Using a Social Contract Beyond the School Day

Dr. Terrance Kwame-Ross

by Dr. Terrance Kwame-Ross

For Middle Level

At The Origins Program, we use Developmental Designs practices in our adult community. Our monthly staff meetings are structured as advisories, using either the Circle of Power and Respect (CPR) or the A+ format. We use Developmental Designs acknowledgments and Power of Play, and we have a Social Contract that's expressed as shared values around how we will interact with each other.

Our shared commitments are:

  • Communicate openly and honestly
  • Build relationships
  • Have integrity

We bring these shared commitments to all of our interactions together, particularly in challenging interpersonal relationships.

A few weeks ago, settling in to fly to a consulting site, I placed my luggage and coat in the overhead compartment above my seat. The flight attendant approached and said, "You can't use this overhead, so please take your luggage and coat out and find another bin."

With that, she walked away.

I was bewildered by her message. Why couldn't I use the compartment?!

I moved my things to another compartment, then returned to my seat with feelings of anger, embarrassment, frustration, and confusion. I was ready to confront and challenge this seemingly ridiculous request.

I thought to myself, "Why is she only asking me to remove my belongings? Is she prejudiced? Is she saving the space for someone?" I was falling into a place that wasn't good. "Am I making a big deal out of nothing?" I asked myself.

I was on edge and I needed to figure out how to address the situation or just keep quiet and move on.

It occurred to me that I could use The Origins Program's shared commitment in this situation. I could apply the skills that I've learned from holding people accountable and being held accountable to the shared commitments.

I decided to act. "Excuse me," I said to her. "Why did I have to remove my luggage and coat from this overhead bin? I'm confused and would feel much better if I knew why. Can you tell me?"

"Oh, there was a sign, but it fell off. This bin is for flight attendants' materials and first-aid kits," she said as she opened the bin to show me the first-aid materials.

Whew, pressure released!

Reflecting on the situation, I was interested in how empowered I felt in resolving a conflict with another adult by using a practice I learned through the Developmental Designs approach.

The practice of developing a Social Contract and living by it is powerful. If teachers and students are able to create and honor agreements between each other, then practice the skills of self-governing, self-accountability, and community accountability, young adolescents' probability of using these skills learned in real-world situations are greatly increased.

As educators, we equip students with the tools necessary for everyday living in their communities that go beyond the classroom and school communities. I can see many adolescents being empowered as I was, and applying their skills in real-life situations where they are able to be effective thinkers, problem-solvers, and citizens in their communities and the world.

Dr. Terrance Kwame-Ross is the former Executive Director for The Origins Program. He teaches at the University of Minnesota and previously taught in the St. Paul Public Schools. He co-founded and served as principal for four years at New City Charter School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Posted July 2013

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Related Topics: 
Building Relationship, Reflection