No man, woman, or child is an island. Each of us ends up interacting with others in the world, one way or another. An important role we can play as educators is one that steers students toward learning the skills that will allow them to develop strong relationships with peers and family, and in the community. These skills include listening carefully to others, considering what others want, and planning to communicate with them in a way that is intended to meet that need, as appropriate.
In developing these skills, students learn to recognize social cues through enhancing their social intelligence (the capacity to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments) and becoming more aware of the thoughts and feelings of others. This awareness helps put others at ease as they are more likely to feel understood. Attending to social cues can, in turn, lead to greater empathy for others. These are crucial skills for an individual, but perhaps more importantly, for the classroom and the community at large. It is only through empathy, acceptance of differences, and compassion for others that a strong community can be built.
Try out any – or all – of the following activities to promote social awareness in your classroom:
- Encourage your students to talk about friendship and the strengths they value in a friend. This heightened awareness will help students make good decisions about friendships, while also building an appreciation of differences.
- Have your students listen carefully to one another by practicing “active listening.” This is the practice of hearing and responding not only to the content of what a person is saying, but also to the meaning behind the message. This skill can help reduce conflict in the classroom as there are fewer misunderstandings.
- Have students try active listening while sitting back-to-back with a classmate: is it easier or harder to capture the meaning of the message if you can’t see body language?
- Ask students to share how they know someone is upset with them – even if that person doesn’t say a word. What cues do they pick up that leads them to this knowledge?
These strategies will go a long way in building a strong community in your classroom and offering your students the skills they need to compassionately navigate the ups and downs of relationships outside the classroom.