Teaching Social Acceptance in School

Kelly Nelson-Danley
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Assistant Elementary School Principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
Diverse group of high school students standing together and smiling.

These days math, reading, science and social studies aren’t the only subjects being taught. The need for social and emotional lessons continues to increase. Data supports the integration of social and emotional curriculum in schools. The report says that students receiving social and emotional instruction have achievement scores, on average, 11 percentile points higher than students not receiving this type of instruction. Additionally, advancements in technology have exposed students to so much information, making it easy for students to access information about other cultures. This information can be positive or negative. Considering this, it is important for schools to recognize the need for social and emotional learning by teaching social acceptance. Teaching social acceptance requires having important conversations, using literature to encourage empathy, exposing students to the perspectives of others, celebrating differences, and promoting respect. The following suggestions can help schools tackle the task of promoting social acceptance.

Talk About It

In order to spark conversations about social acceptance, schools can choose a social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum or program to implement. There are many programs to choose from. The Wallace Foundation lists 25 top programs to promote social acceptance in schools. As schools recognize unique needs within their own settings, they should do research to find a program that will be right for them.

Adopting an SEL program will open the door to having important conversations with students. Regular implementation of SEL lessons followed by opportunities for students to talk with appropriate people can help students accept others regardless of differences.

It can also allow students to feel more comfortable speaking up about any struggles they may be experiencing for themselves. Guidance counselors are excellent resources to use when having these critical conversations. Students may also feel comfortable with a trusted teacher in the building that could serve as a mentor to them by having important conversations regarding social acceptance with students.

Use Literature to Encourage Empathy

Many of the SEL programs mentioned above provide schools with literature than can encourage empathy. It is important for schools to utilize the resources of the program they adopt. There is also an array of resources online that are available to schools. These resources often contain lesson plans that can be linked to curriculum that is already in place and contain literature that will encourage empathy.

In language arts classrooms, teachers can promote empathy by exposing students to literature they can relate to and that lends itself to understanding what others may be going through. Reading a good book helps students connect with others. At the New School for Social Research in New York, scientists show that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to understand people’s emotions, which is key in navigating social relationships. The study conducted used 1,000 participants, randomly assigning them texts to read. Scientists then used various Theory of Mind techniques to measure how accurately participants could identify others’ emotions. For participants that read literary fiction, scores were consistently higher than participants who read only non-fiction.

Practice Seeing from Others’ Perspectives

Helping students see from the perspective of others can be as easy as an activity called “Perspective Talking”. According to socialskilledkids.com, Perspective Talking involves the following four steps:

  1. Set aside your thoughts, feelings, motivations, and intentions, momentarily
  2. Consider others’ thoughts, feelings, motivations, and intentions
  3. Determine whether or not your behavior should change based on that information
  4. Make any necessary changes

Celebrating Differences

Celebrating differences is also an important part of teaching social acceptance in schools. Embracing differences helps to create a culture of acceptance that embraces students of all cultures and beliefs. The following are ideas for how to celebrate differences at school:

  • Host a cultural fair
  • Pronounce student names correctly
  • Utilize communication resources (provide information in multiple languages)
  • Get connected to the community
  • Examine your teaching materials (do they represent all of your students?)
  • Provide teachers with professional development on equality and social acceptance
  • Use social media in positive ways that promote learning
  • Implement a culture of anti-bullying

Promote Respect at Every Level

When seeking to promote social acceptance at school, respect is important. Promoting respect will go a long way in creating a school culture that welcomes conversations about differences, seeks to understand the perspective of others, and celebrates differences. Staff should model a culture of respect that will flow from staff meetings and professional encounters to the classroom. A culture of respect will allow for an environment where teachers can teach to the best of their ability and students can learn to the best of their ability.

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