Last year I wrote about a B2S lesson that was wildly successful. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can find it here. Today, I wanted to build on it by telling you how we formalized our social contracts—in a way that made them an oft-referenced classroom fixture.
Social contracts emerge from thoughtful discussion and spell out the expectations the students and teacher have for one another. Those expectations are written out, and all the stakeholders sign the document to signify their agreement to uphold it. Then, it is posted in the classroom as a visual reminder.
I’ve used social contracts for many years, but to be honest, after the first quarter I rarely referred to them—until I found a way to make them more personal.
While mulling over ideas for an upcoming lesson on multiple meaning words, I had an epiphany. Instead of having students sign their name to a list of rules and expectations—why not have them create a sign identifying a specific contribution they’ll make to enrich our class community. I’d photograph them holding their sign and post the pictures around the room. Think “pet-shaming” with an affirmation instead of a rebuke.
Part of the process of creating a social contract involves brainstorming specific acts that exemplify each ideal. So, when we got to that step, I simply had students write their chosen action on a small whiteboard, then I snapped a photo of it. To reinforce each person’s role in community-building, I asked students to describe their chosen action using an “I will…” statement. (As you can see, this direction was not always followed…but it WAS day one, after all.) Don’t forget to create your own sign for each class identifying steps you’ll take to establish a respectful and productive classroom.
Now, our school is very particular about photographing students, so I framed each shot so it did not show student faces. Even if your school doesn’t have this restriction, it actually works in your favor to frame shots this way. Not only is it visually interesting, but students love to study the photos and guess who was behind each sign.
Displaying the resulting document is an important part of the social contract process. So, I grouped the photos by class, arranged them using PowerPoint (Word works just as well), and printed them out on poster-sized paper. If your school doesn’t have a poster-printer, you could simply print and group the photos by hand – or better yet, have students arrange and paste photos on a poster. Then, display them in the room all year.
Using photos differentiated our social contracts from others around the school. It personalized our agreements in a way a signature just does not do. It also added a level of engagement that, for whatever reason, called our attention back to the ideal of working together again and again.