Tuesday, November 30, 2010

4. Get Along with Others

I probably don't have to explain why getting along with others is an essential thing to learn. We see it every day. We work with, know, or are even related to people who are talented, but don't have much in the way of people skills. I strongly believe these skills can be taught. And the best ways to get along with others is to use patience, empathy, and communication skills (mainly listening).  It is really hard to teach patience and empathy.  I can model it and talk about it and show examples from books, but young children especially can have trouble being patient and empathetic. I find it is easier to teach listening because there are overt behaviours kids can see and use.  These behaviours include: making eye contact, positioning your body toward the speaker, being silent while someone is talking, repeating back what they said, etc.     
A lot of times, the most popular kids in my class are the ones who are a bit on the quiet side.  Sometimes I will ask them what they do to have so many friends, and the answer is usually common (if they know it):  "I listen."  They don't have to have a huge personality, or be greatly talented or any of those other qualities we usually associate with popularity, but they do have to be good listeners.  This became clear to me when I had this really quiet boy, S, in my class who everyone loved, especially the rambunctious boys I had.  S never played soccer with them and he was an average student.  I asked one of the other boys why he liked S so much, and the boy replied, "He stands beside me when I am sad."  I then watched S and sure enough, he was always around.  He didn't say too much, but was present.  When others were sad or lonely, he would just go stand by them and they would start playing with him.  Just being there was enough for all of these boys to like him so much.  If you're a teacher, you probably know a kid like S. 

And you probably know the kid who is the exact opposite of S.  The one, sometimes a new kid who has been to a bunch of schools, who does really odd things to get attention, and gets does it, but repulses the other kids so much that they think he is a big pain.  Or the clown who is fun to be around, but not when it is time to work. 

Don't get me wrong.  There are some kids who are magnetic because of extraordinary things (positive and negative): making people laugh, having great beauty, being rich and generous, knowing the right people, being strong or a good athlete, having a popular sibling, etc.  These can really be things that make some kids popular or help kids get along with others.

But the catch is: I can't really teach kids how to be or do those things.  I can however, teach them how to listen.

And once we learn some basic listening skills, then other skills are possible: taking turns, cooperation, using manners, conflict resolution, restitution, etc.

Getting along with others might not get you hired, but it will probably keep you from getting fired.  In school terms, kids are definitely more happy and productive when they have friends and can cope with others, so why not teach these things?

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