Volume:9, Issue: 2

Sep. 30, 2017

Promoting Social Acceptance and Social Skills in The Classroom
Marvin, Erin N. [about]

KEYWORDS: Education for all Handicapped Children Act (EHA), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Individualized Education Plan (IEP), social acceptance, social skills, special education

ABSTRACT: Social Acceptance and Social Skills are an integral part of modern public education in the public education system. Students with physical and mental disabilities along with general education students benefit from the promotion of social acceptance and social skills in the classroom. Students with physical and mental disabilities struggle to find their way in the general education classroom and need their teacher to model what it looks like and sounds like to promote social acceptance and social skills in the classroom. When teachers and students work together to promote social acceptance and social skills all students benefit. A teacher who is willing to look at a child as an individual, provides the child an environment to learn how to engage with others and how to treat each other with kindness, love, and respect. 


Promoting social acceptance in the classroom has been brought to the forefront of education recently. Educators, parents, and communities are recognizing the need to broaden the education agenda to not only improve academic performance but also to enhances students’ social-emotional competence, character, health and civic engagement (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). Many famous European educators from the past such as Johann Pestalozzi, Rudolf Steiner, Janusz Korczak and others were the forbearers of social learning and promoting social acceptance. The need to provide these skills is critical to promoting social acceptance in our communities and our society. Students with disabilities will need special attention in this particular area.  Social-emotional competence and social skill development will promote social acceptance for not only students with disabilities but also all students in the classroom.

Education for All Handicapped Children Act, 1975

The United States has come a long way in Special Education, but we still have a long way to go. Beginning in the 1970s great strides began to enhance education for children with disabilities. In 1975, Congress passed the Education for all Handicapped Children Act (EHA). “Disabled students were to receive free public education appropriate to their needs and that they should be “mainstreamed” into regular classrooms whenever appropriate” (Yarrow, p. 20, 2009). It is important to note that this law states “appropriate to their needs” or individualized. Another important piece to the law is that students are to be “mainstreamed” into regular classrooms whenever appropriate. The question is, who deems the student’s ability to be mainstreamed? Is it the teacher? The parents? The administration? The United States needs to find a fluid process for students with physical and mental disabilities. In 1997, our nation decided to take a step in the right direction.

In 1997, the EHA became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At that time IDEA required that IEP’s be developed to “ensure that any child with a disability would get a “free appropriate public education” (Yarrow, p.20, 2009). It is imperative that children with disabilities are given an IEP. The IEP is an official document binding the school to provide the best education to the student. Teachers, administration, parents, psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and counselors are all part of the IEP team assuring that the student receives the best opportunity for success.

As a parent of a special education student, it is extremely frustrating to have inconsistencies in schools across the United States. We are a military family who moves a lot. My son attended a school in Kansas, kindergarten to second grade. In third grade we were in Tennessee, and we now are currently in the state of Washington. We left Kansas on a high. Our son had an amazing teacher and paraprofessional who were willing to take the time and effort to achieve growth in our son. As we left Kansas I had a pit in my stomach because I was so afraid our son would never have such wonderful people caring for him at school again. I was wrong. My son had an amazing support system in Tennessee, and we left Tennessee knowing he had made huge growth and that for the first time he would be starting a grade near “on grade level”. This time I wasn’t nervous and I didn’t have the pit in my stomach because I knew he had done so well.

Unfortunately, when we moved to Washington all of his growth and his confidence were shattered. He had a teacher who was unwilling to provide him the support he needed. Johann Pestalozzi states it best, “I would take school instruction out of the hands of the old order of decrepit, stammering, journeymen-teachers as well as from the new weak ones, who are generally no better for popular instruction, and entrust it to the undivided powers of Nature herself, to the light that God kindles and ever keeps alive in the hearts of fathers and mothers, to the interest of parents who desire that their children should grow up in favor with God and man.” (Pestalozzi, n.d.). It was devastating to have the year we had with our son in 4th grade. Not only did we have a teacher unwilling to provide a nurturing environment for our son and provide him with confidence and individualized education, we had a teacher unwilling to teach our child how to be amongst his peers. Even more importantly she did not teach the other students how to be accepting and encouraging to students who are struggling.

Over the last three years of my son’s education I have fought for his right to be in a general education classroom. My son has Auditory Processing Disorder. Auditory Processing Disorder is a condition that makes it very difficult for children to recognize subtle differences between sounds in words. Not only is it difficult to recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, it also affects their ability to process what other people are saying (The Understood Team, 2014-2017).  Every Tuesday we drive thirty minutes to speech and occupational therapy to provide our son with the best opportunity to be a productive member of our society when he grows up. He struggles to communicate and through these services we have come a long way. We have chosen to do private services because the services in our school district have been atrocious. Public education does provide each and every child with the opportunity to learn, but does not always provide a person qualified for the position.

