Kids Without Friends

I think I am like many of you. I know that understanding and addressing the needs of kids who don’t have friends – social isolates – is important. The challenge is where to start. If you feel a little stumped, take heart that there are many who feel the same way as you.

Friendships, belonging and acceptance grow in importance as kids move through adolescence. Their identity becomes defined by the group of friends they have. Spending time with friends provides opportunities for social interaction, information sharing, demonstration of values and reinforcement of behaviors important to the peer group. Sometimes we fear peer groups have a negative influence on adolescent behaviors; however, research and experience generally shows that, with the exception of getting high-risk kids together, the influence of peer groups is almost always positive.

Social isolates interact much less with their peers giving them fewer opportunities for peer social interaction. They are cut off from firsthand information about norms, which usually comes from their peers. Instead, their guesses about what is normal may be based on fantasy. Isolates may behave in risky ways thinking this will gain them acceptance. Kids without friends are at risk for experimenting with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs because they perceive this as a way of gaining acceptance. Unfortunately for them, acting inappropriately usually has the opposite effect. Honest feedback about what is and is not acceptable may help them see that participating in risky behaviors is not a way to gain acceptance.

Small group activities provide an opportunity for the integration of isolates. Avoid allowing students to partner or work with those they wish to as it will almost guarantee the isolate will not be selected by anyone. You do not want to reinforce a negative message they have likely received many times over from their peers. Instead, assign students to small groups by giving careful consideration to which small group an isolate is assigned to ensure positive feedback and integration.

Encouraging positive standards of behavior in the classroom is important for all students, but especially kids without friends. Ensure you have a positive learning environment. Encourage inclusiveness and allow only positive comments, feedback and body language from the students towards each other. Isolates need the assurance of being in a safe and accepting classroom.

One-on-one meetings also allows you to give an isolate a little more attention than they normally receive and can have a profound influence on their lives. Isolates, as all kids do, need at least one positive adult in their life to coach, mentor and guide them. Perhaps you are that adult in their life! During a one-on-one session with an isolate, ask them to name at least one trusted adult in their life they can talk to. If they can not name an adult, seek a staff person within your organization who is willing to “adopt” the student and begin developing a genuine and positive relationship with them.

Isolates usually emerge in the early years of elementary school. Identifying and connecting them with positive peers and adults as soon as possible is key to ensuring they feel accepted and a sense of belonging. Achieving this can prevent a lot of problems later.

In next week’s blog I will share a proven, research-based tool you can use to identify social isolates and peer opinion leaders in your classroom or group. It will be a time saver and a life saver. Trust me.

How to Use Peer Opinion Leaders as Change Agents

Peer opinion leaders are students who set the trends and patterns of behavior. They define “what is in and out”, “what to do and not to do” and “what to believe and not believe.” The bottom line is…peer opinion leaders influence the opinion and behaviors of others. Knowing who the natural peer opinion leaders in your class or group are is key to establishing positive standards of behavior, setting positive norms and making anything you do successful.

Almost every peer group has an opinion leader. During early adolescence, girls will have their leaders and boys will have theirs. Some can be positive leaders while others may be negative.

We tend to think we know who the peer opinion leaders are on our own. We sometimes see them as the class clowns, the most vocal or the most popular. These characteristics can be misleading. Not all peer opinion leaders have these traits. Some peer opinion leaders exercise their influence quietly and in subtle ways.

It’s very important we correctly identify peer opinion leaders. Research suggests that teachers are right a little more than half the time in identifying friendship groups. A more effective approach is to let the students tell you who their peer opinion leaders are. With the right survey, students’ answers will identify peer opinion leaders with confidence. Typically, they will be the one who the students see as having the best ideas, is the most respected and is a natural leader.

We can’t change who the peer opinion leaders are, but we can learn how to work with them. Once identified, it is important for you to bring the peer opinion leader in as part of your team. Your goal is to empower a positive peer opinion leader to continue influencing positively. The same goes for a negative peer opinion leader. However, your goal with them is to turn their negative influence into positive. You need to win both of them over. Know how each peer opinion leader feels about things and what their special talents are. Spending one-on-one time with each leader can help build a spirit of trust and cooperation. It will also help you anticipate what they might say or share in class when called on.

