How to Implement the Contracting Behavioral Strategy in Your Classroom
Contracting is the process of candidly discussing your learners’ expectations about how classroom members will treat each other. Contracting is an effective method for making your classroom a reflective space. Reflective classroom communities are spaces where rules and norms protect everyone’s voice; where differing viewpoints can be heard and acknowledged; where members are accountable to themselves, each other, and the group; and where each individual has a voice in group decisions. These types of classrooms are usually developed through explicit nurturing from learners and instructors who have shared expectations concerning group norms and how everyone will be treated. The direction that follows describes how to discuss classroom norms with learners and then create and agree to a contract of behavior and etiquette.
- Define Contracting: A contract mentions that everyone has a shared responsibility to uphold the agreement. Learners can think about what it means for a classroom to have a contract.
- Learners Reflect: To prepare learners to develop a class contract, ask them to reflect on their experiences as learners in a classroom community. You may utilize prompts like these:
- Identify when you have felt safe voicing your opinions, ideas, and viewpoints.
- Identify when you have had opinions and viewpoints, but choose not to share them.
- Select an Approach to Cultivate a Contract: Instructors have found that useful class contracts usually have several explicitly defined rules or expectations, as well as penalties for those who do not live up the expectations of the community. There are many ways to proceed with cultivating a classroom contract. For instance, you can ask small groups of learners to work together to write rules or expectations or the classroom community. Keep the list brief so that the norms can be easily recalled. As groups give their presentations, you can organize their ideas by theme. If there are any tensions or inconsistencies in the expectations that have been suggested, you can discuss them as a class. While the process is inclusive of learners’ ideas, ultimately, it is the instructor’s responsibility to ensure that the concepts that make it into the final contract are those that will best nurture a safe learning environment.
- Discuss Classroom Norms: To get the contracting discussion started more concretely, you could share with learners a list of rules or expectations that have been used in classrooms. Ask learners to discuss how they feel about these norms. What norms do they think would help this group develop a safe, productive learning environment?
- Reflect on Scenarios: Another way to help learners develop a classroom contract is to have them envision what they would have liked to happen during specific scenarios. Scenarios could be drawn from learners’ experiences.
- Initiate the Contract: Once the class has completed its contract, reaching consensus about rules, norms, and expectations, each learner needs to signal their agreement. Learners can do so by copying the contract into their journals and signing the page, or you can ask all learners to sign a copy of the contract that will remain displayed in the classroom.