Here at Newcastle, we do a lot to ensure that our students are connected. One way to do that is to support them in building healthy friendships. Earlier in the school-year and this past month I sent out an e-mail to all teachers with some ideas for how to foster friendship in their classroom. The long list will be helpful for parents as well, as outside connections help promote friendship at school:
Teacher/Student Journal – A strategy Kristina Blackburn has been using with success – a notebook or journal you pass back and forth with one or two target students to get to know them better in a written format. This helps them build relationship and feel a sense of belonging and connection at school.
Class Meeting - Dedicate a class meeting to a discussion about “What Friends Do” and “What Friends Don’t Do”, having students provide examples and processing how children might feel when left out of activities. Make clear your expectation that students show concern for their classmates
Class “Rule” - Perhaps make a class “rule” or commitment that no classmate plays/eats alone unless he/she wants to. Talk about how to join play and how to invite others to play.
Process Conflicts/Misunderstandings - Help students process these by asking questions that encourage perspective taking, becoming more aware of their own behaviors and how they affect others. Sometimes they need to learn some calm-down strategies they can use to help with escalation. We have STEP processing sheet examples if you are interested – just email me!
Peer Dynamics - Think about students who might have some things in common with these students and are likely to be kind and accepting. You can arrange seating, groups, partners in class or for projects that require work outside school to foster relationships in different contexts. You can also encourage their parents to cultivate peer relationships outside of school by giving them suggestions for playmates and a fun activity they could do. Have target students make a list of 3 or 4 peers they’d like to get to know better (Sit with at lunch? Sit next to in class? Play with at recess? Play with after school?...different contexts!)
Show their Strengths/Talents - Think about what they are good at and how this can be utilized in the classroom - even better if other students are able to see their strength in action. You might give them a class job, have them work a difficult problem out on the board, or have a class show-and-tell, etc. This can increase self-esteem and self-worth in students who otherwise have a hard time feeling confident at school, and help other students appreciate them in unique ways. Think about school clubs/activities that might help with this as well!
Encourage relationships outside school - Via outside projects, conversations with parents, and suggesting community activities where they can build confidence and relationships. (This could be an addition to your class newsletter to encourage parents!)
Coach Basic Skills - For younger students in particular, basic skills like eye contact, joining activities, and asking others to play may need to be explicitly suggested, with phrases they may use with others. Maybe role play some common social situations or give ideas for topics they can talk about
Praise or notice good social skills - anytime you see them trying!
Lunch Bunches - suggest “lunch bunch” buddies for them. You can have lunch with them or I can while playing a game, doing an art project , or just visiting
Kailey is a Counselor at Newcastle Elementary School