Bringing the Social Contract to Life in the Classroom

Acknowledging positive behavior

For Middle Level

Here is an easy way I have found to link positive student behavior to the Social Contract. My goal in doing the activity is for everyone to experience what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like when we live according to our Social Contract. This process also helps students make the transition from praising to acknowledging one another.

I use an acknowledgment ritual and link it explicitly to our rules. Here are the steps:

  1. At the end of any class period, invite students to stand in a circle.
  2. Take a moment to let students review and reflect upon the rules in the Social Contract (school's group agreements).
  3. Ask them to think about the time they spent together that day (or week) and try to recall actions taken by class members that supported (or agreed with) the Social Contract.
  4. Lead an acknowledgment session that identifies the person being acknowledged, what s/he did, and how that action connects to the Social Contract. The first time using this ritual, the teacher can first model what an acknowledgment might sound like before others join in.
  5. Follow each acknowledgment with a cheer. I choose the cheers until students gain enough experience and confidence to choose on their own.

For example, supposing the rules in the Social Contract are:

  • Look out for each other
  • Do your best
  • Keep an open mind

The acknowledgments that follow might sound like:
Thank you, Ben, for living by our 'look out for each other' rule. Thanks for helping me with that last math problem. I was really stuck.

I'd like to acknowledge DeVonta,who lived by our 'do your best' rule yesterday when she revised her paper after our peer editing session. I really appreciate how well our discussion on the causes of the 1968 riots went. We all abided by our 'keep an open mind' rule during that talk. Thanks a lot. It made me feel safe enough to express my opinions.

Plan for Success: To help students be aware of the rules right after I establish them, I use the structures of modeling or Y-charts to apply the rules to specific situations. When I model, I demonstrate a routine as it looks when we follow our general rules, and ask students to notice and comment upon what I am doing, and then try it themselves. A Y-chart has three sections (like the form of a Y), one labeled "looks like," one "sounds like," and one "feels like." When I make a Y-chart, students brainstorm and someone records in the Y-chart what we expect the routine to look, sound, and feel like when we do it according our rules. We sometimes post the Y-chart for a visual record of the rule abiding way to do that routine. Once the rules are clear and present in the minds of students, the acknowledgment format deepens and colors the rules with personal experience.

Matthew Christen teaches 8th graders at Logan Middle School, LaCrosse WI.