4 Tips to Facilitate Friendships in the Inclusive Classroom
Friendships are an important foundation in the inclusive classroom. Aside from being physically included in the curriculum and day-to-day activities, a child with special needs also needs to genuinely feel included. This feeling of inclusion stems from a sense of belonging and relating to other children in the class. The sense of emotional well-being and stability derived from friendships allows students to be more receptive and open to learning new concepts as suggested by recent research in the field of neuroscience.
Teachers have an essential role in creating and maintaining the friendships amongst the students in the inclusive classroom. This can be done in several different ways:
1. Identify Interests
By identifying the various interests of the class, the teacher is taking one of the first steps to helping the students identify with one another. Allowing the students to express their interests through discussion, surveys, games, and school clubs will help them discover other students who are like-minded.
2. Highlight Strengths
Regardless of academic ability level, each student has strengths and skill sets that teachers can recognize and highlight. By doing so, students can feel valued and confident amongst his/her classmates. For example, a student who may not excel in math may be an exceptionally talented soccer player. Teachers can highlight student strengths during class discussions, projects, and leadership opportunities.
3. Emphasize Social Skills
In addition to creating classrooms where students feel welcomed and friendships are encouraged, there is an effort to maintain these friendships. This is often done by embedding a social skills component in the curriculum. Within this curriculum, students are taught skills such as how to communicate and problem-solve. In addition, there are activities scheduled in the day when the students are encouraged to use their social skills such as during a class meeting or group discussions.
4. Provide Opportunities
Above all, teachers need to provide students with opportunities within the school day to create and maintain friendships. Despite the heavy emphasis on academics in today’s education system, students should have the chance to be social with one another. Allowing time in the early grades for centers, giving older students group projects, or designing lessons, which encourage student interaction all facilitate connections and relationships amongst one another.