Two students discussing and looking at a paper
Teaching Strategy

Contracting

Develop a classroom contract to create a community of mutual respect and inclusion.

Published:

At a Glance

Teaching Strategy

Language

English — US
Also available in:
French — FR

Subject

  • Advisory
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12

Overview

About This Teaching Strategy

Contracting is the process of openly discussing with your students expectations about how classroom members will treat each other. It is an effective strategy for making your classroom a reflective community. Reflective classroom communities are places where explicit rules and implicit norms protect everyone’s right to speak; where differing perspectives can be heard and valued; where members take responsibility for themselves, each other, and the group as a whole; and where each member has a stake and a voice in collective decisions. These type of classroom communities are usually created through deliberate nurturing from students and teachers who have shared expectations about how classroom members will treat each other. The instructions below describe how to discuss classroom norms with students and then draft and agree to a formal contract of behavior.

Lesson Plans

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Steps for Implementation

A contract implies that all parties have a responsibility to uphold the agreement. Students can think about what it means for a classroom to have a contract.

To prepare students to develop a class contract, ask them to reflect on their experiences as students in a classroom community. You might use prompts like these to structure students’ reflection:

  • Identify when you have felt comfortable sharing your ideas and questions in a class. What happened in those moments to help you feel comfortable?
  • Identify when you have had ideas or questions but have not shared them. Why not? What was happening at those moments?

Facing History teachers have found that useful class contracts typically include several clearly defined rules or expectations, as well as consequences for those who do not fulfill their obligations as members of the classroom community. There are many ways to proceed with developing a classroom contract. For example, you can ask small groups of students to work together to write rules or “expectations” for the classroom community. We suggest keeping the list brief (e.g., three to five items) so that the norms can be easily remembered. As groups present, you can organize their ideas by theme. If there are any tensions or contradictions in the expectations that have been suggested, you can discuss them as a class. While the process is inclusive of students’ ideas, ultimately it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the ideas that make it into the final contract are those that will best nurture a safe learning environment.

To get the contracting conversation started in a more concrete way, you could share with students a list of norms, rules, or expectations that have been used in other Facing History classrooms. Ask students to discuss what they think about these norms. Which ones do they think would help this group create a safe, respectful, productive learning environment? Invite students to edit this list by deleting, revising, or adding to it. Here is a list of norms that have been used in previous Facing History classrooms:

  • Listen with respect. Try to understand what someone is saying before rushing to judgment.
  • Make comments using “I” statements.
  • If you do not feel safe making a comment or asking a question, write the thought in your journal. You can share the idea with your teacher first and together come up with a safe way to share the idea.
  • If someone says an idea or question that helps your own learning, say thank you.
  • If someone says something that hurts or offends you, do not attack the person. Acknowledge that the comment—not the person—hurt your feelings and explain why.
  • Put-downs are never okay.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask a question.
  • Think with your head and your heart.
  • Share the talking time—provide room for others to speak.
  • Do not interrupt others while they are speaking.
  • Write thoughts in your journal if you don’t have time to say them during class.
  • Journal responses do not have to be shared publicly.

Another way to help students develop a classroom contract is to have them envision what they would like to have happen during certain scenarios. Scenarios could be drawn from students’ own experiences. They might include situations such as:

  • When we have an idea or question we would like to share, we can...
  • When we have an idea but do not feel comfortable sharing it out loud, we can...
  • When someone says something that we appreciate, we can...
  • When someone says something that might be confusing or offensive, we can...
  • To make sure all students have the opportunity to participate in a class discussion, we can...
  • If we read or watch something that makes us feel sad or angry, we can...
  • To show respect for the ideas of others, we can...

After the class has completed its contract, reaching consensus about rules, norms, and expectations, it is important for each student to signal his or her agreement. Students can do so by copying the contract into their journals and signing the page, or you can ask all students to sign a copy of the contract that will remain displayed in the classroom.

Remote Learning

Contracting is an effective strategy for making your classroom a reflective and respectful community. It is the process of openly discussing with your students expectations about how classroom members will engage with each other and with the learning experience. Since remote learning deeply affects the ways in which members of a class communicate and connect with each other and their teacher, it is important to create a version of your class contract that addresses the different circumstances involved in remote learning so that students can feel engaged, valued, respected, and heard whether you are meeting in person or virtually.

