Worse Than Cigarettes… Does Your Classroom Encourage this Health Risk?

Studies of over 3 million people have confirmed a health risk that is worse than cigarettes and your classroom may be contributing to this epidemic…

It’s not the candy you use for rewards…

It’s not the chemicals you use to clean the white boards…


 It’s the simple act of allowing social isolation to occur.

Here’s why:

“Socially isolated people were 26% more likely to die than people who had some form of meaningful social engagement.”

But it gets worse…

“In comparison to other well known risk factors, the absence of supportive social relationships is equivalent to the health effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking more than six alcoholic drinks daily. Social isolation is more harmful than not exercising and twice as harmful as obesity.”
The meta-analysis examined social isolation, loneliness, and living alone.  Which corresponded to an average of 29%, 26%, and 32% increased likelihood of mortality, respectively.
I previously covered the unexpected fact that social pain and physical pain are processed in the same region of the brain and Tylenol actually reduces the pain felt from rejection.  However, if you are actively engaging in behaviors that limit social engagement in your classroom you are contributing to this health risk!
(Social rejection is also the Best way to reduce IQ.)

Shame: The Creativity Killer

Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, comments on the effect that Shame has on people and why teachers should strive to eliminate shame from their classroom management toolkit.
85% of people she has interviewed in her decades of research have said that they recall a specific school incident where they were shamed in school.  Additionally, half of those episodes were centered around creative projects.
If you believe, like Time Magazine does, that there is an innovation and creativity crisis in America, then shaming students has got to end.

Get Your Free Project Based Learning ToolKit and Fight Social Starvation Here!

Do you use shame in your class?  Answer these questions to find out:

  • Is fear of ridicule and belittling used to manage students or keep them in line?
  • Is self worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance?
  • Are blaming and finger pointing the norm?
  • Are put-downs and name calling used often?

If so, this is yet another reason Why Your Growth Mindset Talk May Be Falling on Deaf Ears.

It gets better…

 “Research shows that playing cards once a week or meeting friends every Wednesday night at Starbucks adds as many years to our lives as taking beta blockers or quitting a pack-a-day smoking habit.”
Here’s why…
 “In 2007 Steve Cole and his team at UCLA discovered that social contact switches on and off the genes that regulate our immune response to cancer and the rate of tumor growth.” – Susan Pinker’s The Village Effect
Basically, if you improve the social interactions in your classroom, you will increase their mental health.  It will also make them happier.  And contrary to popular belief happiness leads to success, not the other way around.

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There are very simple ways to improve social engagement in your classroom:
  1. One of the easiest ways is to use dialogue circles.  Dialogue circles are “conversations in which participants make a conscious attempt to suspend their assumptions, refrain from debate, and instead focus on both individual and group learning.”

Dialogue circles can help increase generosity, trust, intrinsic motivation, social connection, and cooperation so students can work together for a common purpose.These circles are so powerful because they facilitate the release of the hormones oxytocin and dopamine in the brain which allows for the following positive effects:

► Persistence

Students in studies who felt socially connected persisted 48–64% longer on a challenging task, reported greater interest in the task, required less self-regulatory resources to persist on it, became more engrossed in the task and performed better on it. They also expressed greater enjoyment of and interest in the task than participants in control conditions.

► Increases Grades

Social belonging helped raise grades in African-American students. One intervention allowed first year college students to learn that all students worry at first if they belong in college but over the years everyone comes to feel at home. African-American students that were involved in the experiment earned higher grades during the next 3 years and also reported better health than the control group.

This intervention helped students attribute daily struggles to difficulties that occur with transition, instead of believing it meant that they did not belong. The most interesting part was that when polled about the experiment years later, most did not even remember the intervention, just the message. The intervention became an inner dialogue that the students took ownership of instead of an outside intervention.

► Positive cross cultural interactions

Social connection through cross-group friendship can eliminate or reduce negative expectations about intergroup interactions. During three sessions, Latino and White duos exchanged self-disclosing information through questioning. An example of one of these questions was “Who is the most important person in your life?” They also completed cooperative activities.

Participants in the study initiated more intergroup interactions during a three-week diary period after becoming friends with a cross-group individual. Participants who had made a cross-group friend reported lower anxious mood during the diary period as well (9).

For more on dialogue circles click here.

2. Emphasize your class as a social group.  At the San Miguel School, we refer to students as MIGUEL Men.  MIGUEL stands for Mindset, Integrity, Grit, Understanding, Ethical, Leaders.  We have a class dedicated to this identity.  Research has indicated that:

“Having a large network of friends did not predict self-esteem, but belonging to multiple groups did.”

The authors of the study, commented that:

“Groups often have rich value and belief systems, and when we identify with groups, these can provide a lens through which we see the world.”

Does your school offer clubs and activities that allow students to feel like they are part of a specific group?

Is there a way for you to do the same at your school or your classroom?

Making your students feel like they are a team or members of a group with a common purpose may just help them become happier and more successful.

Selected References

Tamir, D., & Mitchell, J. (2012). Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(21), 8038-8043.

Butler, L., & Walton, G. (2013). The opportunity to collaborate increases preschoolers’ motivation for challenging tasks. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 953-961.

Blackwell, L. A., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Theories of intelligence and achievement across the junior high school transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246–263.

Page-Gould, E., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Tropp, L. R. (2008). With a little help from my cross-group friend: Reducing anxiety in intergroup contexts through cross-group friendship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1080–1094.

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