Writing Classroom Agreements

Every year we begin anew the process of thinking about and writing the agreements that this class of children would like to have with one another. It is interesting as the teacher to watch the children go through this process again and again as the years go by and there are times when I wonder at the time spent and whether it is something that is going to make a difference. It takes time and a lot of effort. Long periods of time spent on the risers to brainstorm and then come to consensus. Letting all voices be heard in this important endeavor takes time, but it is the hearing of all voices that makes it important and meaningful.


After reading many books specifically chosen for the ideas of building a strong community, picking out the pieces that held meaning for us and thinking about what we wish for ourselves and for this year, we brainstormed a list of suggested agreements to consider. Coming to consensus and agreement on these ideas is always an interesting process. It took Opal 2 time spent over four days to go back over the different categories of agreements and relook at them. As we revisited them, we asked questions, clarified our language and understanding, and spoke up as to whether these were actually things we could, each in ourselves, agree to.


One discussion came up around the two similar yet quite different ideas:

Treat people how they want to be treated and

Treat people how you want to be treated.

There was confusion as to why we would have both of these. Everyone felt that it would be great to treat people how they wanted to be treated but there was a question of how do you know what that other person wants. This led to a beautiful sharing of ideas about how one person might be able to find out what is in another person’s head through body language, facial expression, through asking questions and noticing reactions and through just learning about and getting to know one another as individuals and being able to treat each other that way instead of treating everyone the same.


Then we went into the idea of treating people how you want to be treated. I give a reminder here, that I am not bringing up any of these issues. All I am doing as the teacher is putting the list of brainstormed agreements up and reading them aloud. This agreement comes up every year and is always interesting because the students here know themselves and their classmates as such individuals that this idea is not just a nice sounding ‘golden rule’. If they know that one child does not mind being teased or even enjoys the sport of it, they know that child could treat them that way under this agreement and they don’t want to risk that. Then there are other students  – the ones who are the rule followers generally anyway to whom this statement makes total sense and they need to be convinced that we don’t necessarily want everyone to treat people how they themselves want to be treated.  This year the students decided to keep the agreement ‘treat others as they want to be treated’ and then they altered the other idea to say ‘check in with yourself before doing or saying something to someone else. I was awed to see them get to the heart of what this often used statement is  really trying to convey.


One other piece that stuck out to me as we were having these long riser conversations about what to agree on was one student who has a particularly hard time sitting at the risers. He is a mover and it is challenging for his body to be in a smallish space with a lot of people around especially for an extended period of time. This student raised his hand time and time again – sometimes even when lying with his head dangling over the step upside down, to say “ I don’t know if I can follow this one.” When I checked in with him about what he didn’t agree with he would say, “ I agree it is important, it is just really hard for me to follow it.” I found it amazing that he felt the need to voice this very important truth for himself, he wanted his community to know that this is not easy and that just because we agree to these doesn’t mean all of a sudden they are going to happen. This helped us to clarify that these agreements are something we are constantly striving for in our classroom.This helped us to all see that this discussion we were having is about constructing our shared dream of what we want this community of people and our classroom to be. These agreements help us work towards that shared dream and it is really the sharing and the intention of what we want to create that is important.


So, back to my original question of the meaningfulness of this time spent. Yes, it is worth it. Hearing the students use the language we have created together to help out themselves, a friend or the whole class helps me remember the power of shared schema. These words and ideas empower us to stand up for what we have all agreed we want. These words and ideas hold us accountable to each other and to ourselves.  These words are important words .


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