As much as we wish learning were the major attraction for students in attending school, during the adolescent years we find that relationships are often the major motivational factor. Kids want to be with other kids. When a student lacks a sense of belonging, when the student feels anonymous or isolated, motivation for school attendance is diminished. In fact, one main reason why students drop out of school is lack of friendship.
Teachers can address this issue by planning activities where students spend some time interacting and getting to know each other. This can be accomplished in any classroom in just a few minutes. Students share their interests, hobbies, experiences, and things they are proud of with a partner. Some students will not willingly tell a large group about themselves, but they do not mind sharing with one other person, and they don’t mind if that person shares the information with a larger group. After a little sharing of personal information, one student introduces the other and states the partner’s name and something of interest about the partner.
Another activity is for students working in groups to tell three things about themselves that are true and one that is false. In the process of guessing for the false item, students learn three bits of information about each member of the group. Such activities need only to be done periodically for class members to feel a sense of belonging.
Involving students in occasional activities such as these demonstrates that the teacher is aware of the importance emotions play in learning. Additionally, using activities where students get to know other students—not just as members of the class but as real people—can prevent mean-spirited behavior among students. A bully situation outside of class is stopped with the simple statement, “Leave him alone. I know him.” Friendship and a feeling of belonging are essential elements for school success.