Class contracts: Engaging students and building community

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Class contracts: Engaging students and building community

Anya Herzberg and Emmy Comrack

Anya Herzberg and Emmy Comrack

Anya Herzberg and Emmy Comrack

Amelia Bergeron

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It’s the first week of school and your class is tasked with creating a set of classroom norms that will drive your learning and success throughout the school year. Only given ten minutes, it’s up to one student to step up into the leadership position and start the discussion. Before deciding on the standards for the year, students deliberate rules they want to include for their specific class. 

Social studies teacher Jennifer Brown poses this question to her students every year. Each of her periods create a “class constitution” which she posts on the wall in her classroom. The constitution serves the purpose of establishing rules for students, but it also has a more academic motive: Brown says that it helps her AP US Government students to have a better “understanding [of the] idea of federalism and how it works in action.” This concept is taught more in depth later in the class’ curriculum.

Brown learned about the teaching constitution from other educators. “Creating a class constitution is actually something a lot of people who study educational philosophies and pedagogy recommend doing for a class bonding experience.” Brown set up the creation as a sort of social experiment. “So I had just a couple of parameters and I said these are the rules and you can’t violate them, you have ten minutes. Then I just sit in the back.”

Science teacher Dani Moore, while not going as far as Brown, has students sign a community pledge in the first few weeks of school. “I’ve never had anybody like refuse to sign it,” she said. The agreement simply states: “I promise to lead this class to the best of my ability. You are expected to contribute to the best of yours.” 

Moore wants the community agreement to embody why she teaches. “I work really hard so that [students] and [their] peers have the best experience that I can manage and I want everyone in this room to honor that for themselves and for those around them.” Moore hopes that her enthusiasm for teaching reflects on her students and makes them more excited to learn. 

Moore initially created the agreement because she believed that other rules were too concrete. “As I recall, it was in my third year of teaching and I was trying to come up with a set of classroom norms or rules and everything felt too granular. Like, I didn’t want to make a rule about every single human action,” she explains. The broadness of the motto is why she loves it. 

Brown and Moore’s community agreements are a reflection of why they teach. “I never wake up in the morning and think like ‘why am I doing this?’ Like every single student who walks into my classroom is a reason to be doing this,” Moore said. Brown wants to be a support system for students. “If I’m seeing that as a society we are not giving our students the best messages to help them become the best adults they can be, that’s the reason. Or, if I’m in an environment where students feel like they’re not loved, that’s the reason.”

Although Moore and Brown came to teaching in different ways, they have the same goals, to be a guide for students and for students to succeed. The philosophies they have created are meant to help engagement in the classroom and to create a community with their students. Moore and Brown are just a few educators that have implemented systems in their classroom to help students succeed, because for them, student learning is what matters the most.