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05 November 2021

Pastoral Blog: Supporting Social Skills

Pastoral Blog: Supporting Social Skills

Although people may differ in the degree of social contact that they personally desire, making meaningful connections with others is a basic human need. Very few of us could count ourselves as having a happy and fulfilling life without having any friends to turn to or to share a joke with.

Despite this being such a basic need, some young people - and, indeed, some adults - do find it more difficult than others to make friends. For example, students may possess a crippling level of shyness or social anxiety, or they may have a special need such as Autism. As a small College, many of our students have chosen us precisely because they have struggled to fit in socially in a larger school. For example, some of our students have turned to us after being badly bullied in their previous school. Some of these students have been homeschooled after a period of school refusal due to this bullying.

At EIC, the small class sizes and inclusive approach to education allows many of these students to thrive just from being here. However, some do need an extra confidence boost. In order to meet this need, some of our students are offered support with their social skills. These sessions take place on a weekly basis and the students are in small groups. I lead one group and Nemone, our highly experienced and capable Head of PSHE, leads another group.

The activities which these groups take part in are student-led. In case anyone reading this is seeking ideas for running this intervention in their own school, here are some of the activities which we have run which the students have greatly enjoyed:

  • Conversation practice. All participants, including the teacher, write topics of interest on slips of paper. Topics covered in my class have included everything from “my dream holiday”, “if I could go back in time to live in any time period, I would choose …” and more obscure topics such as “the colour blue”. A participant chooses a random slip and then chooses another member of the group to converse with on that topic. That person then chooses the next slip and so on. 
  • Small-talk practice. Students were given role play scenarios. For example, one student played the part of an elderly person who struck up a conversation about the weather at a bus stop, and we role played how the students could reply
  • Trips out of school. One of our students has a special interest in birds, and the group enjoyed a trip to Walpole Park to observe and feed the birds, with the student leading the trip.
  • Trying new experiences. Yesterday, my group and I went to Ealing high street to buy Bubble Tea. Prior to going out, each student filled in a form with their likes and dislikes, as well as menu items which they had never tried but would like to try. Each student was then given another student to choose a bubble tea for. Through this, they learned to consider the preferences of others, as well as expressing gratitude even when you are given something as a gift which might not be your absolute first choice. One student, who is very shy, was able to be very proud of themselves by making the order in the shop, as this was something which they hadn’t felt able to do before

Coming up, we will be holding board games sessions where a student will bring in a game and have to explain the rules to those who have never played before, helping them to develop their articulacy and patience as well as the sportsmanship of all of the players. We are also planning an indoor picnic at the end of term, with each student bringing in dishes to share, taking into account the allergies and preferences of the whole group.

Good social skills are just as essential to happiness and career success as good grades, and I really recommend running sessions like these to any teacher or pastoral lead who is worried about the social isolation of their students. The students in the group have also made friends with each other, providing them with an opportunity to practice their newly acquired skills outside of the sessions.

To finish, just a couple of additional tips for anyone running similar sessions:

I recommend small groups, with a maximum of 6 students

Choose the groups carefully, taking into account the ages, interests and differing social needs of the students

Choose the staff leader carefully. This should be someone who genuinely wants to be involved in the initiative and who is warm and approachable, and preferably someone who is happy to take part themselves as this means that they are able to model good social skills. This definitely isn’t something to put on a teacher's timetable as a filler!

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