Schools should be safe places to learn and grow. Helping students to understand that each person is valuable and deserves to be treated with kindness can help to develop a classroom culture that discourages bullying. These social justice activities are designed to foster a sense of connection and caring in grades one through three, and they can be used in younger and older classrooms with a few modifications.
1. Teach social justice through literature. Regularly read picture books about children whose lives are very different from the students in your class. It can be easy to incorporate this into the regular curriculum. As you read, keep social justice issues in mind and share your thoughts with the students. The point is to both show your students that some people may be very different from them on the surface in appearance or culture, but underneath, each of us experiences the same emotions and has the same needs. Encourage your students to share their own experiences that are similar to the experiences of the characters in the stories.
2. Have a student of the week. Each week give one student in your class a chance to shine. Let them share stories about themselves and their families. Have a place for them to display photos or other items that are important to them. Encourage a family member to visit your classroom. Let them pick a book for story time and lead the line to the playground. Take time during the week to talk to the chosen student one on one. Forming close bonds with your students will help you to understand them better so that you are better able to meet their needs.
3. Let students get to know you. In the modern classroom, it is important that students and teacher have a real relationship. Students who feel a connection to their teacher are more likely to open up and share when they have problems. Tell your class about your family. Share stories from your life that connect you to the curriculum or to them.
4. Meet challenges head on. If there is a problem between two students in your classroom, it is unlikely to go away on its own. Step up to the plate and get to the bottom of it. Remember that each student needs to be heard. Do not be afraid of difficult discussions. Talking with the class about the importance of kindness, inclusion, and equality will lead to a better environment and nip bullying in the bud.
5. Have a classroom government. It is unusual to see any form of classroom government in the primary classroom. Many teachers think that students in the early elementary years aren’t yet old enough to make any classroom decisions. The truth is that most first graders have strong opinions, and it is good to let all students have a say in how things are done. When students are active decision makers, they learn that their opinions matter.
6. Bring in guest speakers. Contact community organizations and ask if there is anyone who might be interested in sharing a story or activity with your class. An older person may speak about a time period when things were different from now. Someone from another country may share a piece of their culture.
7. Take field trips. Stepping outside of the peer groups will help your students to stay connected to the world. Many schools have limited budgets for field trips, but perhaps there are some places you could explore within walking distance of your classroom. Some options include nursing homes, nursery schools, colleges, and various types of museums.
8. Point out stereotypes. If you read a book about a doctor who is a man or a teacher who is a woman, talk about those stereotypes. Expand that discussion to other areas. If a student presents a stereotypical view of a type of person, don’t just let it slide. Always take the opportunity to move the student in the direction of equality.