This article and an encounter I witnessed a few mornings ago have left me wondering how to help.
On Tuesday morning, as I arrived to the elementary school where I teach and walked through the playground toward my class, I witnessed an encounter between a former student of mine and a general education student. Here’s how it went:
My Former Student: (walks up to a group of boys, speaks very loudly) Hi, can I be your friend?
General Education Student: What?
My Former Student: (swinging a toy that he carries around with him for comfort, speaks very loudly again) Can I be friends with all of you?
General Education Student: Um, let me think about it for the rest of the year. On second thought, NO.
My heart broke. My former student had done exactly what we had practiced, he had approached a group of kids he wanted to play with, and he had spoken to them. Not only did he speak to them, but he cut right to the point of his approach and directly asked to be friends with them! How praised that would have been in my classroom! I practice conversation starters and what to say to others in hypothetical social situations regularly in my classroom to help my students socialize, without admitting to myself that a lot of what I’m teaching them will not actually WORK on the playground. How many kids are prepared to essentially be interrupted by a student, who speaks louder than many others, in a voice that has less cadence, who walks up to them and asks them who their favorite superhero is? Or tells them something about his or herself without being asked? How many would know how to process even a typical question asked by a student who to them, seems atypical. Not many, I’m saddened to admit.
I stopped the student who rejected the advance and explained where my former student was coming from and that even though his approach was unconventional, his intentions were like anyone else’s on that playground; he wanted to have friends. The interaction reminded me of something important that I’ve thought of many times: we spend hours and hours teaching our students how to socialize “appropriately,” but we’re not spending any time training the kids who we want them to socialize with. They also need exposure and training if we want successful associations to occur, and we do.
So my questions are these: How can we do this? Should it occur in the form of integrated classroom lessons, a little at a time? Maybe through school-wide assemblies?
This is where I’m asking for input. Has your school or a school you know of found a way to gracefully spread the word about communication across and between all types of needs? If so, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’d love to get a conversation going on this subject because I know that this dialogue will help everyone in every field and every walk of life and I’m sure there are people out there with terrific answers, I just need help getting to them.
If you’ve read this and are even beginning to make it something that you’ll think about, I thank you.
Yours in connection,