We all have at least one friend we know we can always depend on no matter rain or shine! We draw emotional strength from them during tough times, and they help bring out the best in us.
The friendship between two individuals who understand and appreciate each other’s character can help propel them to develop and grow. When a student feels seen and valued within the boundaries of a healthy friendship, it can produce desirable academic benefits and promote learning.
It is important that we do more to recognise and highlight the value of friendships. Often, education is wrongly perceived as only being a stepping stone to greater wealth and social status. However, with this mindset, we risk pitting young students against each other. This creates unnecessary competition that divides and impedes the formation of healthy friendships. Instead, we should encourage students to recognise the unique individual gifts within each of their peers, mutually uplift each other, and help each other become the best person they can be.
Here are some ways we can help students harness the power of friendships for learning:
Promote Cooperative Learning
Instead of pitting students against each other, have them collaborate and work together towards a common goal. This reduces the threat of competition and promotes positive interdependence amongst these students. One way in which such valuable and productive connections form is when an individual student can attain their goal only if the group also attains theirs. Students will be encouraged to look beyond the narrow limits of themselves and learn to consider how to best complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Encourage Peer Support
Students need to recognise that their peers are teammates and supporters in their learning, not competitors. Watch out for the formation of cliques and gangs in the classroom that might result in toxic behaviour or alienate quieter students. Teachers can act as facilitators to bridge gender, race and other divides that are hindering cross-group friendships from forming. With care and discretion, they can seat high-performing students next to those with learning difficulties, or gently encourage a shy student to befriend a friendly classmate through peer tutoring. Overtime, this helps develop a site of mutual support within the classroom.
Foster A Positive & Friendly Learning Environment
When students do things together with their peers, tasks such as studying becomes a more enjoyable and fun experience. In the presence of friends, reward centres in the brain are activated due to the subconscious need to prove one’s ability. When carefully managed, the result is a greater motivation to learn and try new things. This allows learning to occur at a faster pace, and encourages exploratory behaviour that expands the mental horizons of students beyond their textbooks.
Get Students to Be More Involved
One impactful method to help students harness the power of friendships for learning is to get them to be more involved. What should they be more involved in, you might ask? Answer: the participation of extracurricular activities. Encourage students to join extracurricular activities where they can make new friends. There is a higher chance for students to meet peers who are like-minded and share the same interests as them. Students can also meet peers who have been exposed to relatively different experiences as compared to them. They can then share these experiences with one another, allowing for a gain in insight of the world for everyone. Therefore, getting students to be more involved in extracurricular activities provides them the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and to gain valuable knowledge that is important for their learning.
Some may believe that having students sit close together in class can cause them to be distracted as they would be chatting away when the lesson is going-on. However, there are a few benefits of closing the proximity between students in the classroom. One benefit is that students who are having problems with their learning can easily approach the peers beside them for help. Furthermore, group discussions can be carried out comfortably without students moving around the classroom too much. Group discussions increase students’s interest and engagement of the subject. Students can improve on their communication skills as they would be encouraged to express their opinions critically. Therefore, encouraging contact in the classroom provides students the opportunity to learn from one another and improve their development skills.
With regard to the issue of students being distracted by their peers, here is a method you can adopt in the classroom:
Before the start of each lesson, make your students stay silent for a minute and praise them when they manage to follow the instruction. Encourage them to talk only during group discussions and make them stay silent for another minute after the discussions ended. It would also be helpful to come up with hand signals which students can use to signal their peers when they do not wish to have a conversation. Constant repetition of such actions will allow students to adopt the desired behaviour at a faster rate.
Put Their Strengths Into Actions
One way for students to improve their strengths is to enhance their skills or interests. However, not many students are able to realise their strengths and work on them. Therefore, it is important to have friends who can help to point out their specialities. Their peers can also encourage students to further develop their skills. For example, if a student is great at debating, encourage them to join debate competitions where they can interact with other debaters. It provides them the opportunity to learn from their new peers and improve on their strengths. From there, they can further discover their strengths and even their weaknesses. Knowing what they lack, students can start to adjust and make improvements. This way, students will be able to gain a better understanding of themselves, edging them towards the path of purposeful learning.
Friendships play an important role in everyone’s life. A study done showed that friendships are more important than you might think — friendships are actually one of the biggest indicators of success in school. As teachers, we have a great opportunity to help students create friendships that will influence their behaviour positively. However, there are some students who find it difficult to make friends due to their rather introverted personalities. As much as possible, we should encourage these students to step out of their comfort zones and create valuable friendships.
What are some other ways you use to foster friendships in your learning? Do share them with us!