What would happen if you allowed your students to make the rules?
That’s exactly what happens when you use a social contract in the classroom.
Do you instantly picture students swinging from the ceiling while simultaneously waving frantically with one hand and texting on their devices with the other?
If so, you wouldn’t be alone.
Students Want Autonomy
My first year of teaching I spent the weeks before greeting students coming up with a set of rules that was both concise and broad. I wanted to have all my bases covered.
On the first day, I stood in front of my students painstakingly announcing each of the rules and why it was important to follow them. I was met with eye rolls and boredom.
With the help of my mentor teacher I realized that students want to have autonomy and ownership of their community and this top-down approach wasn’t going to work.
Students Set the Community Expectations
Instead of bending over backward to have just the right rules in place, ask your students. This takes the pressure off of you and allows the community norms to form in a more conversational way that will encourage self discipline in following them.
When students create their own expectations they hold one another accountable in a way you can’t. This also gives you the opportunity to refer back to the student created expectations throughout the year when the need arises.
Using a Classroom Social Contract
A classroom social contract is a way for students and teachers to work together to clearly establish the community expectations and agree to follow them. This is a two-way street that allows for both teacher and student accountability.
By engaging students in the creation of the social contract, you are inviting them into the process and giving them ownership of the community. This leads to instant buy-in.
Tips for using a Classroom Social Contract:
- Ask for student input first
- Use guiding questions to ensure full consideration
- Keep it conversational
- Summarize student ideas into expectations
- Everyone signs the contract
- Refer back to the contract often
Why Every Classroom Should Have a Social Contract
When students are included in building the norms and expectations for their community they feel invested in the outcome.
By setting expectations on student ideas the community is grown and responsibility for its health is held by all.