We currently have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for our son and it has been a constant battle to provide him the tools and resources needed to be in the mainstream classroom. Over the last two years his teachers have been very supportive of his ability to be in the general education setting. It has been such a blessing to have two educators willing to create differentiated lessons to help my son succeed. Not only has he succeeded academically but these teachers also provided an opportunity for my son to gain confidence amongst his peers. As a parent, it has been much more rewarding to watch my child gain confidence than for him to score well on a test or assignment. I am extremely thankful for the EHA because without it, my son would not have had the opportunity to blossom the way he has over the last couple of years.

Framework of Past Educators for the Whole Child

Past educators, Johann Pestalozzi, Rudolf Steiner, and Janusz Korczak have provided a great framework for educators to promote a social learning environment within the classroom. These three educators have been among the founders of our modern day “whole child” education. These three men focused on education through the lens of the whole being, supporting children as human beings not just through academics.

Johann Pestalozzi was a Swiss social reformer who has been deemed, the Father of Modern Education. Pestalozzi believed that every human being had the ability and right to learn. He preached that those unwilling to provide democratic education should not become educators.  Pestalozzi encouraged that each student be seen as an individual. By creating an environment in which each student is treated as an individual Pestalozzi advocated for assuring that the well-being of each student would be improved.

Developing a power of “Head, Heart and Hands” essentially empowers and ennobles every individual to improve society and bring peace and security to the world (wwwjhpestalozzi.org, n.d.). This is essential to academics not only in the general education classroom but also needs to be used when working with children with physical and mental disabilities. Providing children with a disability the same education may not be possible, but what is possible is treating each child with compassion and love. Using Pestalozzi’s theory of Heart, Head and Hands is a perfect example of providing students with something more than just academics. If we are to prepare students for the future, social learning is imperative.

Rudolf Steiner, like Johann Pestalozzi, wanted education to be more than just the curriculum. Steiner wanted to assure that children in school were provided with suitable curriculum that would accommodate the special needs of individual experiences (Steiner, 1985). His practices are put into action in the Waldorf Schools. Waldorf schools are schools in which the “educational goals and curriculum are founded upon each teacher’s living insight into the nature of the whole human being” (Steiner, 1985). He has created the framework for students of all walks of life to succeed. Students with physical and mental disabilities could not only be an integral part of the school but they could thrive if it is the right fit for the child.

Janusz Korczak like Pestalozzi and Steiner believed in preparing the whole child in school. Korczak believed “that children deserve respect, trust, and kindness, that it is pleasant to be with them in a cheerful atmosphere of gentle feelings, merry laughter, an atmosphere of strenuous first efforts and surprises, of pure, clear, and heart-warming joys, that working with children in such an atmosphere is exhilarating, fruitful, and attractive” (Korczak, p. 31, 2009). Wouldn’t it be grand to provide this for each and every child in our public-school system?           Children deserve the best and providing them with respect, trust and kindness is what I strive for as an educator. When you walk into a classroom that is full of cheer, laughter and joy, you can sense it, feel it, and see it. A great teacher begins the year by creating that environment to assure that the students have the opportunity to have such an atmosphere. I am reminded often that my job isn’t purely to teach academics. The majority of my job as a teacher is to teach human kindness and moral and character education. It is very important to provide the academics but in the long run academics are not going to create wonderful human beings. It is the focus of moral and character education that is going to provide these young children with the opportunity to learn how to engage with others, how to treat each other with kindness, love, and respect. 

Social-Emotional Competence

The teacher must set a tone in the classroom to promote social emotional competence. The socially and emotionally competent teacher provides the student lessons that build on their strengths and abilities, implementing and establishing behavioral guidelines that promote intrinsic motivation, coach students through conflict situations and develop supportive and encouraging relationships with their students (Jennings and Greenberg, 2009). The ability to create this type of learning environment relies completely on the educator.

Class meetings

Creating this learning environment begins day one of the school year. Effective inclusion classrooms use every day teaching and daily routine in and outside of the classroom (NASET, n.d.). There are some great strategies to assure that a teacher establishes a positive experience in the classroom, and they are rooted in the pedagogies of the past educators. One of these strategies includes conducting a class meeting, and this goes back to Janusz Korczak’s meetings at his Children’s Republic and beyond. Establishing a routine to have these class meetings will be essential to the productivity of the meeting. Class meetings are a great way to address classroom problems and tensions between students. Class meetings are designed to help students understand the perspectives of others and they are great for resolving conflicts between students based on any differences ( NASET, n.d.). While conducting the class meeting, it is important to validate all students’ feelings involved.  These class meetings provide a platform for students to learn how to communicate and resolve conflict. This skill will be crucial for students to excel as adults.

