imagesI always understood that my relationships with students would reduce the number of discipline problems, increase motivation and ultimately learning. But — WOW — I wish I had known more about the importance of student-to-student relationships when I first started teaching.

I never spent much time on the anti-bullying craze not because I didn’t think it was important but there just seemed like so much else to focus on. Now I understand the importance but still think anti-bullying (by educating on signs of bullying, encouraging reporting to adults and focusing programming outside of the curriculum and regular instruction time) might be a slightly less effective way to go about fostering positive peer interactions.

First, the research:

  • The Harvard Men study followed 268 men from their entrance to college in the 1930s to present day. The study’s director, George Vaillant states that there are “70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world.” Positive social relationships were the single most important determinant of success, health and overall happiness of the men studied.
  • Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage explains, “When we have a community of people we can count on we multiply our emotional, intellectual and physical resources. We bounce back from setbacks faster, accomplish more, and feel a greater sense of purpose.” In his own study he found that, “Social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor, more than GPA, family income, SAT scores, age, gender or race…And as we know, the happier you are, the more advantages you accrue in nearly every domain in life.”
  • Positive social interactions have been shown to significantly reduce depression, anxiety and coronary heart disease!


And it doesn’t stop there. Look at the percentile gain on studies of the use of cooperative learning in classrooms:

cooperative learning

There is also strong evidence to support an instructional strategy called reciprocal teaching.

Finally, recent brain-based research reports that the brain is a social organ and requires connection to survive and thrive.

So, what can teachers do to foster peer relationships? A few ideas:

1) Teach active listening. Have students practice focusing on the speaker and his/her opinion and then ask interested questions to learn more.

2) Reserve time for students to deliver specific and authentic praise for one another. Maybe 1-2 minutes of “shout outs” at the end of a lesson.

3) Set up the classroom to be more communicative. Arrange the desks in a U-shape so students are facing each other rather than the teacher.

4) Let them use technology to collaborate in constructive ways. If you need some help convincing leaders to relax technology policies maybe you can show them this video.

5) Encourage group problem-solving. Pose complicated questions and allow them to work together on solving it.

6) Share the research with students. Let them reflect on the positive impacts of strong social connections.

7) Use cooperative learning strategies. Here is a list of some oldies but goodies.


Have other ideas? Let us know below!

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