Assigned seating eliminates the struggle of trying to fit in or feeling left out during the most crucial social hour of the school day — lunch. University School of Milwaukee practices this unique tradition by assigning students from varying grades to circular tables monitored by teachers, NPR reports.
Though the forced polite table talk can be awkward, administrators say the results are worth it because the practice develops a positive school culture and no students eat alone. Gibraltar Elementary in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, also applied the strategy to reduce lunchroom bullying and saw improvements.
Experts say that while assigned lunchroom seating is rare, more schools should look into the benefits of an organized lunchroom social dynamic, given that socializing over meals is a beneficial lifelong skill.
Eliminating isolation, breaking down cliques and encouraging interaction across all ages and social groups ultimately improves school culture. While this can be a challenge for some administrators, getting student buy-in is critical. Seating teachers at student lunch tables is also an opportunity for teachers to demonstrate empathy while leading by example.
Educators agree developing social-emotional skills should be a top school priority. Showing empathy is important, as is managing emotions and setting and achieving goals.
Advocates for more SEL in schools hope more funds will be funneled to schools now that the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations has released a budget proposal that would include $260 million for SEL and whole child services. The initiative includes $170 million for Education Innovation and Research grants, $25 million for SEL professional development, $25 million for mental health professionals and development experts, and another $40 million for wrap-around community school services.
Other ways to improve school culture, as recommended by a number of administrators nationwide, include avoiding negative messaging, encouraging academic risk-taking, doing small things that make big differences, and maintaining a personable nature.