My son has been in special education services since the age of 3. He is now twelve, and we have had amazing educators who have made it a point to find out who he is as an individual. Others unfortunately do not take the time and therefore his academics, social skills, and social acceptance begins to falter. My son is a very kind and gentle soul, and it is important for him to feel nurtured and loved. A huge piece of him feeling nurtured and loved is the relationship I have with his teacher. When he was in 3rd grade he had the most wonderful special education teacher. She was in contact with me, and she treated my son as if he was her own. Not only did she work with him on his academics, she encouraged him to find friends and taught him how to communicate with his peers. She was constantly finding ways to individualize his learning so that he would “get it”. My son is a huge NASCAR fan. When she learned that he loved NASCAR she made multiplication flashcards with all the drivers on them and to this day his teachers always comment on his multiplication facts. This very much reminds me of Rudolf Steiner who stated it best, “The true teachers and educators are not those who have learned pedagogy as the science of dealing with children, but those in whom pedagogy has awakened through understanding the human being” (Steiner, n.d.).

Social Skill Development

Well-developed social skills provide youth with disabilities an ability to have positive peer relationships, success in the classroom, and the ability to successfully explore adult roles which in the end is getting the student college and career ready (NASET, n.d.). The main role of the educator is to prepare students for a successful future. Whether a child has special needs or not, social emotional competence is a critical skill that needs to be taught to our youth. Social skills need to be explicitly taught (Vidoni & Ulman, 2012). Explicitly teaching these social skills begins with promoting positive social behaviors. While promoting social behaviors continually reinforcing them by using team points, praises and feedback has the desired effect for the classroom.

Explicitly teaching social skills can be done effortlessly as an educator. As the students come into the classroom social skills can be introduced by simply saying, “Good Morning” and requiring the students to respond by looking into my eyes and respond, “Good Morning”. This simple act instantly teaches the students how to introduce themselves and provides them a model to what it looks like to address another human being. Indirect teaching occurs through group work (Bella, 2016). Having students sit in groups promotes social skills and an environment in which is conducive to learning (Bella, 2016).

As it was aforementioned, Johann Pestalozzi, Rudolf Steiner, and Janusz Korcsak created a framework for current educators to follow in terms of providing a well-rounded education rather than just teaching to the curriculum. These three forbearers of our education system understood the true meaning of what it means to educate a child. It isn’t just about the curriculum. We must remember that we are harvesting precious young children, and we are creating human beings that need to be capable of having empathy, kindness, courage, perseverance, and most of all, love.

Enhancing a Child’s Character

Enhancing a child’s character is part of an educator’s job. Character can be taught through curriculum developed to teach children about essential traits needed to build good character (Almerico, 2014).  Educators must remember that we “don’t exist to be loved and admired, but to love and act. It is not the duty of those around me to love me. Rather it is my duty to be concerned about the world, about man” (Korczak). Educators must not forget that this isn’t about us. The benefits of providing character lessons in the classroom are multifaceted. The benefits go beyond the apparent outcomes of being a good person and responsible citizen (Almerico, 2014). It is essential that schools play a role in the social and emotional growth of their students. Students with disabilities need extra care and attention to character. It has been proven that schools with character programs and curriculum have seen fewer discipline problems, and that these programs had a positive effect on both character development and academic success (Almerico, 2014). Like social competence and social skill development, learning positive character traits is essential to the development of all students.

Teachers’ Role in Developing Social Acceptance and Social Skills

Teachers are responsible for creating an environment in which these skills can be applied. Understanding each and every student as individuals is important to being able to promote social acceptance and social skills in the classroom. To create an environment where students feel valued and respected takes time and work. Reminding students that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, never allow bullying or teasing, or any put-downs and allowing time for students to understand one another is essential to establishing that effective learning environment (Bella, 2016). All students need to feel welcome to achieve their highest potential and to enhance the student’s ability to establish social-emotional competence, social skills, character, health and civic engagement.

Conclusion

Promoting social skills and social acceptance requires teachers to value diversity and create an environment where students feel valued and respected. We have learned from past educators Pestalozzi, Steiner and Korczak, the importance of creating a whole child rather than just a child capable of high academics. It is with great pleasure that we can create productive members of society, prepared for anything life may throw at them. When I speak of productive members of society I also include those with special needs who are certainly capable of becoming productive members of society. What we must teach our children though is social acceptance and social skills. Educators must not forget the importance of both in the classroom.

Social acceptance and social skills are required to prepare students for college and careers. Teaching children how to build good character traits is also an essential part to preparing a productive member of society for the future. The ultimate goal of an educator is to prepare the students to be successful. Success begins with promoting social acceptance and social skills.


References





Susan Marvin (Nov. 01, 2017)
Excellent article. Well done, Erin, I'm so proud of you
Mike Stoner (Oct. 09, 2017)
This was a very thoughtful and well written article. I wish I could remember one teacher in my younger years that was as thoughful, dedicated, and loving as this article's author but there wasn't one. Keep up the good work Mrs Marvin!

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