Facing History teachers have found that effective class contracts typically include several clearly defined rules or expectations, as well as ideas for how the class will respond if students do not fulfill their obligations as members of the classroom community. There are many ways to proceed with developing a classroom contract, and we encourage you to adapt this process to meet the needs of your students and your learning environment.

Before creating a remote-learning contract with your students, you may find it useful to consider the following questions:

  • What norms should there be concerning technology use? How should technology be used to promote learning and engage with others? How can it be a distraction? 
  • What should students do when they feel as if they need more support, either emotionally or academically?
  • When are students expected to be available? The teacher? For example, are there times of day when teachers and students can expect quick replies? Are there times of the day or night when teachers and students should not be contacted?
  • How can a student raise a concern with the teacher about an issue that arose during unmonitored group or pair work with classmates? 
  • What norms should govern synchronous remote sessions? For example, how should students use the chat function or raise a question? Are there specific district guidelines about when students should turn their video feature on or off?
  1. Define
    A contract implies that all parties have a responsibility to uphold the agreement. Students can think about what it means for a class to have a contract and why it is important to create a contract that can guide both in-person and remote learning.
  2. Reflect
    To prepare students to develop a class contract, ask them to reflect on their experiences as students in both in-person and remote class communities. Consider using prompts like these to guide students’ reflections:
    • Think about what it has been like for you to participate in remote learning in the past. What are some aspects of remote learning that you found challenging? What about remote learning worked well for you?
    • What does your ideal in-person learning environment feel, look, and sound like? What does your ideal remote-learning environment feel, look, and sound like? What are the differences? What are the similarities?
  3. Generate Ideas for Norms
    To help students brainstorm ideas for class norms, present them with a series of scenarios and ask them to envision what they would like to have happen if that scenario arises when they are learning remotely or when they are learning in person. Project each scenario during a synchronous in-person or virtual session, and ask students to write down their ideas for each one. You might ask students to consider situations such as:
    • When I have an idea or question I would like to share, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    • When I have an idea but do not feel comfortable sharing it out loud, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    • When someone says something that I appreciate, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    • When someone says something that offends me or confuses me, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    • To make sure all students have the opportunity to participate in a class discussion, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    • If I read or watch something that makes me feel sad or angry, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    • To show respect for the ideas of others, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
  4. Next, ask students to work together in breakout groups to generate ideas for norms or “expectations” for the class contract. Students should share their responses to the scenarios with their groups and work together to decide what the common themes are among their responses. Based on their discussion, students should create a Venn diagram or three-column Google Doc or Padlet with ideas for class norms specific to remote learning on one side, ideas specific to in-person learning on the other side, and ideas that apply to both in the middle. We suggest keeping each list brief (e.g., three to five items per section of the Venn diagram) so that the norms can be easily remembered. Students can work together in person or collaborate virtually in a document. If students work together in person, consider designating one note-taker per group to write ideas in a Venn diagram on a piece of chart paper in order to make it easier for students to maintain physical distance from classmates.
  5. Discuss Norms as a Class
    Ask each student group to share their ideas for class norms with the full class, including how students envision the idea working when they are in the classroom and when they are engaged in remote learning. The following are some suggestions for how students can share their ideas with the full class:
    • Present during in-person class or synchronous virtual session.
    • Write ideas on a physical or virtual Big Paper.
    • Record a brief explanation of the proposed rules and post the recording to a virtual learning platform.
  6. As a class, with the teacher writing on the whiteboard or a shared screen, organize the ideas for remote learning and the ideas for in-person learning by theme. If there are any tensions or contradictions in the suggested expectations, you can discuss them as a class. While the process is inclusive of students’ ideas, ultimately it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the ideas that make it into the final contract are those that will best nurture a safe learning environment.

Commit to the Contract
After the class completes its contract and reaches consensus about rules, norms, and expectations, it is important for each student to signal their agreement. If you are teaching in person, you can ask students to sign a copy of the contract that will remain displayed in the classroom.
If you are teaching remotely, ask students to copy the classroom contract into their journals, sign it, and then take a photo of the contract to share. You can compile the photos into a collage. You can also ask students to record a short video in which they commit to upholding the contract.

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