Class cohesion describes the social and emotional ‘glue’ that binds students and teachers together in a learning environment.

If class cohesion is weak, both staff and students feel emotionally unsafe, unengaged and often conflicted in their aims and attitudes.

In contrast, a class with high levels of cohesion engenders a powerful sense of belonging and shared primary goals among all members. As such, a highly cohesive class exemplifies a happy and productive learning environment where everyone is on the same ‘educational page’.

So what are the ingredients of class cohesion? And, moreover, how can we create class cohesion and build a unified, positive and productive classroom experience for both students and teachers?

First, lets think about the ingredients of class cohesion – what is it that makes classroom members feel emotionally and cognitively glued to each other?  In social psychological terms, class cohesion equates to personal attraction between members.  Attraction being a term to represent a degree of liking and preference for others, rather than anything to do with romantic relationships. So, in this context we can say that simply put, if a child is attracted to another child in a sustainable way, there is cohesion between them. They are bound by a psychological glue based on their mutual desire to hang out together.  If all members of a class want to hang out with all other members of a class, then the class operates as a cohesive whole.  In reality, this is something that rarely happens without careful support and guidance.  Without intervention, kids will attract to some other kids, but certainly not to all in the class. This means that most classes will be made up of sub-groups of like minded friends. There is likely to be some outsiders who have failed to form a cohesive relationship with the members of any sub-group; and some especially ‘popular’ kids who may be members of more than one subgroup.

About Helen

Originally from the UK, Dr Helen Street has worked extensively in Australian schools since 1999. Her work exploring wellbeing, engagement and motivation in young people has been presented internationally in academic journals and in the popular media. Helen’s ideas have been met with international acclaim and have been endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and 'brown eyes blue eyes' creator Jane Elliott, among many others.

Helen has a background in applied social psychology and youth mental health. She is an adjunct research consultant for the health department of WA's Centre for Clinical Interventions and an Honorary Research Fellow with the School of Graduate Education at The University of Western Australia. Helen is the author of several books and book chapters. Most recently, she co-edited with Neil Porter the Positive Schools first book, ‘Better Than OK’. Helen also writes regularly for Educational publications including Western Teacher magazine and The Positive Times (www.positivetimes.com.au).
Helen is one of the original creators of The Positive Schools conferences. The incredible success of the events is a satisfying reflection of her passion to bring positive education to all Australian schools.