Management of Classroom Social Dynamics
When teachers actively take steps to manage social dynamics and promote positive interactions and friendships in class, students report feeling more connected to their peers,1 higher levels of school bonding (Gest et al., 2014), and a sense of belonging at school.2
Students reported feeling more connected to their peers and school when teachers:
- were aware of friendship dynamics in the class (e.g., who is friends with whom).
- could identify students who were being victimized or bullied by peers.
- took steps to mitigate status extremes between students in class.
- supported students who appeared isolated in class.1
Management of Classroom Social Dynamics
These skills can help manage classroom social dynamics and support isolated or victimized students.
Observe and note to yourself which students appear to be friends and which do not, and which students appear isolated from peers.1 In virtual or face-to-face classroom settings, regular check-ins with students can help provide an opportunity to learn more about student social dynamics and students’ sense of connectedness to their peers.3,4
Assign seating in ways that promote opportunities for students to interact, collaborate, and develop relationships as well as disrupt social hierarchies.
In large group virtual classroom sessions, consider breaking the class into smaller groups or “breakout rooms” to encourage interaction and collaboration. Rotate synchronous/asynchronous instruction or circulate among simultaneous breakout sessions.5,6
Create extra opportunities for students who appear socially isolated to receive recognition.1 For example, identify the strengths and interests of students who may appear isolated from peers and create opportunities for them to apply and share these in class.7
Consider strategically pairing students who appear isolated with other student(s) who may share similar interests to work together on class activities and assignments. Consider social dynamics and the needs of students who may appear to be socially isolated from peers.8
For students who struggle with social skills, consider working with them to develop and practice social skills or strategies for forming friendships.1 For example, consider working with the school counselor to establish a social skills group, or “lunch bunch” that provides isolated students an opportunity to connect with others, talk about social challenges, and practice social skills.8
Emphasize respect and sense of community. If you observe a student being disrespectful to others, (a) quickly name the issue (“That was not respectful.”), (b) re-state expectations (“We have agreed to treat each other with respect.”), (c) provide an opportunity for the students to engage in a positive interaction (“Let’s try it again with respect.”), and (d) give positive feedback (“That was much better.”). If the comment reflects a lack of understanding or bias, provide factual information to counteract the misunderstanding and reinforce sense of community (e.g., “Anyone can get sick, and we are a community that takes care of each other;” “It’s not OK at this school to use ‘gay’ disrespectfully to mean something is bad.”).9
- Gest SD, Madill RA, Zadzora KM, Miller AM, Rodkin PC. Teacher management of elementary classroom social dynamics: Associations with changes in student adjustment. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. 2014;22(2):107-118.
- Doumas DM, Midgett A. The effects of students’ perceptions of teachers’ antibullying behavior on bullying victimization: Is sense of school belonging a mediator? Journal of applied school psychology. 2019;35(1):37-51.
- Baroody AE, Rimm-Kaufman SE, Larsen RA, Curby TW. The link between responsive classroom training and student–teacher relationship quality in the fifth grade: A study of fidelity of implementation. School psychology review. 2014;43(1):69-85.
- Prothero A. How to build relationships with students during COVID-19.external icon Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Schwartz S. Classroom routines must change. Here’s what teaching looks like under COVID-19.external icon Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Minero E. 8 strategies to improve participation in your virtual classroom.external icon Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.
- Education World. The socially isolated student.external icon Accessed September, 2020.
- Tucker GC. 7 ways the teacher can help your child make friends.external icon Accessed September, 2020.
- Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Responding to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak through PBIS.external icon Published 2020. Accessed September, 2020.