to be true of our classrooms?
My heart is broken when I see the news of another school shooting. Everyone says why does this keep happening? What can we do to fix it?
The sad truth is, we may never be able to completely stop this from happening in our world. It may be our new normal. But, what if there is something we can do to make our classrooms better? To help that child who is feeling rejected feel a little more included?
Identify The Outcast
I read an amazing article on Reader’s Digest about how a teacher identified who was lonely and who was being rejected in her classroom. Every Friday she asked her students to privately write down four people they’d like to sit by the following week. Once the students left, she studied the papers and looked for patterns. You can read the article to see what questions she asked herself when she looked at the names. She was able to use these papers to identify the outcasts in her classroom. To stop the bullies and help the bullied. You see, a lot of these things happen subtly, quietly. Some students keep their hurt feelings to themselves. Some are not so public with their bullying. As a teacher, sometimes you have to be creative to identify the outcasts in your classroom. (If you want to give this a try, check out this freebie in my store to go along with this Friday routine.)
But what do we do once we know this?
There’s really no perfect answer. It depends on your students and the dynamics of your classroom. But I have a few ideas.
Find Things in Common
At the beginning of the year we do a lot of activities to help students get to know each other and to build a classroom community. Students may learn who else has a dog, who else watches a certain tv show, who is new to the school, who has visited another state, who loves the ocean, etc… But once the school year really gets moving, these things tend to fall by the wayside and students tend to develop cliques. We get busy with the curriculum; after all, we have a lot to cover.
But what if we spent a little more time talking with our students every week? Pointing out things we have in common. Maybe the student they are picking on is not as different as they thought. Maybe they both play soccer after school. Once you identify who is being outcasted in your classroom, you can try to help your students see things they have in common with that child.
Let me start by saying, this may not work for every child in the same manner. Some children are terribly shy and the thought of being singled out in front of the class is terrifying. But there is more than one way to publicly praise a child.
First of all, you can praise the child in front of the whole class. “Wow, Jenny! You were so helpful this afternoon. Thank you so much for helping me put those things away.” The class takes notice of the child, and hopefully compliments them too.
Of course, this technique may not work for your classroom. Another technique I have tried is to praise the child to a peer. When working in small groups I may see a student who is struggling with adding two digit numbers. I can offer them help of course, but sometimes a peer can explain things better. Perhaps the peer they have been isolating. “Hey, why don’t you ask Jenny to show you this really neat way she solved this problem earlier? I think she might be able to explain it to you better than I can.”
Another way you can praise a child to a peer is to speak highly of them to their peers. “Did you all know that Jenny went roller skating this weekend with her Dad? You have to ask her to tell you about it. It sounded like a lot of fun.” “Did you see Jenny’s new shoes? Those are so cool!”
Change the Dynamics: Break Up the Cliques
Sometimes proximity is important. When you identify a clique in your classroom, it may be time to break it up. New seating arrangements can help. As a teacher, I constantly try to think of the best placement for students in the classroom.
A teacher’s time is so precious. Very limited. I understand that. But maybe there are some ways we can give students who need it just a little more of our time. What if we had a special lunch, just the outcasted child and two or three peers. What if we let them do something really fun during that time, that they will then have in common? Ex: During lunch, I let Jenny and two others come to my classroom to eat. I talked to them about what I was doing over the weekend and they shared their plans. My husband called me and I let him say hello to them. When they finished, I let them play with the projector and they pretended to play school. When we went to recess later, the girls included Jenny and talked to some other classmates about what they got to do. So teacher, ask yourself, what could you do to make some students in your class have special time together?
There is no one solution for stopping bullying or keeping any one student from being left out. But maybe if we come together and share our ideas, we can help make our classrooms a kinder place.
I would love to hear some of your ideas for helping the outcasted student in your classroom. Feel free to leave your ideas for other teachers to read in the comment section below.