Teaching Social Acceptance in School

  (Updated April 1, 2022)
W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
A group of happy students do a hand shake over the robot they are building in the classroom.

Social acceptance is an age-old phrase that encompasses a vast array of meanings. As a nation, and as a world, acceptance has become a huge topic of discussion. Additionally, social acceptance has taken on a variety of meanings in all aspects of life. With full media exposure to almost all of our lives today, learning and accepting has taken on many forms.

What is Social Acceptance?

Social acceptance can be defined as accepting differences and diversity in other people or groups of people. With the ongoing desire, especially in education, to be diverse, these lines of tolerance and acceptance have broadened over the years. Students and educators alike have confronted more cultures and mindsets than ever before which calls for diversity within teaching.

Gone are the days when one standard was the measuring stick and all must conform or be labeled a misfit, or worse. So, what is social acceptance today? I would say it is the attitude of being willing to accept others for who they are and respecting their beliefs. Additionally, one should also expect to receive the same from their peers while navigating through life.

Why is Social Acceptance Important for Students?

Social acceptance is essential for all students because everybody wants to be some part of the whole. While it is true that one can make changes to their beliefs to fit it, we would rather be accepted as we are. A student who finds themselves on the outside looking in often suffers from low self-esteem and depression. Suicide rates are also much higher among students who don’t feel socially accepted.

Humans are social by nature, and when someone is shunned because of who or what they are, it makes for a difficult life, especially within the walls of an educational institution. Often students’ grades and performance levels in extra-curricular activities will fall.

Strategies for Teaching Social Acceptance in School

Teaching social acceptance should be a school-wide endeavor implemented by teachers, administrators, and students. Some strategies to teach social acceptance are:

Promote Respect at Every Level

The adage that you must show respect to get respect is still very true in contemporary society. We can all show and promote respect throughout the learning environment through words, actions, and can do so with very little effort.

Celebrate Differences

So often today we want to run away from differences without even finding out what they are. We are afraid of what we don’t understand, so sometimes, instead of taking the time to learn, we run away. We should look into our differences together and celebrate inclusivity and those things that make us different. If we were all the same, all the time, this would be a pretty boring environment in which to live.

“Walk a Mile in Another’s Shoes”

When we as a people take the time to embrace other people and especially their differences, we can gain insights not only into them but also into ourselves. Often the unknown is shunned or misunderstood out of fear. By taking the time to live in another’s life, we can gain many amazing perspectives. Incorporating social-emotional learning can aid in this.

Talk Openly About Differences

A great way to learn what makes people different is to simply be real and sit down and talk about it. As we delve into each other’s lives, we do not have to agree, and we do not have to be enemies because we disagree on something. Instead, we can talk about our differences with no hidden agendas or expectations of changing someone’s mind. Social acceptance is all about agreeing to disagree but still showing respect.

Social acceptance, accepting others, fitting in, and keeping up with others, all take effort. The easy thing to do is to simply get into the group you fit in best with and never endeavor to go any further. But for students to grow in society as it exists today, they have got to find ways to be socially accepted and go out of their way to socially accept others.

As educators in our students’ lives, we must be the model. Our students should see us being socially accepting and being diverse in our thinking. Modeling social acceptance should be as natural for us as modeling a project straight from our lesson plans. It is just as important as what we are teaching in front of our classes. After all, how can we expect our students to be socially accepting if they don’t see us modeling the same?

*Updated March 2022
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