A Facing History and Ourselves classroom is a place 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. Facing History calls these spaces reflective classroom communities. Reflective classroom communities often do not happen by accident; rather, they are deliberatively nurtured by students and teachers who have shared expectations about how classroom members will treat each other. One way to help classroom communities establish shared norms is by discussing them openly through a process called “contracting.” Sometimes this involves drafting and agreeing to a formal contract of behavior as well.
Below are some tips for facilitating conversations and activities about contracting:
Step One: Define the word contract. A contract implies that all parties have a responsibility in upholding the agreement. Students can think about what it means for a classroom to have a contract.
Step Two: To prepare students to develop a class contract, ask them to reflect on their experiences as students in a classroom community. You might use a prompt like this one to structure students’ reflection
Step Three: 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 to the final contract are those that will best nurture a safe learning environment.
Step Four: 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:
Step Five: 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:
Step Six: To initiate the classroom contract, you can have students participate in a celebratory signing ceremony. Students can sign their own copies or a large copy that is posted in the room. You might allow for brief remarks from students about how they think the contract will help provide a safe, productive learning community.
Students establish a safe space for holding sensitive conversations, before introducing the events surrounding Ferguson, by acknowledging people's complicated feelings about race and creating a classroom contract.