Feelings of loneliness at school can be debilitating to a young person, and taken to an extreme, can lead to deeper problems such as depression, withdrawal, eating disorders, and even suicide. And feelings of loneliness at school are very common where, even within a closed community of many, many students, individual students experience the despair of feeling “left out”. Fortunately, schools are taking a proactive means of discouraging loneliness and providing an environment where inclusion and cooperation are not just encouraged, but celebrated. Here are 4 habits of schools that discourage and combat loneliness:
1. Applying the principle of the win-win
Schools that have adopted the principals of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People start with the mindset of the win-win. That is, that all parties seek agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial and mutually satisfying. The natural extension of this is that students in such schools take on a more proactive approach to inclusion and building relationships. Such schools have been shown to dramatically reduce instances of loneliness at school.
2. Frequent communication between teachers, students, and parents
Rarely will you ever find a school administrator who says “we don’t encourage parents, students, and teachers to engage in frequent dialogue”. However, putting it into practice is a different matter. In various surveys, parents will often express how teachers appear to be in a hurry to leave after the last school bell, or that invitations for a conversation appear confined to open houses. There’s also the natural tendency for parents to be less forthcoming to approach a teacher for a conversation. Parents might have trepidation or be naturally not wanting to impose on a teacher’s time outside of regular class hours. So as much as schools want to encourage open and frequent communications, it is generally the onus of the school to be the proactive party—to be the one encouraging conversation. The fact is that schools that make it a habit to facilitate frequent communications exhibit lower instances of student-related problems (relative to other schools in their demographic), higher scholastic performance, and an overall higher level of school satisfaction.
3. Establishing peer-mentor relationships
Something that you don’t see too often in American school are peer-mentor relationships. While hardly perfect by any stretch of the imagination, one of the things that schools in Japan do effectively is facilitate peer-mentor relationships. This is the senpai/kohai relationship that exist between upper classmen and lower classmen. These relationships drastically aid in the adapting of younger students into what is an extremely rigorous class regimen (especially in comparison to the typical American grade school) and helps develop the older classmate’s mentoring and coaching skills. What is also interesting is that the senpai/kohai relationship continues well past school and even as adults, the younger person will refer to the older person as “senpai” (an honorific way to refer to their elder). There are schools that encourage these relationships and where these relationships are used pervasively, students find themselves adapting more efficiently as they move through the grades and find themselves with much lower instances of loneliness among the student population
4. Emphasizing group-cooperation from a young age
Encouraging students to establish synergistic relationship vis-à-vis group cooperation is a tremendously effective way to combat problems with loneliness at school. The general mechanism is that (in many cases) “forcing” groups of students to work with each other, they form relationships that are required to become effective (because there’s a task or project to be done) and sometimes blossom into friendships. In addition to being a strategy to combat loneliness at school, learning to work cooperatively teaches leadership skills early on.
Barring issues that might require some type of professional intervention, students will oftentimes experience loneliness at school, especially if they are new. By adapting the right cultural mindset, schools can help combat common issues that students might face, by encouraging interaction, communication, and cooperation.
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