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Community Agreements: Why Bother?

Instruction

Community agreements are often used at the beginning of a group’s time together in order to define behavioral expectations and intended outcomes. The process of drafting a community-generated agreement can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours, depending on the scope. That’s not a negligible amount of time, and it can be tempting to overlook in favor of other lessons or activities.

So, why bother?

Community agreements provide a host of benefits to collaborative group experiences. At its most basic level, it provides visible accountability for all members. Participants have helped to generate the expectations and signed off on them, leaving a tangible tool that can be referenced at later dates.

Student-led agreements require that students bring their prior knowledge and personal cultural experiences to the process, providing an opportunity for teachers and students’ peers to learn more about each individual in the group. This helps to elucidate pertinent information, and allows teachers to adapt lessons and programming to relate more directly to students’ lived experiences.

They are also a practice in real-world life skills. Students are asked to identify the most important expectations for the week. They must also work with other students to ensure that everyone feels heard and that all opinions are represented. Some agreements allow the capacity to practice skills like long-term goal setting with a fixed deadline.

Community agreements are also an excellent opportunity to build in ties to other lessons. The group’s agreement could take the form of a song, skit, or mural. It could bring in relevant science, math, or history content that will be addressed throughout the program. If you’re utilizing a theme, this is also an excellent opportunity to present it.

So, what might it look like?

If you only have a group for a minimal amount of time (less than one day), the focus should ideally be based on behavioral expectations for the duration of your time together. You might ask students to reflect on a community that they are a part of, and what that community does to make them feel safe and welcomed. Make sure to have a list of non-negotiable expectations prepped in advance. Record those traits and guidelines where they can be viewed throughout the day, and ask students to sign in agreement.

If you have a longer time together, you might try a more in-depth approach. “Seeds We’re Sowing” encourages students to set goals for themselves and turn to teammates for support. If you’re in a science-based program, it can also be a great way to tie in content like Light, Air, and Water that support biotic elements.

  1. Prior to the session, create a large poster with a sky at the top, a division between sky and ground about ⅓ up from the bottom, and large “seeds” in the bottom third. Be sure to have at least one for each group member.

  2. Ask students to identify a positive characteristic or trait that describes them, and record it at the top of the poster amidst the sky drawings. Facilitate a discussion with students about how light, air, and water help seeds to sprout, and how these qualities will serve each other’s goals.

  3. Each student then comes up with 1 personal goal for their time in the program, then records it in their own seed at the bottom of the poster.

  4. At the end of the program, revisit the community agreement, and facilitate a discussion about how teammates supported each other in their goals. Each student can then draw a stem sprouting out of their seed and blossoming into the plant of their choice. Ensure that students record along the stem how teammates helped them work towards their goals.

  5. Consider how you can share this with students after the program is over. Can you email a photo? Send it to their classroom teacher? Display it in a common room for a period of time?

When drafting a lesson plan to create a community agreement, remember to incorporate students’ strengths. Whatever way you choose to create it, make sure that students are engaged in the conversation at hand and having fun!

 

Community agreements are often used at the beginning of a group’s time together in order to define behavioral expectations and intended outcomes. The process of drafting a community-generated agreement can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours, depending on the scope. That’s not a negligible amount of time, and it can be tempting to overlook in favor of other lessons or activities.

So, why bother?

Community agreements provide a host of benefits to collaborative group experiences. At its most basic level, it provides visible accountability for all members. Participants have helped to generate the expectations and signed off on them, leaving a tangible tool that can be referenced at later dates.

Student-led agreements require that students bring their prior knowledge and personal cultural experiences to the process, providing an opportunity for teachers and students’ peers to learn more about each individual in the group. This helps to elucidate pertinent information, and allows teachers to adapt lessons and programming to relate more directly to students’ lived experiences.

They are also a practice in real-world life skills. Students are asked to identify the most important expectations for the week. They must also work with other students to ensure that everyone feels heard and that all opinions are represented. Some agreements allow the capacity to practice skills like long-term goal setting with a fixed deadline.

Community agreements are also an excellent opportunity to build in ties to other lessons. The group’s agreement could take the form of a song, skit, or mural. It could bring in relevant science, math, or history content that will be addressed throughout the program. If you’re utilizing a theme, this is also an excellent opportunity to present it.

So, what might it look like?

If you only have a group for a minimal amount of time (less than one day), the focus should ideally be based on behavioral expectations for the duration of your time together. You might ask students to reflect on a community that they are a part of, and what that community does to make them feel safe and welcomed. Make sure to have a list of non-negotiable expectations prepped in advance. Record those traits and guidelines where they can be viewed throughout the day, and ask students to sign in agreement.

If you have a longer time together, you might try a more in-depth approach. “Seeds We’re Sowing” encourages students to set goals for themselves and turn to teammates for support. If you’re in a science-based program, it can also be a great way to tie in content like Light, Air, and Water that support biotic elements.

  1. Prior to the session, create a large poster with a sky at the top, a division between sky and ground about ⅓ up from the bottom, and large “seeds” in the bottom third. Be sure to have at least one for each group member.

  2. Ask students to identify a positive characteristic or trait that describes them, and record it at the top of the poster amidst the sky drawings. Facilitate a discussion with students about how light, air, and water help seeds to sprout, and how these qualities will serve each other’s goals.

  3. Each student then comes up with 1 personal goal for their time in the program, then records it in their own seed at the bottom of the poster.

  4. At the end of the program, revisit the community agreement, and facilitate a discussion about how teammates supported each other in their goals. Each student can then draw a stem sprouting out of their seed and blossoming into the plant of their choice. Ensure that students record along the stem how teammates helped them work towards their goals.

  5. Consider how you can share this with students after the program is over. Can you email a photo? Send it to their classroom teacher? Display it in a common room for a period of time?

When drafting a lesson plan to create a community agreement, remember to incorporate students’ strengths. Whatever way you choose to create it, make sure that students are engaged in the conversation at hand and having fun!

 

About the Author
Carrie Guess
Author: Carrie Guess

Carrie has spent her professional career thus far attempting to bring together her passions for the arts, the outdoors, and young people. After several years working with youth-serving organizations like Lexington Children’s Theatre and Girl Scouts of Western Washington, she found herself pursuing a Masters in Education at IslandWood, a school in the woods on Bainbridge Island. Carrie loves hiking small mountains, getting creative in the kitchen, and snuggling with her black lab mix, Icebox.