The main way of support students need to relate to others is to arrange activities in which students work together in ways that are mutually supportive, that recognize students' diversity, and minimize competition among individuals. Having students work together can happen in many ways. You can, for example, deliberately arrange projects that require a variety of talents; some educators call such activities “rich group work” (Cohen, 1994; Cohen, Brody, & Sapon-Shevin, 2004). In studying in small groups about medieval society, for example, one student can contribute his drawing skills, another can contribute his writing skills, and still another can contribute his dramatic skills. The result can be a multi-faceted presentation—written, visual, and oral. The groups needed for rich group work provide for students relationships with each other, whether they contain six individuals or only two.
There are other ways to encourage relationships among students. In the jigsaw classroom (Aronson & Patnoe, 1997), for example, students work together in two phases. In the first phase, groups of “experts” work together to find information on a specialized topic. In a second phase the expert groups split up and reform into “generalist” groups containing one representative from each former expert group. In studying the animals of Africa, for example, each expert group might find information about a different particular category of animal or plant; one group might focus on mammal, another on bird, a third on reptiles, and so on. In the second phase of the jigsaw, the generalist groups would pool information from the experts to get a more well-rounded view of the topic. The generalist groups would each have an expert about mammals, for example, but also an expert about birds and about reptiles.
As a teacher, you can add to these organizational strategies by encouraging the development of your own relationships with class members. Your goal, as teacher, is to demonstrate caring and interest in your students not just as students, but as people. The goal also involves behaving as if good relationships between and among class members are not only possible, but ready to develop and perhaps even already developing. A simple tactic, for example, is to speak of “we” and “us” as much as possible, rather than speaking of “you students.” Another tactic is to present cooperative activities and assignments without apology, as if they are in the best interests not just of students, but of “us all” in the classroom, yourself included.