Improving the Classroom Agreement Process

Recently I wrote about ensuring we include students in the development of class expectations concerning Zoom participation and camera usage (Involve Students in Decisions about Improving Participation, posted On August 22, 2021). The results of asking for student input were beyond awesome – they surprised me with their honesty and their insights. 

My colleague and I (we teach an online Advisory class together) were obviously going to employ this student voice philosophy during the process of developing our day-to-day classroom norms and agreements. You can’t create class agreements if you don’t include students in the process! Duh!

But, based on the success of our Zoom participation conversation, my colleague and I wondered if there was a way to use this new mindset to take the class agreement process to the next level.

We decided to find out. Here’s what we did:

1. Breakout Brainstorm Groups

We broke students into small groups and put them into breakout rooms. In their rooms, students were asked to come up with a list of classroom agreements. We deliberately left the challenge open-ended because we wanted to see where the students went with this prompt. 

2. Return for a Discussion

When the small groups returned to the whole-group venue, we called on groups to share what they had talked about. Many great thoughts were shared about a broad range of areas: from meeting due dates to the way we would treat each other. 

3. Posting Ideas on a Shared Google Doc

Then, we gave all the students links to a shared Google Doc that my colleague had prepared in advance. The document contained a table that was divided into a number of blocks – one for each of the groups we had sent to the original breakout rooms. 

Students were challenged to, within their groups, list all the classroom agreement ideas they had inside their group’s block.

If you have never allowed students to have editing access to a single shared Google Doc, then you haven’t lived yet! What a dynamic environment. Students were adding ideas left and right. It was a bit chaotic, but it was also all awesome.  

4. Vote for Their Favorites

Once the lists were complete, we asked all the students to go around and look at all of the lists on the doc (not just their own). Students were asked to put an asterisk next to their three favorite agreement suggestions.

5. Compile the Results

During a prep period a few days later, my colleague and I went through all the lists. Our goal was to take this table of blocks that were chock-full of ideas and condense it into a brief, impactful list. She and I armed ourselves with the Google highlight tool and began highlighting ideas that were similar. Agreement suggestions concerning respect or kindness were colored in yellow. Suggestions focused on building connections or building a community, were highlighted in blue. Finally, the ideas about submitting work on time and focusing on success were colored in green. 

6. Share the Results With Students

At our next Advisory class, we shared our screens and showed students the Google Doc they had completed together. We showed them the highlighting and talked about the process we went through to narrow down our list. Then, as the students watched, my colleague and I came up with punchier/tight versions of the broad ideas the students had developed together. Here is what we showed the students at the end of our modelled discussion:

Our 2021/2022 Class Agreements:

We Will…

…show compassion to ourselves and each other…

…take charge of our learning, and…

…succeed together!

Yes, my colleague and I could have pushed the students to these three points right from the beginning. Teachers are really good at generating “consensus”, right?

But, by making the process more transparent and inclusive, students were more connected personally to the final three ideas. And, hopefully, this would result in greater buy-in throughout the school year. 

Our final step will be to have students mull over this final, more succinct, listing. If they agree to move forward with them, then we have a set of agreements for the year. If there is some push back or reluctance, we will go back a step or two and see how we can address the concerns. My colleague and I are committed to going right back to square one, if necessary, to ensure we have a list that reflects everyone’s ideas and that everyone will sign off on. 

Here’s to another year online, but one where (with our commitment to collaboration and agency) the community is even more connected than ever. 

Ed X!

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