Building a Socially Responsible Class: Part 1
Social responsibility is about ethics and a duty for the greater good. As educators, we strive to teach students to understand and respect themselves, each other, and the world around them. It is promoting thoughtful interactions with others and thinking beyond oneself. It is about making the right decisions and solving conflicts.
If you have arrived at this post, I can assume it is due to a curiosity or a need. Perhaps you are wondering how to begin teaching social responsibility. Perhaps you are wondering where to begin and what steps to take.
I hope that this and future posts in this series give you actionable, straight-forward lessons and ideas that you can implement in your classroom today. I hope that you start seeing the benefits in the ways that your students interact, deal with the highs and lows of their day, and make decisions in the classroom and on the playground. I hope that you see the many little bodies in your classroom grow into ones that are fulfilled, peaceful, kind, and strong.
Creating a Classroom Contract
Each year we create a classroom contract. This multi-step process helps children identify what is important in a classroom and to take responsibility for maintaining that. A classroom contract is something that is built with the participation and ideas from everyone. It becomes something quite strong and powerful. It is also a nice alternative to traditional classroom rules.
How to Create a Classroom Contract
Step 1: Have Conversations & Read Books
Starting at the beginning of the year, we have conversations with each day about social topics. We talk about respect, community, team work, responsibility etc. I ask them questions and give them scenarios to discuss and answer. This encourages critical thinking and sharing of viewpoints.
I read books daily and choose stories that illustrate how children deal with different emotions and issues. We talk about the stories and students share their connections. This post includes my list of books that are perfect for teaching social skills and having those important conversations.
Step 2: Create an Anchor Chart
We gather as a class to create an anchor chart together. I have the chart ready with a title “A Great Classroom” and a Y shape below it to create three separate areas to add our ideas. Children are asked to give thoughts and answer questions honestly. You could change the title to something different that suits your class, such as “A Peaceful Classroom” or “Mrs. or Mr.’s Classroom”.
I start with asking them to imagine what a “great” classroom looks like (what they see when they look around in their classroom and at the children). As students raise their hands and share ideas, I add those ideas to the anchor chart. If I feel like an important idea has not been mentioned, I may give hints or ask questions until someone mentions it.
Some of the ideas for “A Great Classroom looks like include happy kids, working hard, fun, learning, helping, and more.
We switch to what a “great” classroom sounds like (what they hear in terms of noise and what people say). Children eagerly share their ideas and I add them to that section.
Some of the ideas for “A Great Classroom sounds like include quiet working, manners, laughing, kind words, questions, and more.
Lastly we talk about what a “great” classroom feels like (what feelings they have inside when they are at school and how people make them feel). This part is a bit more difficult for children. Encourage them to think about how they feel on a good day and when good things happen. This is good practice for kids to identify different emotions.
Some of the ideas for “A Great Classroom feels like include open, welcoming, respectful, happy, honest, and more.
Step 3: Review Chart & Pick 3 Ideas
Review and reread the chart with the class. Ask them if anyone needs anything explained or if there are any questions. While the ideas are still fresh in their minds, children get to pick their favourite three ideas. They choose one idea from each of the three sections and add a sticker to mark that spot.
Children line up and come up to the chart with their stickers. I ask them to say which ideas they think are the most important and I help them, if needed, to find those ideas on the chart.
As stickers are added, we begin to see a few ideas from each section stand out. After all the stickers have been added, count up and write the number of stickers beside each “big” idea. Those “big” ideas become the main components of the classroom contract. If children believe those ideas to be the most important, then they will be more prone to follow through and work hard.
Step 4: Write & Illustrate Ideas
As an extension activity, you could have students record their own 3-4 favourite ideas or the top ideas chosen by the class. Using the free templates, children can write their ideas and illustrate them, make their own anchor chart, record the final contract, and more. Their work could be posted along with the final signed contract on a bulletin board later on.
To use the FREE class contract resource, click the image below.
Step 5: Write, Sign, & Review the Classroom Contract
On a separate day, prewrite the class contract that includes the most important things decided upon as a class. I suggest writing them into a paragraph on a piece of chart paper that can be read aloud each day.
Read and practice it with the class. Each child can put their name or stamp a thumb print on the final contract to show that they agree. Post the classroom contract somewhere visible and review with the class often. I usually post it along a higher wall that we can all see and refer to often.
By developing a classroom contract with your students, you are letting them know that they are important members of the classroom community and that their ideas matter. This contract is a symbol of team work, cooperation, and respect. It lets children know and reminds them of what role they have as individuals. It is a powerful thing!