By Lani Aquino
Pass any group of gathered tweens, teens, twenties, and beyond, and one would be hard-pressed to find the absence of devices. They’re small, portable, entertaining, and they’re also sucking the life out of social interactions. Eye contact is often nothing more than a bit of a side-eyed glance as kids and adults remain fixated on the devices in front of them rather than engaging in the opportunities for social interactions that abound all around them. When these avid plug-ins do find themselves in personal and professional situations where social skills are warranted, they often find themselves at a disadvantage. This is why ensuring that social opportunities are frequent and not so far between in today’s classrooms becomes a must.
Kids have to learn how to disconnect from digital companionship and connect with their peers and adults. While connections outside of school are beyond a teacher’s control, finding ways to foster them during the school day can have a huge impact. The skills students learn in school can play a large role in laying the foundation for their success levels in the future. Those interactions that require students to share, take turns, compromise, use teamwork, and cope with disappointment and failure are all pivotal in shaping socially and emotionally healthy adults. The more opportunities teachers can create for allowing students to engage in the myriad of social and emotional skills needed to succeed in the world, the better.
5 Ways to Easily Integrate Social Skills
Games- Not solo games that occur on devices, but actual 2 or more player, interact with others, in-person games. For students young and old, this is great practice in taking turns, coping with losing, being a good sport, and more. Integrate games with teams and take the social skills to the next level by tossing in collaborating, listening, and compromising among others. Games are a great way to have students explore content and review concepts, but they should also be encouraged during any free-choice time as well.
Model It- Not every student has a picture-perfect home life. In turn, the learned behaviors they’ve gleaned from social interactions and the possibility of positive role models may be lacking. Rather than being known as the teacher that never ventures beyond the classroom walls, be purposeful in interacting with colleagues. There’s no need to skip through the halls and proclaim record streaks on Snapchat, but positive displays of comradery, empathy, and the simple give and takes of friendship can make big impressions on those watching.
Collaborative Activities- The concept of cooperative learning has taken a lot of backlash over the years as group projects often seemed to be the main strategy for implementation. By switching the focus to the idea of collaborative activities which emphasize teamwork, problem solving, group decision making, and the like, students can build social skills rather than build frustrations of a group grade gone awry. Teachers can even put a spotlight on positive methods by using the fishbowl strategy to allow students to see a group in action and glean some collaborative techniques to implement within their own interactions.
Mindfulness- There has been a lot of buzz, with good reason, about the benefits of mindfulness. As students practice mindfulness, they become more cognizant of their emotions and attentions while building self-awareness. Each of these elements can positively affect their social behaviors. Incorporating activities that teach mindfulness can be done in as little as five minutes. The takeaways from doing so will be much more lasting.
Mix Groupings- Teachers can be the worst when it comes to groans and gripes as groups are shuffled, but they can also be the first to attest to the fact that moving out of a colleague comfort zone can shed some light on new ideas and perspectives. The same can be said for the importance of mixing the groupings of students in the classroom. This can be with seating assignments, collaborative activities, teams, etc. It can be easy to get into a routine and a comfort zone working with a set group, but varying those group members makes for more opportunities to work on building a social skill repertoire and coming out of the proverbial shell more often.
Nothing can replace or replicate the social behaviors that are practiced and learned through the real-life experiences and interactions that students encounter. When teachers are purposeful in creating these encounters and helping students build strategies for positively engaging in them, the long-term impacts are invaluable. By finding ways to incorporate social skills into everyday classroom routines and activities, teachers are creating constructive classroom environments where students can strengthen their toolkits for engaging in everyday life.
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