Cultivating common ground

Advancing affinity to build belonging

Hey 👋

Hope your week is going well and that you’ve been playing with signalling status. This week, we wrap up our series on belonging by unpacking how common ground influences things…

Big idea 🍉

Belonging is powerful lever for improving learning and wellbeing in school. As we explored in the last Snacks, signalling status is a great strategy for building belonging. But we can take things even further by cultivating common ground:

Very simply, when we find out we have things in common, our feelings of belonging increase. Contrary to the classic by Paula Abdul (and the actual mechanics of magnets), when it comes to social situations, similarity attracts.

For example, imagine if all of us Evidence Snackers discovered that we had the same birthday… and that we all had the same favourite pizza topping… and that we all grew up in the same small town in Northern Ireland ☘️🤯

We'd feel close as.

“Likeness begets liking.”

— Myers

If status is about ‘how much they like me’, then common ground is about ‘how much they are like me’. It’s the degree to which we understand and align with the values and perspectives of the group. Furthermore, interacting with similar others acts as a form of validation of our selves.

We can cultivate common ground in school by investing in:

  1. Identity Developing distinctive language, lesson rituals, or ‘in’ jokes that can act as a common reference point for our classes. Here, we do this.

  2. Affinity Prompting students to look for personal connections in areas such as their background, interests or shared experiences (left to their own devices, students can often end up grouping around more superficial characteristics). Cool, you like Minecraft too.

  3. Purpose Creating a strong 'fire in the belly' goal for your class (or school), that students can get lined up behind, instantly gives everyone a shared motive. We’re going to nail these exams.

Note → The more unique and enduring the connection, the stronger the resulting effect. Finding out that you speak the same second language as someone is more affiliating than seeing them eat the same lunch.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you spend ages cultivating common ground, but where low-hanging opportunities exist (such as during tutor time or assemblies), it's worth at least some cursory consideration.

Finally, a reminder that, as with signalling status, cultivating common ground is just as important for staff as it is for students.

Challenge → How much common ground do your students (or staff) share? What do you do to cultivate this? Is there anything you could do you better?


• When we discover that we have things in common, we become a little closer.

• We can cultivate common ground by investing in identity, affinity, and purpose.

• The more unique our common ground, the stronger the effect.

Little links 🥕

You know it ain't fiction, just a natural fact…

Peps 🕺

PS. Just a big thank you to everyone who reads these emails—I appreciate you.