Friendship: The Unsinkable Ship

The teacher is the key to friendship in the connected classroom.

Posted Oct 19, 2012

Your ship does not sink as easily or quickly with friends aboard. Friends warn you of the danger ahead, help you bail the water out of the boat faster, and help you put on your life jacket. By the explicit practice of positive psychology, teachers help children to build positive connections between, and among, each other. Positive psychology empowers children to forge deep and lasting friendships by managing their emotions and directing their strengths toward initiating, maintaining, and improving their relationships. 

Children learn to trust each other, understand each other, and rely on each other for support. They transfer their positive emotions and signature strengths to their friendships. By the explicit practice of positive psychology, teachers help children to build positive connections between, and among, each other. They are forgiving, generous, loyal, committed, and supportive in all of their interpersonal interactions.

The research is clear that children without friends, or with few friends, are at-risk for academic failure, emotional stress, and psychological disorders. Whether or not children have friends reliably predicts whether or not they report that they are happy - and whether or not they enjoy going to school. Abraham Maslow proposed that, immediately after children fulfill their basic physical needs for water, food, and shelter, they seek affiliation and a sense of belonging. Friendship serves a critical function and is a critical need.

The affection, goodwill, and assistance provided by friends play an important role in both physical and personal adjustment. Teachers tell you that children without friends do not fare well in the classroom. They suffer more reported physical complaints and do not possess the same emotional poise that children with a strong network of friends typically possess. School connectedness predicts every facet of physical, mental, emotional, and academic health. Friendship is a bio-adaptive transaction.

In school, teachers must explicitly instruct children and adolescents to learn to use their emotions and strengths to meet the mutually reciprocal expectations of friendship, and to act accordingly. They learn how to build rapport and relationships in the classroom and connect to each other, their school, and their community through work and play. Children learn the give and take of friendship and the teacher opens the door of friendship to all.

Teachers are in an advantageous position to facilitate all types of friendship and to teach the practice of friendship. They can create the climate, the culture, and the circumstance for friendship to blossom in the classroom. To leave the development of friendship to chance alone is a survival of the fittest approach. Instead, positive psychology encourages teachers to focus on the art and science of relationships.

So that no one ever sails the seas alone.


Read: Blum, (2005). School connectedness: Improving student lives. Washington, D.C. Military Child Initiative, U.S. Department of Defense

Read: Villarica, H. (2011). Maslow 2.0: A New and Improved theory of Happiness. Washington, D.C.: The Atlantic Media Company

Read: A Boat Full of Animals by Sally Huss

Watch: Being Friends Videos

Explore: Peace First


I would love to hear from you. How do students with friends fare in your classroom? How do more isolated or alienated students fare? How does your school culture or class climate encourage or hinder positive relationships? What strengths do your students bring to friendship development and maintenance? Do you acknowledge and encourage those strengths? What can you do to facilitate friendship in your classroom in a purposeful and deliberate way?

My upcoming book, Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom, is the first in a series intended to help teachers build positive psychology classrooms.

About the Author

Patty O’Grady, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Tampa committed to transformational education. She is the author of Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom.

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