School-Wide Social Contract

Process and product build student engagement and responsibility

For Middle Level

At the first meeting of our school's Continental Congress*, students expanded our discussion about school-wide guidelines to include why certain guidelines are needed. The values-centered discussions about equity, control, independence, community, and management that followed enabled teachers and students to explore how and why communities establish guidelines in the first place.

More democratic governance
During the Continental Congress, student representatives reported that kids throughout the building were interested in examining how they interact. This process was a first step towards improving the social fabric of the school and led to many team-based discussions among students regarding social skills, respect, and individual responsibility. Also, the Congress stimulated many conversations at the adult level.

The Continental Congress and the community that has been built upon it demonstrate the healthy outcomes collaborative rule-making can have on a school. As we moved through the Congress, there were many, many positive interactions and responses, and I see the effect it has had in the building:

  • dismissal times are more orderly and peaceful;
  • the cafeteria is cleaner because students clean up after themselves better and with less adult prompting;
  • discipline referrals for common-area issues dropped dramatically (2 instead of 34 by end of November)
  • and hallway behavior during passing times has vastly improved.

Because they were invited to the rule-making table, students were willing to accept responsibility for their behavior. I had not anticipated this, and was happy to find that throughout the year, students wanted a larger role in addressing school-wide issues. Also, having the Congress has changed the structure of discipline/behavior management practice, which had always been an administrative function that was "top down."

* A meeting of school representatives to consolidate individual homeroom rules into school-wide guidelines

Mark Carbone is Principal at Camels Hump Middle School in Richmond VT.

Published September 2007