Peer opinion leaders can play an important role in your classroom. The most important role is expressing their opinions in classroom discussions. This should be an opportunity for them to express positive norms to the class and not just an opportunity to talk. When they speak others will be listening. Ask them to lead small group activities and help with demonstrations and role plays. What they do and the positive attitude they do it with will influence other kids’ attitudes.

Correctly identifying and involving the group’s peer opinion leaders can have a significant impact on your success as an educator or group leader. Peer opinion leaders have their followers. One peer opinion leader can lead and influence 8-10 other students. I visualize the influence of peer opinion leaders much like a mother duck leading her ducklings!

Affirming or changing one student, especially if they are the peer opinion leader, can naturally affirm and change many others in the group at the same time. Work with peer opinion leaders to ensure positive messages are carried outside of class as they are change agents that can amplify your efforts when students leave the classroom or group.

In next week’s blog I will talk about the importance of identifying another group of students in your classroom or group – the isolates. I will also offer a scientific, proven survey for identifying the peer opinion leaders and isolates among your students.

How to Help 4th and 5th Grade Students Get Along With One Another

The late elementary years are a time of great personal and social growth. At this age, children become more interested in friends and social activities. They begin to form stronger and more complex friendships that are based on more than just common interests. They understand that emotions play a major role in relationships. They learn how to identify what others are feeling based on their facial expressions and body language and to understand and evaluate social situations better. They are also learning how to communicate their needs and feelings verbally with others while respecting and identifying other people’s opinions and behaviors.

Understanding how to get along with others is vital for 4th and 5th graders. Creating an environment in your classroom or group setting that has clear expectations of behavior, encourages team work and communication and promotes respect and responsibility among classmates is important.

Empowering late elementary students to create their own standards for getting along and holding them accountable to them is just as crucial as it is with middle and high school students. However, the process needs to look somewhat different because of the developmental characteristics of 4th and 5th graders.

This week’s “How to Create Standards for Getting Along with 4th and 5th Graders video introduces you to a proven and fun activity you can easily facilitate with late elementary age students that results in them establishing their own standards for getting along. The video also offers you tips on how to effectively use them in your classroom or group.

The activity not only creates a list “getting along” behaviors, but also a list of “not getting along” behaviors. Kids at this age are still concrete thinkers. They see what happens in their world as being either right or wrong or good and bad. Knowing what is acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to getting along with others is important for late elementary age students.

I have trained many classroom teachers and group leaders all over the world in this activity. It’s always fun to see how similar the standards are no matter where the students live. The photo below shows the list of “getting along” and “not getting along” behaviors a classroom of students in Belfast, Northern Ireland, created. It’s not much different than what a classroom in inner city Chicago, the most rural school in Iowa or even in your own school and community would create!

So, take a quick moment and watch this short “how to” video as it walks you through step-by-step how to facilitate this activity with your students. And, if you don’t work directly with 4th or 5th graders, forward the video on to someone who does!

And, one more thought, if your school or organization promotes positive character with elementary students, you will also want to be sure to watch the video. I share ideas on how your getting along standards can also reinforce your character education program.

I will be anxious to hear about the high standards your kids will be setting for themselves in the coming days and weeks! They deserve the best and we need to hold them accountable to being the best! So, go forth!

P.S. If you didn’t watch last week’s “how to” video on Setting Standards with Middle and High School Students, it’s still available online! Watch it now!

How to Develop Standards for Getting Along With Your Students

My blog this past month has focused on how to increase positive behavior with your students while decreasing the negative. We discussed a number of proven strategies to help you achieve this, including:

  • Modeling the behavior you want from your students
  • Focusing more on positive behaviors than the negative
  • Establishing “standards” vs. setting rules
  • Having the students create their own standards for getting along
  • Encouraging students to have standards for getting along that are the best, the worst and just ok
  • Empowering them to hold each other accountable to their own standards

This week I want to introduce you to an easy activity you can facilitate with your students that encompasses all of these strategies. The activity is developmentally appropriate for middle and high school students and has over 20 years of proven success when done effectively.

