5 Ways Teachers Can Help Socially Isolated Students

Helping socially isolated students develop friendships prevents bullying


Every student needs to feel a connection with his peers. Most of the time, these connections are built at school. But for those who struggle to develop friendships or who frequently find themselves on the fringe of every social circle, school can be a significant source of pain. Attending school reminds them of their struggle. They may have trouble finding a partner in class or they are the last picked for group projects.

They also might feel alone at lunch, left out at recess and lonely on the walk home from school.

This lack of social connection also puts them at risk for bullying. Bullies tend to target kids who are socially isolated. Even just one healthy friendship can go a long way in preventing bullying. As a result, it is increasingly important that teachers and administrators do what they can to help socially isolated students connect with others. If you recognize that a student is being isolated socially, here are five ideas on what you can do to help.

Investigate the issue. Before you can help a student who is isolated, you need find out why the student is struggling socially. Begin by observing the student in different settings such as at lunch, during recess and in class. Discretely talk with former teachers and trustworthy students to see what they think are the issues behind the social isolation.

You may learn that the student’s difficulties are related to bossiness, mean girl behavior, shyness, home life issues or hygiene. Or, he may be isolated simply because he is different. You may also find that the student is a victim of bullying, rumors and gossip or even cyberbullying and other students are avoiding the student due to peer pressure.

Address any bullying issues. If you discover that the social isolation is related to bullying and not a lack of social skills, be sure you address the bullying immediately. If the student is the victim of rumors and gossip or being ostracized by others, be sure you address these behaviors when you see them occur. You also could plan a lesson that encourages empathy, respect and other positive character traits. You also should give the student ideas on coping with these types of bullying.

Coach the student. Begin by helping him improve his social skills. Offer guidance about social situations he might encounter and provide pointers on how to deal with those situations. This might be as simple as encouraging the student to make eye contact with others and being friendly. The goal is to get the student to make an effort to build friendships and relationships with others.

Arrange social opportunities. One option is to encourage the student to get involved in activities that give him an opportunity to socialize with others. The activities you recommend will depend on the student’s areas of interest or talents. But these activities can include everything from yearbook and chess club to drama and sports.

Even activities that involve community service are good opportunities for the student to socialize. Another option is to develop a group project that students will need to work on outside of class. Put the socially isolated student with a couple of mature, empathetic students who will be sure to include him in the project. Then, check in on the group progress and be sure things are moving along smoothly. You also can take the opportunity to help these students recognize his strengths and talents.

Organize a lunch club. Use the lunch club as an opportunity to reward students for being empathetic, compassionate, respectful, kind to others or helpful.

The reward is that the students get a break from cafeteria food to eat in your classroom. If you can, provide pizza or another favorite food. Or, have the kids each contribute a few dollars toward the special lunch. Another option is to have them bring their school lunch to your classroom and the reward is that they can listen to music, relax and enjoy ice cream after. Whatever method you choose to reward your lunch club, be sure your socially isolated student is included. This special lunch will give him an opportunity to connect with students who will most likely be receptive to him.