Here are guidelines for teachers who are serious about preventing social exclusion at their school.
Social exclusion can leave wounds that never heal, and teachers can be instrumental in minimizing its occurrence.
Social exclusion is when a child is excluded or ostracized for no good reason, or, if you need a reason, how about for not wearing cool clothes, for having an outstanding physical feature, for being too smart, too quiet or for not thinking “like everyone else”?
“Some social exclusion is inevitable, and children must learn ways to cope with disappointment and hurt feelings,” says Jamie M. Howard, PhD, clinical psychologist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents.
Examples of Social Exclusion
• Having nobody to eat lunch with (the student has even tried to join groups at tables, but is told they’re not welcome, or, when they sit next to a few kids, the kids vacate)
• Nobody in the class wants the student in their group when the teacher tells the kids to get into groups to work on the new assignment
• Nobody wants to sit next to the student on the bus for a field trip.
Dr. Howard explains that “the school and classroom culture can do a lot to shape kids’ ideas about appropriate ways to treat one another.
“A culture of respect for individual differences and treating one another with kindness can reduce negative feelings, even if some social exclusion still exists.”
Teachers should rethink their insistence that kids get into groups if the same student is always left out, sitting alone.
Schools can also arrange a place for such students to eat lunch where they don’t feel pressure to join someone or where eating alone isn’t so awkward, such as an offset location in the school’s library.
The most striking ways social exclusion can present itself is, indeed, when kids are asked to form groups, and during lunch time.
Teachers must ask themselves if there exists research showing that NOT having kids form groups stunts academic development.
Certainly, homeschooled kids are not exposed to the group setting, yet many homeschooled kids are several grades ahead of their traditionally schooled peers in math, science and English skills.
My niece is homeschooled — just she and the teacher, her mother — yet at the age of 7, was reading at tenth grade level (I witnessed this), and is quite well-adjusted and well-behaved in public and at home.
Though I’m not saying that one example speaks for all, it’s a fact that many homeschooled kids, who never work in groups, have excelled academically and socially.
A child/teen who’s subjected to ongoing social exclusion at a traditional school setting will not develop any admirable or advantageous psychological traits as a result.
That same child would logically turn out much more internally stable if homeschooled in a non-judgemental environment free of being rejected.
Social exclusion is a form of bullying.
Dr. Howard explains that there are three ways to help prevent bullying: 1) mindfulness, 2) understanding peers’ behaviors without necessarily agreeing, and 3) empathy; putting oneself in another’s shoes to understand their emotional experience.
“Group activities and projects are a good context in which to practice these skills,” says Dr. Howard. Teachers can form the groups rather than leaving this up to the students.
Nobody will lose sleep if they don’t get to be in a group with their best friends, but being rejected can be a source of substantial stress, and the anticipation of this could literally make a student sick to their stomach.
One way teachers can prevent social isolation or rejection is to assign groups based on having the students name out a number beginning with #1.
The teacher can then have all the ones, fours, sevens and tens form one group, and then all the twos, fives, eights, and elevens form the next, and so on.
There are many objective ways groups can be formed by teachers.
Dr. Howard heads the Child Mind Institute’s Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center trauma response group. She specializes in the evaluation and treatment of anxiety and mood disorders in children and adolescents.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.