Whoever said renting a house or leasing a car was hard?

“It’s easy! Just sign your name on the dotted line.”

We’ve been taught never to sign an official document without reading through every single word. We’ve also inevitably lost patience less than halfway through, and signed anyway; or, haphazardly checked the box for “Accept Terms of Use” for that email account we created, or that new software we installed.

Whether we like it or not, a contract dictates, enables, and restricts us — all at once.

The older we get, the more significant, life-changing, and responsibility-inducing documents come across our desks, through our mailboxes, and into our lives. Through signing a contract, we come to know the value of our name, the strength of our signature, and the honor, significance, and consequence of our word. A contract sets the tone and clearly outlines expectations for everyone involved. It’s the tangible, black-on-white proof of an agreement between parties, often with little room for interpretation on either side. Writing and preparing a contract is usually seen as an obscure process, one best left to lawyers and legal representatives who aren’t overwhelmed by jargon and precise terminology for the fine print.

Well, what if we told you that writing a contract could actually be fun?

We’re certainly not saying that the 10 lawyers who wrote your prenup cracked open a bottle of champagne and had a party in the process. But, there is another way to approach the mundane and ambiguous aspect of contract-writing. What if, instead of showing up at the end to climactically sign the dotted line, the signature holder had a more active role in the process, from beginning to end? This way, the creation of a contract would be more of a self-directed, workable, and seemingly less overwhelming method of negotiation. Being a part of the process allows you to recognize and realistically consider your limitations, to set your own goals, and to map out a timeline of reachable milestones.

Here’s where the classroom contract comes in — a collaboratively designed agreement outlining classroom behavior expectations. Together with your students, you design a clear, tangible point of reference expressing the common rules, consequences, and best practices for everyone in the classroom to model their behavior throughout the year.

Classroom Contracts 101: The Basics

Many teachers find the fluidity of a classroom contract an appealing way to get students thinking about the responsibilities and consequences associated with entering into agreements, and to learn how expectations from other parties can influence their behaviors.

Don’t put it off; do start ASAP

The beginning of the school year is an ideal time to get started on writing up your classroom contract. It allows you to see the way your students think, and to understand what’s important to them in their learning process. It also gives you insight to what your students expect from you, and allows you to clearly express what you expect from their end.

Don’t do it alone; do treat it as a collaborative work

It might seem counter-intuitive to start off the school year by temporarily stepping away from your “authoritative” position as the teacher, but this part is the key to creating a successful classroom contract. Through the collaborative process, kids gain firsthand experience with concepts like democracy and responsibility. Through engaging in open discussion and negotiation, kids develop their skills in decision-making, critical thinking, and other key competencies that are sure to come in handy in their not-so-distant future.

Don’t just make it pretty; do make it functional

Often times, teachers will spend a lot of time on making the contract a colourful, decorated work of art. Sometimes, they even bypass the whole “collaborative” aspect of it, in favor of saving time and having it ready for students when they arrive at the beginning of the school year. This nullifies a significant aspect of the classroom contract, as the main goal behind this activity is to give the students a chance to express their opinions, to discuss and create arguments for their statements, and to engage in forward-thinking behavior.

Don’t treat it as final; do keep it in a visible part of the classroom

While the classroom contract serves as an objective, tangible point of reference, it’s not always final. Think of it as an eternal work in progress — a key component of the classroom contract is its negotiable, fluid nature. It can always be returned to, built upon, and adapted as needs arise and change throughout the year.

Students: Active or Passive? It’s up to you

Contracts are an inevitable part of life; introducing the concept to your students early on gives them the chance to experience the process hands-on — they learn where rules and expectations really come from, and they get the chance to actually influence the rules themselves. They also learn how to express their opinions, develop proper argumentation, negotiate, and decide on certain components as a group (through voting, for example).

As adults, we quickly learn how a seemingly simple paper and pen can take on life-changing significance, often with just one signature. The classroom contract is a straightforward, meaningful way to get kids thinking about how they will shape their decisions and behaviors in all aspects of their lives.

Not sure where to begin? We like the printable tool by The Teacher Toolkit, and if even WikiHow has some great pointers to start you off. Happy contracting!

Source of photo:  Classrules published on flickr under the CC-BY 2.0 license.
Classroom Contracts: Beyond the Signature

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2 thoughts on “Classroom Contracts: Beyond the Signature
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