Crafting a Class Contract With Your Students

Aug 30, 2023

One of the keys to setting behavior expectations and norms in the classroom is empowering students to help create them. At the beginning of the school year, lead your class in creating a class contract.

Setting the Stage: Why Empowerment Matters

A class contract is a student-owned framework for behavior expectations that students commit to at the beginning of the school year. It is used to clearly share what the expectations for behavior and norms are early in the year, but is also an accountability tool throughout. It is an agreed upon document to reference proactively or when violations of the contract occur.

Creating a Collaborative Class Contract

To create a class contract with students, start by having them think about what a healthy class is. Perhaps ask:

Defining a Healthy Class: Guiding Questions for Students

What does a healthy class look like?
What does a healthy class sound like?
What does a healthy class feel like?
What kind of class do you learn best in?

If they are able, have students write their responses to these prompts first, then lead a whole-group discussion where you record all of their responses. If there are certain expectations you want on the contract, steer the discussion at some point to make sure it is covered.

Framing Behavior Expectations: Guided Whole-Group Discussion

For instance, if disposing trash and keeping your classroom clean is an important value to you, and it is not brought up organically by students, ask the question: “Does anyone just work better when your space just looks nice?” Several hands will go up. “Yeah, me too. What can we put on the contract that will help the room stay nice and clean?”

Even though you’re inserting your expectations into the discussion, it’s still being phrased as a question or suggestion. The power of a class contract is that it is student-generated and those expectations are owned by the students. Therefore, it’s as much their responsibility as it is yours to uphold the contract.

Shared Responsibility: The Essence of a Student-Owned Contract

Once finished with the discussion, as a class summarize your notes with clear and concise bullet points. This can go on a physical poster or typed in a document to print out.

Get this Class Contract Poster free here. 

Turning Ideas into Action: Summarizing Contract Expectations

Some items to consider including on your class contract:

Respect for peers
Respect for teacher
Respect for self
Respect for the learning environment
Classroom safety
Agency and personal responsibility

Interactive Approach: Class Contract Gallery Walk

Another activity to create a class contract would be to write each of the headings above on a different piece of chart paper, and have students do a gallery walk where they write on the chart paper what those items look, sound, and feel like. If a student sees someone has already written what they were going to contribute, they can put a checkmark next to it. When the gallery walk is complete, as a class review what everyone wrote, discuss, and create the contract with it.

Collaborative Creation: Reviewing and Finalizing the Contract

When the contract is complete, have every student sign the bottom of the poster, agreeing to the terms of the contract. Not only does this form clear norms for the class, you can also now reference back to the contract on a regular basis. Go over it every time you start a new learning unit or project. Have students read it aloud periodically throughout the year. Or when one of the expectations on the contract is violated, which will of course happen, a student is disrespectful, or the physical classroom space is not being taken care of, you have something to reference back to.

Sustaining the Contract's Influence

You can talk to the class using the contract or pull an individual student aside and say, “Hey remember that contract we made at the beginning of the year? Do you feel like you’re holding up your end to it?” That way there's no surprises when you show your displeasure with unacceptable behavior.

Navigating Challenges: Contract as a Communication Tool

Like everything else, the class contract is a tool and not a solution. It does not magically bind students to your expectations for them and ensure perfect behavior. However, when created with the power of student voice-and-choice and then used with intention, it can be used to establish norms for a healthy classroom.

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