I’ve heard it said that students need to Maslow before they can Bloom.
By this, we mean that students need their most fundamental emotional and physical needs met before they can be challenged to effectively think and learn.
One way I have seen this play out in a school context is when a child tries to avoid school because they don’t feel like they have friends.
They use every excuse in the book to stay home- faking sickness, inventing stories of bullying, claiming that class is “too hard” or “boring” or “unfair”- but really, they simply don’t feel like school is a place where they belong.
The book “Together” by Vivek H Murthy spells out three types of connection that every human being needs in order to feel happy and to thrive.
The first is emotional and refers to close family and loved ones that you can trust completely and be affectionate with.
The second is social and refers to close friends who you can consistently rely on.
The third is collective and can be gleaned from a workplace, a community group, a sporting team or an educational institution.
My post https://ateacherislikeacandle.wordpress.com/2020/09/06/loneliness-kills-the-power-of-just-one-good-friend/suggests way that social connection can be supported.
Building collective connections can be a bit more tricky.
The first step is for parents to reassure children that they are not alone. And by this I don’t mean that they are physically surrounded by people but rather, that everyone feels lonely at different times in their lives and that this is completely normal and okay. Read books to them that explore the concepts of loneliness and connection. https://childrenslibrarylady.com/loneliness-picture-book-list/
The next step is to encourage kids to focus on themselves. This may sound contradictory and as though I’m condoning isolation, but in fact it’s a vital step towards fostering genuine friendships.
If young people try new things and work on actively seeking out their true passions and talents, this will place them on a path that leads straight to other boys and girls of like mind. Kids who are good at swimming can join a swimming club and those who discover a passion for chess can connect with other chess players online. Hobbies become avenues for networking.
Teachers play a crucial role in what comes next. Although the structure of schooling promotes independence and competition, educators must make time to facilitate collaboration and co-operation.
This may take the fork of more group work tasks, more regular partner discussions throughout the day, or perhaps a scheduled time each week for team games… anything that focuses on social connection within the class is key. Even just referring to the class as a whole (ie “good morning 4S”) rather than individuals (ie “good morning boys and girls”) can set a tone of together and belonging.
Give students a voice. Allow them some choice and control regarding classroom decisions. Start the day with a community circle and have weekly clad meetings or circles of inquiry.
Set class goals as well as individual ones, and give shout-outs and compliments in recognition of student and class achievements.
Finally, let’s get young ones to be bucket-fillers. Getting them focused on showing kindness to their peers means that they will have to fight their natural instinct to pull away and to cut themselves off from others, which is a natural response to feelings of loneliness.
Random acts of kindness towards others, even as small as a smile, attracts the same in return, laying a solid foundation on which relationships will blossom.
Plus it makes the world a better place.
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