While Regina George may be forever frozen in 2004, the mean girl mentality is still very real and present in many schools today.
The classic cult film “Mean Girls” follows a naive new girl’s introduction to the world of mean girls. From exclusive lunch dates to backhanded compliments, the school’s reigning click is not only the most popular, but also the meanest. While the comedy pokes fun at high school culture in the United States and the mean girl mentality, many of the movie’s scenarios are all too real to girls in middle and high schools around the country.
In one of the movie’s iconic scenes, one of the school’s teachers leads all the girls in a session on “girl on girl” crime. She’s able to break down barriers and dig deeper into the mean girl mentality.
While it’s a fictional scene, teachers do have the power to address and change the mean girl mentality in school. Try implementing some of these practices in your own classroom.
Understand where girls are coming from.
An article from Psychology Today links aggression with self-esteem. The article connects witnessing violence or being harmed (whether physically or emotionally) with acting out against others. While not every mean girl in your classroom has a history laden with abuse or trauma, there are often deeper roots behind their actions. Being a present teacher means not just giving grades or planning lessons, but caring for the whole student. Considering the roots of the mean girl mentality will help you address issues from a place of compassion and address the situation more effectively.
Lead by example.
If you expect your students to be inclusive, respectful, and uplifting, model that behavior yourself. While it can be easy to favor certain students or make generalizations about types of students, strive for equality. Building a strong foundation of trust and openness in your classroom will make it easier to address a mean girl mentality. Not only do you want your students who are victims to feel safe coming to you, but ideally the mean girls will feel equally safe processing with you. Scholastic offers a great resource about the pros and cons of favoritism in the classroom, along with advice on how to combat it.
Talk about it.
Have conversations in your classroom about peer pressure and standing up for your friends. Popularity and intimidation fuel the mean girl mentality But if your students are committed to standing up for their victimized classmates, the mean girls will lose their power. Talk about the potential positives of peer pressure, like when it is used to combat bullying and harassment. Equip your students to have difficult conversations with each other and stand up for each other by having the school counselor come do a workshop. Addressing these topics at school can come across as cheesy, but there are powerful ways to present the importance of positive peer pressure. The nonprofit organization Facing History offers resources to help incorporate messages about bullying and inclusion in your lessons plans. One lesson plan guides students through a series of readings that connect the Holocaust with human behavior. The lesson focuses on bullying and ostracism and prompts students to think with discussion questions and activities.
Connect actions with long-term consequences.
In 2012, an educator Eric Johnson grew increasingly alarmed about the lack of kindness in his classroom. Out of this frustration, he developed “Erase Meanness,” a program designed to do exactly what its name implies in his classroom. His week-long program includes daily steps for replacing meanness with kindness. His program hinges on the question “How do you want to be remembered?” This question forces students to consider how their current actions will affect their long-term legacy. In the TED talk below, Johnson explains his own experiences with bullying as a kid and what led him to develop “Erase Meanness.”
Check out our STEM Classroom Resources for additional materials to help you thrive as an educator.