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Tales From A First Year Teacher: Learning Social Skills

Learning Social Skills

Continued from Tales From A First Year Teacher: Adapting To Life In The Pilbara

Now back to my classroom.  So much to do and so little time….how am I going to get everything I want done?  I have big plans for my classroom and students.  Now I get to put in practice all the things I learned at Uni.  I suppose I will need to just take one step at a time and learn to settle in as a real, bonafide teacher.

One of the things I’ve noticed with my students is that they don’t really know how to deal with situations where other kids are annoying them.  In just the few weeks that I’ve been here, nearly every day I’ve had students complaining that they’re being picked on.  They don’t seem to be very resilient and this was definitely something that I needed to work on this term, so hopefully the rest of the year would go much more smoothly.

I decided that my Health program for the term would focus on building my students’ resiliency and giving them strategies to use when they felt they were being picked on or when other kids annoyed them.  Specifically, I decided to focus on social skills.  My students needed to be taught ways of behaving in the classroom and at school.  They needed to be introduced to specific skills which would help them get on better with other students and also help them to establish friendships.

The first things that I implemented that I thought was really important was the idea of a Community Circle.  I’d heard about this idea from my supervising teacher during my final practicum and she used it in her class with a great deal of success.  It was a strategy that was part of the Tribes Learning Community.

I implemented the Community Circle as the first thing that we did in the day for most days in the week.  I had a squishy ball that I used as the talking point, so you could only speak when holding the ball.  The idea behind the circle was to start the day off on a nice note, which would hopefully set the tone for the remainder of the day.  It was also a way for students to bring up an issue that may have been bothering them.

For the first week students had to respond to the prompt: tell the class a care, concern or celebration you may have.  Students were able to pass if they could not think of something, but if students passed too often I would prompt them to share the next time.

I was pretty happy with how the Community Circle went.  Most students chose to participate and it was nice starting the day in this way.  It took quite a bit of time to get through students, but it was definitely worth it.  I continued the Community Circle for the rest of the term and the question prompt often changed to match what we were doing in our Health program.

I picked up a great book just before I started at this school, that a friend had recommended, and I’m glad I did now as it will definitely be a help for my Health program.  The book is Friendly Kids Friendly Classrooms by Helen McGrath and Shona Francey.

social skills

There were so many great ideas in the book, but I picked out the skills that I thought were most important for my students.  They included:

1. Positive tracking – looking for the good things (in self and others);

2. Dealing with fights and arguments;

3. Ignoring someone who is giving you a hard time;

4. Telling someone to stop annoying you;

5. When is it dobbing; and

6. Asking an adult for support.

We focused on each skill for a couple of weeks before we moved on to the next.  The main teaching focus was to present the skill to the students, use the Do’s and Don’ts posters in the book to remind students how to deal with a situation and then practice the skill through role play.

The role play worked surprisingly well.  For each of the skills I would provide the students with a scenario that focused on the skill.  In small groups they set up a role play to demonstrate the situation and how to deal with the situation.  We then gave feedback to the group on the things they did well and what could they have done to make it better.

It was great having the posters displayed around the room; they acted as a reminder to the students.  I often referred to them when situations arose or when students came to tell me about a problem.  I found that by using the language from the Do’s and Don’ts posters, it helped to defuse the situation and there was definitely a marked decrease in the number of students coming and complaining to me about annoying behaviours.

To finish off the health program I had students complete a rainbow walk where they had to write down everything they now knew about the skills they had learned.  It could include specific examples of situations and what they should and should not do in that situation.  Students moved from poster to poster adding comments and either agreeing or disagreeing with other examples on the paper.

This was a really great way to finish off and it also provided me with a snapshot as to what the students had learned during the term.  I kept these large posters and the Do’s and Don’ts posters displayed in the room for the rest of the year.

Wow, it was so good implementing this program and I feel much more in control and now I don’t have kids complaining about everything to me.

But, what am I going to do about Ben…when he is in class he is so disruptive, it feels like all of the hard work that the class has put in to getting along better gets completely undone when he is in the class.  Okay, my next challenge is trying to help Ben get along better in the class….I think it’s going to be a monster challenge!

Stay tuned for the next instalment……Tales From A First Year Teacher: Managing Challenging Behaviours

Other Articles in This Series:
Tales From A First Year Teacher: Will I Ever Get A Job?
Tales From A First Year Teacher: My First Day As A Real Teacher
Tales From A First Year Teacher: Surviving The First Week Of Term
Tales From A First Year Teacher: Adapting To Life In The Pilbara

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