Telling you in writing how to effectively facilitate this activity is almost impossible. Instead, I created a “how to” video to introduce you to this activity. The “Setting Standards for Getting Along” video walks you through the steps of how to facilitate a classroom or group of middle and high school students through a process that results in them establishing their own standards for getting along. The video also gives you tips on how to reinforce the standards and empower the students to hold each other accountable to them.

You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking a moment to watch the video. Having standards the students take ownership of and live up to allows you to teach what you need to teach and for students to learn what they need to learn.

If you are someone who doesn’t work directly with middle or high school students, forward the video on to someone who does and who could benefit from it. You may be someone I have already trained in this activity. Watching the video will be a great refresher and reminder of how to do the activity with your students.

If you are someone who works with late elementary age students, be patient. In next week’s blog, I will introduce you to an activity you can do with 4th and/or 5th graders that accomplishes the same outcome.

Don’t wait. Go ahead and watch the training video now! And, be sure you download the slide deck that comes with it!

Happy watching!


The Best, the Worst and the Ok

In my last blog I wrote about the importance of setting “standards” of behavior with student input as a more effective way of increasing positive student behavior than having “rules” established by you.

Establishing standards for getting along with students can be done with late elementary through high school age. Consideration needs to be given to the age of the students when determining the process you will use for establishing the standards.

For example, elementary age students are concrete thinkers. They see their world as being black or white. A behavior is either good or bad, right or wrong and acceptable or unacceptable. Having them come up with two lists of standards for getting along – the things we should do and the things we shouldn’t do – would be age-appropriate.

As students move into the middle school years they begin to transition from concrete to abstract thinking. The black and white world as they once saw it in elementary school begins to look different. Behaviors they believed were either right or wrong don’t seem to be as clean cut. A gray area or middle ground appears and some behaviors they believed were good or bad now might be seen as being, “ok.”

When establishing standards for getting along with middle and high school students it’s important to ask them to create three lists of behaviors – the best, the worst and the ok. When you give older students the opportunity to create these three lists it won’t be difficult for them to still think of the best and the worst behaviors when it comes to getting along. These two lists will be the longest of all three.

What are common behaviors middle and high school students see as being the best? Here are a few examples:

  • Give compliments
  • Share or participate
  • Have a positive or good attitude
  • Express your own opinion
  • Be open to other’s ideas
  • Respectfully disagree
  • Have one person talk at a time
  • Listen to others when they are talking
  • Keep each other on task

Here are common behaviors middle and high school students see as being the worst when it comes to getting along:

  • Making rude comments about someone or something they said
  • Giving “put downs” through your actions (e.g. rolling your eyes)
  • Never sharing or not participating
  • Talking too much
  • Talking about other people than yourself
  • Having a bad attitude
  • Everyone talking at one time
  • Not listening
  • Goofing off or not paying attention

When it comes to creating a list of getting along behaviors that are “ok” it will be challenging for middle and high school students to do. They will eventually come up with ideas, but the list will be the shortest of all three.

Common “ok” getting along behaviors for middle and high school students include:

  • Agree to disagree
  • “Pass” on sharing once in a while
  • If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all

There are good reasons to ask middle and high school students to think of what is “ok”, as much as what is “good” and “bad”, when it comes to getting along with one another. It impresses the point that most of our behaviors are going to land in one of two categories – the “good” or the “bad.” This point is proven even more by how long their lists of behaviors will be for these two categories. The “ok” list also gives kids permission to land in the middle once in awhile, but not often, given how short the list of behaviors will be.

In next week’s blog I will introduce you to an activity you can facilitate with elementary age students and another one for middle and high school students that are age-appropriate and encourages them to create their own lists of standards for getting along.