It is late November. The children have gotten to know each other well. They have played with or worked with everyone in their class. They have begun to know one another as more than people who share a classroom space – they are starting to know one another's likes and dislikes, strengths and challenges, who to go to for what kind of support and play, when to leave one another alone. As is always the case with many bodies in one room all day, there are disagreements, oopsies, run-ins and misunderstandings that go along with all the wonderful work happening. These have been happening all year of course, but the teachers have taken more responsibility for setting the tone and supporting challenges. By November, the children are more than ready to take on some of this responsibility for their own community. Conversations such as the one below are necessary for building shared understanding around important ideas and clearing up misconseptions. These discussions are a process. This was the first of many conversations that last over many days and weeks. We come back to these ideas again and again to offer multiple opportunities for clarification, changes and additions.
What is an agreement?
R.P.: You do things that we talk about.
Teacher: Does everyone agree with this idea?
S.M.: You listen to other people.
Teacher: Is that an agreement you want to have?
Teacher: I want to bring you back to what Ruby said, when you say something you do it. Do you agree? What does it mean to agree?
O.C.: Like we ALL do it.
A.S.: Agreement means you are agreeing with somebody.
Teacher: So these are things we are ALL agreeing to do? So, what S said, about listening to other people, is that something we all think is important?
J.K.: An agreement is like if someone says somethin' and then you are like, o.k., I'm fine with that and you do what they said.
Teacher: OK, so listening to other people, are we all fine with that?
M.G.: Unless it is something we shouldn't do, then don't listen.
O.C.: :Like if they say bang someone's castle down, don't do it.
S.D.: If somebody says set a trap on someone, don't listen to them.
Teacher: How can we change 'listen to other people' so it means what we want it to say?
R.P.: If someone is saying something bad, then don't listen to them.
Teacher: So is it don't listen to them, or don't do it?
M.D.: Don't do it.
O.C.: Yeah, because what would it be like if you wouldn't listen to someone?
Teacher: Hmmm, even if you are saying something that may not be right and someone is not listening to you, how does that feel?
Teacher: That brings us back to 'listen to people' because that feels good. So if someone is saying something we think is bad, what do we want to do?
M.G.: Say, 'that's not a good idea.'
Teacher: So, give them a message? O.K., what other agreements?
G.R.: Never be mean to each other.
R.P.: Thats what I was going to say!
O.C.: I think that should be on the 'no' side.
G.R.: I don't want it in the no column.
Teacher: Are the things we don't want to do as important as the things we do want to do?
Teacher: If you want it to be on the yes side, then what DO we want to do with each other?
G.R.: Be nice to each other.
M.D.: When somebody says something mean you can say, 'Why did you say that to me? It wasn't nice.'
Teacher: So you can ask a question? Are there other ideas for agreements? Are there other things that don't feel so good, that you don't want to have in here as part of Opal 1?
M.D.: Don't break things.
R.P.: That's what I was going to say!
M.G.: Take gentle care of things.
R.P.: I was going to say that too.
Teacher: Great. Are there any other things you don't want to have happen in this class?
O.C.: Punching and hitting.
J.K.: and kicking.
J.K.: and no Indian sunburns, that's what I want.
O.R.: I know how to do those.
Teacher: Yes, but people do not like those, they do not want them.
G.S.: One more thing, don't grab somebody's shirt when they are still running and pull on it.
A.S.: Don't push people.
M.G.: Don't knock each other's structures down.
Teacher: So what DO we want to do?
R.P.: Make sure they don't fall down.
M.G.: Try your best to make sure.
O.C.: Try not to mess it up and…
Teacher: Try not to mess up anyone else's work.
M.D.: Don't knock each other's structures down and ours. You don't want to destroy other people's stuff by accident.
Teacher: How can we do that?
M.D.: Look at your feet instead of where you are going. Look cause you would remember where people's structures are by looking at the bottom. Look at your feet and around you in order to not knock people's stuff down.
R.P.: Look where you are going.
A.DG: Don't bite. That's on the don't. In my other school someone bited somebody else, but there was no hole.
Teacher: You guys said 'Don't be mean.' Are there any other things that feel mean that you want to have on here?
M. G.: We are giving a really strong message here.
Teacher: What voices do we want?
S.M.: Do not yell in your ear.
M.G.: Don't pinge. (When you put your hands on someone's shoulders and push down to scare them.)
T.Y.: Don't laugh at someone when they are getting hurt.
?: don't make fun of other people.
M.W.: Don't take things out of other peoples mailboxes.
S.D.: But you can take things out of your own mailbox.
A.S.: Don't take things out of other peoples hands when they are about to use them.
I am always appreciative of the seriousness they bring to this conversation. Each child comes to understand that these words we are creating together will affect them and each of their classmates; so if they hear something that doesn't sound right they question it and work with their peers to get it right. Right in this instance is not about right or wrong, but it is getting the words of an idea to a place where everyone can agree to it. The children really come to know, at 5 and 6 years old, the power of a word and the work of choosing and editing words to get them to mean what you want them to say. This document is a living document. We will revisit it from time to time and as the class grows and changes, the agreements might also.
When we are finally in agreement, we sign our document. With our name, we make a statement that we are O.K. with all of these agreements and we are going to try our best to live by them in our classroom.
This is an exciting moment for Opal 1 – a sense of accomplishment and a sense of community prevail on this day, for this moment. We now have the language of agreement to support us in our daily ups and downs and we have common understanding for that language – it is a big step for all of us.