Agreements & Who We Are

I’ve spent a lot of time reading everything that Tom Drummond and Teacher Tom have written and I simply love the way they honor children and view them as capable human beings. I’ve paid close attention to how they use language in everything, but especially in creating boundaries and expectations for the class community. This year I decided to try something new surrounding creating rules, or agreements as we call them, as we create a community together in our kindergarten class.

We started the year by having a conversation to negotiate what we need to do in order for us to have a safe and fun space to learn together. I shared my non-negotiable rules first: No hurting each other or putting someone in danger with your voice or body. No destroying property. Then I opened up the conversation for our negotiable rules. As Tom Drummond says, “negotiable rules are goals for harmonious community interactions”. We started by talking about what kind of class we want to have. As we talked, I asked the kids, “how do you think we can do that here?” I was curious as to what children with little to no school experience might say. What their idea of “rules” might be. In the past, I haven’t spent much time on this with kindergarteners until later in the year. But I wanted to start the conversation early, and have the kids begin generating the expectations for our year together. I wanted to hear their voices, what mattered to them and have them own the class we were creating together. One of the first conversations was had when I noticed that everyone seemed to have a need to RUN FULL SPEED anywhere they wanted to go. Now, I love to run, I know kids need to run (and that’s a big reason we have 2 recess times) and I wish we could run all day, but the reality of 20 kids running full speed in a crowded classroom means that an accident is inevitable – and that was a good opening for our conversation. I reminded the kids that a non-negotiable for me is that no one can hurt or put someone else in danger, and when kids are running in the classroom someone will get hurt. Then I asked them, “so what can we do about that?” This is the language I come back to over and over as issues arise, and as we need to revise our agreements. The chart below shows how our chart looks at this point in the year – a work in progress.

As we created the list, and continued to have conversations around it, I asked the kids for their agreement before I wrote each one. The item needed to have full agreement by everyone in the class, including me, before going on the chart. If we couldn’t agree, then it didn’t get written down. This list became known as “Our Agreements”. We refer back to the list often – at first with my guidance (“I want to remind you that you and friends agreed to…”) and eventually with kids generating the conversation and talking to friends about the agreements on their own. If someone throws something, we remind each other that we have an agreement not to throw. If a friend is being mean, you might hear someone say, “that was mean and we have an agreement not to be mean, please stop”. As problems or issues come up throughout the year, we decide together if a new “agreement” needs to be added or revised. Looking at this chart you might be thinking, “wait, I’ve always been told never to write down “rules” in the negative – we should write what we want kids to do, not behaviors that we don’t want to see”. But here’s the thing – this chart was generated by the kids. I wrote their exact words. They own it – and therefore, they are accountable to these agreements. If I had suggested “let’s write ‘keep hands to ourselves’ instead of ‘no kicking, no hitting, no scratching’…” it would then become MY agreements. Kids would happily say “yes, keep hands to ourselves”, but would they really own it? I’ve seen firsthand a list that was “kind of” generated with kids (but with a heavy teacher hand) be completely ignored, and how there is great power in the agreements being owned by the children – not by me. So I’m completely okay with this list of “no” things, because the kids own it, it reflects what matters to them, they refer to it, and most importantly – they hold each other accountable if agreements are broken because these are the promises they’ve made to each other.

In December, I felt that we were ready to take the agreements to a new level, so we started a conversation about who we are as a class – and what kind of class we want to be. I recorded their thinking and we continue to add to this chart. It’s still a work in progress. I’ve written about this process here. When we came back to school after winter break, I pulled out this chart and we started doing some deep thinking and reflecting on our school year so far – and focusing on what kind of future we want for our class. We revisited our agreements and had some conversations about favorite books and characters and how they connect to who we are as a class and as individuals. We will continue to engage in this conversation for the next week or so, adding and revising our chart, and then we will create our own co-constructed chart that speaks to who we are as a class – creating our future together. There is great power in speaking things into being. By setting goals and ideals, opening up a conversation about how we can get there, declaring who we are, making agreements, holding each other accountable, and talking together when things aren’t working – children take on ownership, responsibility and love for each other as human beings.

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