This past school year, researchers Justin Reich and Jal Mehta asked over 150 teachers to interview their students about pandemic learning and what they think should happen next year. One of my favorite student responses was one that Reich shared on Twitter: “Please don’t be like ‘they missed so much social interaction; let’s give them [a] bunch of awkward conversation starters to create friendships.'”
The quote is on point because the scenario that the student describes isn’t hard to imagine. Teachers know better than anyone that students’ peer relationships are critical to their thriving in school and life, so it’s natural to want to follow a year of social distancing with a year of social connectedness. But how can already time-strapped educators make that a reality while avoiding the contrived situation described by this student?
Fortunately, a number of educators have learned important lessons about key moves to authentically nurture students’ peer connections. Based on the Christensen Institute’s recent research, here are four simple ways to help young people forge friendships–without rethinking the wheel, and without getting awkward.
1. Focus on community-building, and friends will follow.
Simple strategy: Allow older peers to facilitate or co-facilitate class meetings
Native American Community Academy, a K-12 charter school in Albuquerque, NM, is designed for Indigenous families. According to the school’s founder, Kara Bobroff (Navajo/Lakota), NACA is a place where strong relational culture across the school community is far greater than the sum of students’ individual friendships. “When you understand how your identity is shared with others, that’s where relationships are built,” said Bobroff.
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