Middle school students are nothing but difficult–kind and compassionate for one moment. They can speak in the classroom, but can not figure out how conversations with children in the lunchroom can be started. Since kindergarten most have been taught about inclusion but remain uncomfortable in new people and situations.
Part of helping middle school students navigate the maze of secondary schools effectively is the teaching of social acceptance; social and emotional learning that includes empathy, insight, the understanding of diversity and respect for others.
The conversation is significant.
As a result of technology, the world has changed so much. Students are exposed to so much more knowledge and it’s easy to assume that they’re smart. It’s no wonder teachers are concerned that children won’t listen to social acceptance teachings.
But the fact is, children are listening. And talks with trusted adults are important to help them form their beliefs. Here are four guidelines for tackling the four aspects of social awareness:
#1. Check out the literature to build empathy
Develop literacy and social-emotional skills as relevant texts are discussed. The process of immersing yourself in a story encourages children to step into the shoes of another person and is the best way to teach empathy.
For example, we are rooting for Parvana in Deborah Ellis ‘ The Breadwinner series as we learn how to live in an oppressive society. Books such as Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind, Lily and Duncan’s by Donna Gephart and Jaqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming all bring up a better understanding of human experience.
And don’t forget that literature is not just for ELA. Pair literature with global social studies activities or make an informative book report on an issue of social justice.
#2. Practice perspective-taking
Perspectives refer to the willingness of a person to take a scene or circumstance from a different perspective. It helps you to put yourself in the position of the other person and imagine what you might do, think or do if you were.
One very easy way to start teaching perspective is to have children put themselves in another position. Ask two students to sit face to face and turn to explain three to five things that you see right behind the other student.
What attracts the interest of every student may rely on his or her own specific experience and perspective. One student might see a drawing and a stack of books on the whiteboard, for example, while another student might see a set of computers and a bucket of balls.
First, get the students up and change seats. When they change places, students can see the scene from the point of view of the other student. You may be surprised to find that you may not have seen the items that attracted the attention of the other person.
#3. Develop a culture which celebrates difference
The majority of middle school children feel enormous pressure to conform, and the last thing they want is the difference. Nevertheless, we all know that our differences bring many gifts.
Create a culture in your school that pays attention to how different and how different people are at your school. After all, groups of people from various cultural backgrounds, races, genders, and capacities create rich and interesting discussions and relationships.
Read books on people of different backgrounds, listen to various voices on podcasts, watch films with less common perspectives.
#4. Create appreciation by returning
Respect is established when we really connect with others. And there is no better way to connect than to help others. Encourage your students to return. Brainstorm students about things that are important to them to get going.
Then group and challenge students with similar passions to plan and implement a voluntary project that deals with this issue.
They not only have a positive impact on our community, but they also teach important social and emotional skills such as compassion, social acceptance, and leadership.
Social acceptance of children does not exist in only one or two classes. It’s a skill that develops over time. To take root we, as educators, have to ensure that our curriculum and the everyday experiences of our students are focused on everyone’s approval, as they are.
Continue the conversation through empathy, different viewpoints, disparity celebration and respect building.