Cliques in Middle School: How Teachers Can Help

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Many parents, teachers, and even girls themselves subscribe unconditionally to the idea that during middle school years girls are mean to each other and exclusive girl cliques are inevitable. They mistakenly believe that this is just the way of the world. It should be accepted. Those who are in the mean girls' cliques, good for them, those who are left out of these girls' cliques, well it’s just too bad. This is completely untrue. As educators we should make an effort that this myth is dispelled, at least in our classrooms.

Middle school can be one of the most challenging times for girls. Even the name, ‘middle’ suggests that students are at an in between stage. This is true. They are in transitioning physically, emotionally, and socially from little girls to young women. It’s vital to model and support good attitudes amongst girls at this trying time.

Although many people simply write off bad behavior and mean cliques you don’t have to do so. In fact since so many people (teachers and parents included) simply turn their heads, it’s even more important to take a stand for the appropriate behavior between girls.

These are life lessons in how to treat others and how to have successful, healthy relationships.

Expectations are Key

As previously stated many adults assume this inclusive, mean behavior from girl to girl is the norm, a rite of passage and look the other way. But this sets up unspoken expectations that girls will undoubtedly fulfill. Expect the best and you’ll get it; expect bad behavior and you’ll get this too.

It’s vital to set up positive and clear expectations with your students in regards to how they treat each other. Sure once they leave your classroom they can choose to behave however they wish but make it clear that when they’re with you certain types of behaviors and attitudes are expected. Hold them accountable to these expectations and be prepared to be tested.

Don’t be afraid to openly discuss the problems with how girls treat one another in middle school. Tell them what you want to see and look for it. It’s important to take active steps to make sure these positive behaviors are rewarded and the negative ones are looked down upon.

Model It

There’s just no other way to impact your students than to model what you want to see in them. In any work environment there are social groups and in many ways cliques. If you want your students, especially the girls, to stay away from girls' cliques that are mean and engage in positive, inclusive behaviors then you must do it too.

Students notice everything you do both in the classroom and during your time ‘off’ around the school. They know if you’re gossiping, leaving out another staff member, or generally engaging in your own clique type behaviors. Don’t do it!

While at school, even on breaks, remain an educator who subscribes to the highest standards of behavior. Be inclusive, accepting, nurturing, and true to yourself. There’s just no better way to teach your students to be strong and true to themselves than to do it yourself - no matter how challenging it may be.

Look for opportunities to include others, walk to your own beat, and be yourself. In other words don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Your students will spot your phoniness a mile away and your lesson in acceptance and positive behaviors will be worthless.

Nuture Diversity

Make sure that your classroom is a place where different opinions, ways of life, and individual preferences for everything is nurtured and admired. Don’t join the cliques in passing judgment on others and their unique choices.

Pay attention to the differences in your classroom amongst students and point out how much you respect them, their choices, or just the inner strength they have to go against the grain.

Many of the members of the mean girl cliques get most of the attention throughout the day. Make your classroom a place where those girls who are not included in these mean girls' cliques get put on a pedestal for being themselves. Look for ways to do this with each and every one of these students who appear to be on the outside of these girl cliques.

Being in middle school is hard on both girls and boys but girls seem to be even meaner. Take the opportunities you have when they are with you to stand up for how you believe these girls should be treating one another. It can be subtle and consistent. You may not think it’s making a difference but somewhere, somehow it’s being absorbed!