The first step in establishing a cohesive, productive group is to establish a common framework of behavior and expectations. In my case, this means a framework of mutual respect. Respect is a sound basis for a classroom for many reasons. First, it creates a healthy, cooperative relationship between teacher and students. Second, it covers the major frictions and playground quirks of elementary school. It covers name calling, exclusivity, cliques, criticism, prejudice and much more. It also covers self-respect and, thus, achievement. Finally, it wraps the classroom in a set of behaviors that are civilized and calming.
The second step is to establish clear goals for class as a whole and to make clear that each student will be fully supported in reaching those goals. Under the mantle of respect, each student will be expected to support their fellow students fully in their path to meeting expectations. Under the mantle of respect, group work would be caring and cooperative. With respect, social interactions are cordial and cooperative, even under difficult circumstances. Respect provides a clear framework for resolving disputes. With clear goals for individual lessons, units and the year as a whole, the students understand expectations and can find safety in that clarity.