How To Set Up The Social Contract
Updated: Oct 14
Before you read this week's blogpost, I just wanted to clear up something...
Last week, I explained what the 'Social Contract' is and how it differed from the rules set by your school. This caused a bit of confusion - my bad!
On with the show!
The Americans have the US Constitution.
The British have the Magna Carta.
The United Nations have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Now your class will have The Social Contract.
The Social Contract will become the glue that will bind you and your class together. Whatever you agree on in the class will become the Law of the Land.
The Social Contract is your basecamp to help you build rapport with your learners and set the boundaries needed to keep your class positive & safe.
This will be a step-by-step guide of how you can set this up with your prospective classes. On your first attempt, it may take 5 to 10 minutes to get it up and running, but once you are used to how this works, you can do this in five minutes tops.
When your students first walk through the door, get them settled and then walk them through these steps.
Step 1 - Ask Them For Their Input
Introduce the exercise by asking them for their opinions. I would typically say something along the lines of:
“I put something in place, that if we all do it, will make this happier and more fun class for everyone to be in and I want your opinion.”
“This Social Contract is designed so that we can all work in a more positive environment and I need your input.”
“This is the first time that we have met and I wanted to put something in place to make sure that we all understand each other’s boundaries and we can work better together”
“I’ve noticed that in the lessons so far, we haven’t been as positive towards each other as we could have been and I want to put something together that will help this class be better for everyone and I need your thoughts”
You get the picture. In most cases, students are receptive if you ask for their opinions and will be willing to hear you out.
If you do get the odd student who is being silly or disrespectful, or persistently disruptive, then they can be sent somewhere else until the exercise is done. This is a very critical time and you must assert your authority otherwise you will lose the class.
Step 2 - Explain what the Social Contract is
Very briefly explain the Social Contract is. You can be as simple or complex as you like. You could say something along the lines of:
“The Social Contract is an agreement between every single person in the room, teacher or student, adult or child, on how to treat each other and how we work together.”
“The Social Contract is a set of rules that we will design together that will ensure that everyone in the room will feel safe and positive while we are in class.”
“The Social Contract is a chance for all of us to have a say on how our classroom is run.”
Another great tip that you can use is to explain that we live in a society that is full of social contracts and the students already know some. Tell the students that they don't go to restaurants & take food from a stranger's plate without asking - that's a social contract.
This example usually gets them to understand that they already have an idea of how to behave in wider society and that we can transfer that in the classroom.
Step 3 - Write Their Suggestions On The Board
At this point, you may ask them questions and write their inputs on the board. You may ask them questions like:
“Looking at the school rules, which one's do you think are the most important & why?"
“How do you want to be treated and how do you think other people would like to treated?”
“What things could do so that everyone would feel included and welcomed into the class?”
“What things do you not want to happen in the class and why?”
They may say things like “no fighting” or “we shouldn’t speak over each other” and you just write them down. Use shorthand — try and encapsulate the essence the rule in a couple of words, a sentence at the most.
Depending on the age and maturity of the class, you may get one or two suggestions to a thousand answers being fired at you. That is fine, as long as it is under control and you can get the most important rules on the board. This shouldn’t take more than a minute to complete.
Step 4 - Get Everyone To Agree To These Rules Verbally
Once you have covered all the main rules and the students have no more to contribute to the board, tell them that this is now the final draft of the contract and if anyone is not happy with what is there then they must raise their hand.
Give the class thirty seconds to respond. Do not neglect to do this.
There are several things happening at that moment. By asking that question, you are placing power back in the students’ hands and they now have to make a choice.
They will now have to explain why they are going against the wishes of the majority of the class and have to articulate why they cannot follow.
This can be a great moment as now you and the student can have a dialogue on what works and what doesn’t and you can gain a greater understanding of your pupils. This also adds social pressure on those who may want to misbehave and they will not want to be the odd one out.
If there are students that are absolutely adamant that they will not follow any of these rules then you will have to employ some different strategies to engage them.
A great one to use is the 'Easy Road Hard Road Technique' that I wrote about in my blogpost "3 Ways Morpheus Would Challenge Bad Behaviour In your Classroom" - have a read!
If they are polite, then after you set the tasks, take to one side and talk to them about it, but if they are rude and defiant then they already showing you that they will not cooperate and they have taken the 'Hard Road' - but most of the time it should not get to this.
Once you have done that, you must have The Social Contract written somewhere in your class on display AT ALL TIMES.
I don’t care if you write it on the corner of the board, make a poster, get Fred Flintstone to engrave it into the wall, it doesn’t matter.
Every time something happens in the class, you will need to refer back to these rules. The Social Contract is your friend; give it the respect that it deserves.
That's the end of Part 2! If you are enjoying this series & want to make sure you don't ever miss an entry, why don't you sign up to the AHT blog?
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Karl from actionheroteacher.com