One of the most valuable commodities in a classroom is student accountability. Making students aware of your expectations and holding them accountable is crucial to a productive learning environment. On the other hand, clearly communicated consequences are just as important. In adult life, when two parties enter a documented agreement, we typically call that agreement a contract. This is a formal way to outline expectations and penalties that ensue when expectations are not met. This idea can be leveraged in the classroom through classroom contracts.
What is a Classroom Contract?
As its name suggests, a classroom contract is an agreement between teachers, students, and even sometimes parents. In this document, expectations for the classroom are outlined and often coupled with repercussions in the event that the agreement is broken. This is a document that requires signatures and should be easily accessible throughout the year. This idea is adaptable for all levels and should be written in student-friendly language.
How Classroom Contracts are Useful
The foremost benefit of classroom contracts is their ability to clarify expectations. I’ll never forget my first year of teaching when I was a novice teacher creating new expectations each time an issue arose. With a classroom contract, students and parents know expectations up front.
Establishing Social Expectations
From awkward to gleeful and everywhere in between, schools are riddled with peer interactions. Unfortunately, sometimes student interactions can become negative and even turn into bullying. Establishing expectations about social interactions with peers in a classroom contract can curtail some of these issues.
One of the most useful aspects of classroom contracts is their ability aid teachers with classroom management. There are many effective classroom management strategies, and many share a common thread of clarity and consistency. Your classroom contract not only informs students and families of your behavior expectations, but also supports consistent and fair implementation of rules and consequences.
Classroom contracts are a great opportunity to establish guidelines for completing and submitting work. Furthermore, this is a useful method for communicating late work and make-up work policies. It’s also a great tool to use during grade conferences.
As educators, our aim should always be to foster student independence. By implementing classroom contracts, we give students ownership of their behavior and their learning. This ownership promotes self-regulation, or the act of students monitoring their own behavior and academic progress.
How and When to Establish Classroom Contracts
It is evident that classroom contracts are useful, but it is important to implement them correctly to ensure effectiveness. Below are some tips for implementing classroom contracts correctly.
Set Expectations Early
Classroom contracts should be established at the beginning of the year and implemented throughout. To the extent that it is possible, expectations should always be clear the first week of school. Establish the contract the first week but be sure to reference it when applicable so that its usefulness is not lost.
Include Student Input
Students are far more likely to comply with rules and regulations when they feel that their voices are valued in the development process. Include your students in the development of the contract. For example: have students brainstorm ideas for appropriate behavior and peer interaction boundaries. Use this as the driving force for your contract stipulations.
Include Expectations for Teachers
Just as you want your students to be accountable, you should also demonstrate accountability. As you outline the contract, include some of your responsibilities as a teacher as well. Examples are expected time for grading assignments, prior notice about assessments, and study/review sessions. This shows your students that you value them and their education.
Make it Short yet Impactful
Typical contracts can sometimes be lengthy, but this should not be a characteristic of your classroom contract. Your contract should be concise and attainable. If the contract is too long, students may feel defeated trying to reach the demands and you may have a hard time keeping up with implementation. Make the contract meaningful but keep it as brief as possible.
Classroom contracts are not only useful for your classroom environment, but they also help groom students for a successful future. Through these contracts, students learn the value of being reliable and holding themselves accountable. Classroom contracts afford students a glimpse into adult life that they otherwise may not be privy to.