Creating a Classroom Contract

Creating expectations for students is a very important part of setting up your classroom for success at the beginning of the year.  To help me with this, over the years, I have come to find it very valuable to create a classroom contract for my students.  We create it together and it is the backbone of our expectations for the year together.

 The purpose of a contract is a written agreement between a group of people. In this case, that group of people are the younger humans that inhabit your classroom each day and interact with you and with each other.

Creating a classroom contract is a great way to set expectations and to have their input on those expectations.  This is a key activity in my first day each year.   My students and I collaborate to develop a set of expectations that we can agree upon that will guide our classroom community as we go throughout the year.

In my sixteen years of teaching, I've found that this activity is a great way to have my students understand the rules and to hold each other accountable with them because they were part of the process.

There are three important things to keep in mind if you choose to do a contract with your class for it to be successful.

1. Start With the End in Mind.

You need to have an idea of what you want your class contract to look at before starting.  What expectations do you want students to set?  Do you want them to respect each other?  Respect property?  Have a learning focused environment?   Decide on 5 key things you want them to come up with.  Knowing where you want them to go will help you to guide them to that conclusion.  (I've heard and adopted the phrase "facilimanipulation" over the years and it is a great way to define it.)

To guide situations I often give students scenarios on index cards or post it notes.  I will give a short paragraph of a problem that I have had in the past (this could be real or fictitious). I then ask the students to discuss the scenario and come up with an expectation that will help to keep the problem from happening in the future.  I ask students to phrase their expectation in a "We will..." statement.  Here is an example:

Johnny, often leaves his supplies on the floor in class.  He will lose pencils and have to borrow from friends.  His crayons get broken and thrown away and he has nothing to color with. One day, while working, Johnny left his library book in the floor and Sophia tripped over the book and bruised her knee badly.  The book was also damaged and Johnny's mom had to pay for it, she was not happy.  What expectation could we set to help Johnny and other students to be safe and have their supplies?

Students might come up with "We will keep our supplies on our desk or put away at all times."

When setting up scenarios I make sure that each of the following is covered:  handling of materials, respect for teacher and peers, how work should be completed and turned in, student behavior during class, and responsibility for self overall (this one covers anything the others miss).

If you would like to save time creating your own cards, you can snag mine here for FREE!

2.  Make it Student Friendly

It is important as the rules are made to let the language be student friendly.  The statements should be in their own words.  Students should also be able to easily read and remember the contract.  Remember, they should be taking ownership up of it.

Along the lines of friendliness, it should not be super long.  I find that 5 expectations is more than enough.  With more than 5 you will start having trouble remembering it yourself, let alone kids remembering it.  Statements should be short, concise, and broad enough that they cover the topic.

3. Refer Back

This should be a document that you hang in your class and come back to throughout the year.  I am one who likes things typed.  What can I say, I like my cute fonts!  For this to work, I create our contract using chart paper and students write suggestions on sticky notes. We then as a class, take the sticky notes and agree on the statements or modify them.  When this is done and I have written the statements on the chart paper, I then take that and type it.  I have each student sign the contract and we hang it on our "Family Wall" in our classroom.

When we are struggling as a class or an individual is struggling, we refer back to that contract.  Some years, I have given students a personal copy for their binder and they can refer to it there as well.  It depends on your group and how often you will need to refer based on the overall behavior in your class.

It is important when you do refer back, that you address it in a supportive manner.  Rather than saying, "You signed this and you broke expectations 1 & 2..."  Approach it with a conversation with the student.  For instance, "Hey Tina, I noticed you were doing ____ today.  In our contract we agreed as a class that it is important to do _______ (whatever the expectation is).  Do you feel you are meeting this expectation?"  Go from there as why or why not and work with the child to develop a plan to be more successful in the future.  I always try to end my talks with students by saying, "I want you to get the most out of school and I want what is best for you.  I am bringing this up because I know you can do better. Let's work to fix it."  This reinforces a partnership to fix the problem and gives students support.

I hope you find time in your busy first days to sit with kids and develop a contract.  Have you used one before?  What worked or didn't work?  I'd love to hear from you!

Want learn more tips?  You can check out more from this series by visiting my friend, Beth Freuh at Adventures of a Schoolmarm by clicking the image below.

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