What is Almost As Important as Student-Teacher Relationships?  

We all know that teacher-student relationships are one of the biggest predictors of student success. Actually, it’s been reported that teachers that have strong relationships with their students have 31 percent fewer behavioral issues (Marzano, 2003). That’s right, 31 percent.

However, let’s take a minute to look at another aspect that has been proven to have almost as much of a positive effect on student achievement: Strong classroom cohesion.

In fact, in a recent study of findings from over 1,500 meta-analysis of 90,000 studies involving 300 million students as to what works best in education, strong classroom cohesion was found to be just slightly lower than student-teacher relationships, which is one of the biggest predictors of success. Strong classroom cohesion is a factor that can often be overlooked and we work on relationships with individual students. However, it’s almost just as important.  (Visible Learning, 2017).

So what’s strong classroom cohesion? Classroom cohesion is how much the students are connected to each other. Often, classroom cohesion is difficult to spot as a visitor or outsider, but is obvious to a teacher or student in the class because it’s something that is felt by both you and your students.

Let’s take a few minutes to check our own classroom cohesion.

All of the time Often Regularly Rarely Never
5 4 3 2 1

My students feel comfortable asking each other for help.

5         4          3          2          1

My students know everybody’s name in the class. (This one is so simple, yet very telling.)

5          4          3          2          1

I often notice my students complimenting each other and/or being kind to each other.

5          4          3          2          1

My students let each other borrow school supplies when needed.

5          4          3          2          1

My students celebrate each other’s success.

5          4          3          2          1

My students console each other when they are a bit sad or upset without me prompting them.

5          4          3          2          1

My students support each other, even when mistakes are made in class.

5          4          3          2          1

Why is classroom cohesion so important?

5          4          3          2          1

My academically low performing students feel comfortable asking classmates for help at times

5          4          3          2          1

My students can do groupwork with minimal conflicts that require teacher intervention

5          4          3          2          1

How Am I Doing?

50-40 You already have an extremely cohesive classroom. The work is now in keeping this throughout the school year. Way to go!

30-39 This is a healthy point to be at this time of the year. The work is in boosting this class upwards and acknowledging and praising the times that your students are supportive to one another. This is motivating the students to continue to form bonds with each other.

20-29 We’ll get there and know you aren’t alone. Some classes take more work than others in the beginning, but it will be well worth it. There is so much time to create a cohesive classroom. I’d suggest starting three students that are the biggest put downs to other students. Next, praise every little kind gesture students do for each other.

0-19 I’d suggest starting with behavior contracts for the three students that are the biggest put downs to other students. You may want to revisit your classroom expectations. Then, use a few of the suggestions below and take it from there. Be mindful of the words and tone used with this class, because often frustration comes out in how we say something, not necessarily what we say.

Our job as teachers is to teach ourselves out of a job by the end of a school year. This means that the students do not need us to stay motivated, be kind to each other, and work collaboratively without conflict and towards a common goal.  To get to this point, we are gradually releasing control to create curious and independent learners. Let’s get real for a second. In tomorrow’s world, our students will need the skills of being able to solve problems, work on a team, take initiative, and have high positive self-worth. These are all skills that are gained in students that have strong classroom cohesion. When we create classrooms with strong classroom cohesion, we do actually less because students aren’t relying on us for every need and the vibe of the class is more positive overall. This means we have more energy and feel less drained at the end of the school day.

Here are ways to establish classroom cohesion in your classroom:

  1. Collaboration- In every lesson, there should be an aspect of collaboration.
  2. Praise students when they are kind to each other or support each other. This model the behavior of praising each other and students will most likely follow suit.
  3. Let students know that put downs are never okay
  4. Classroom bullies should be privately put on a behavior contract early in the school year (See Real Talk About Classroom Management for more about behavior contracts)
  5. Positive Words and tone should be used by the teacher to foster an environment that is supportive and uplifting
  6. Projects can be done in groups to facilitate friendships and connections in the classroom
  7. Mix groups up with different projects to push students out of their comfort zone and know every student in the classroom
  8. Let students console each other for a few minutes, away from the academic area, if they are sad or upset. This is a powerful way to build safety and trust within the students.

The fact is that anxious students, students with low self-esteem, or defeated students most likely will not work to create classroom cohesion because they have nothing to give emotionally. At times when we might yell and scold, we are actually breaking up the classroom cohesion.

As teachers, it’s our job to build students up with what we say, how we say it, and give them the little extra boost to support and care for each other.


References:

Marzano R.J., Marzano J.S & Pickering D.J (2003). Classroom Management That Works. Alexandra, VA: ASCD.

Visible Learning. 250+Influences on Student Achievement. Retrieved from https://visible-learning.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/VLPLUS-252-Influences-Hattie-ranking-DEC-2017.pdf

Written by

Serena Pariser is bestselling author of Real Talk About Classroom Management published by Corwin in 2018. She is currently working on a second book, Real Talk About Time Management, expected publication date is January 2020. This book will be geared towards any K-12 teacher looking to be more efficient in their classroom with higher results. She instructs graduate level classes on classroom management, presents at conferences nationally, and has worked with schools globally. See more of her work stay up to date and connected at www.serenapariser.com.

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