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Developing community agreements

Community agreements are statements that guide how members of a classroom community (students, instructors, teaching assistants) aspire to work and interact with each other. Although sometimes referred to as classroom “norms” or “standards,” the term “community agreements” is more inclusive and emphasizes the shared commitment to a set of practices.

Community agreements should emerge from a process implemented at the beginning of a term. Once developed, a list of community agreements is a living document that you can use, revisit, and revise throughout the term.

This page outlines the general process for developing community agreements with your students.

Step 1: Schedule time

Add time to your course schedule early in the term to introduce the concept of community agreements. Because your agreements will guide all class interactions, we recommend creating them as early as possible – ideally within the first week or two of the quarter.

Step 2 : Generate ideas

There are a number of ways you can begin identifying potential community agreements for your course. In general, you can either seed the process by developing a draft list of agreements or you can work with students to develop a list from scratch.

Option 1: Work from a draft list

In this option, the instructor prepares for a discussion of community agreements by generating ideas of their own. Reflect on the values that are important to your teaching and what kind of learning environment you hope to foster. Draft a list of statements that articulate your expectations for how those in the course (students, teaching assistants, instructors) will relate to and work with each other, particularly in moments of disagreement, tension, and conflict. Some agreements you might include are:

    • Show openness and curiosity to new ideas and perspectives.
    • Commit to doing your best – by doing the work and fully-participating you contribute to a better learning environment for everyone.
    • Acknowledge our different backgrounds/experiences and refrain from judgment.
    • Assume best intent while acknowledging the impacts that microaggressions have on each other.
    • Be aware of how much time we are taking when we speak and make space for others to speak.

Option 2: Co-create with students

In this option, the instructor works with students to co-create community agreements from scratch. This might be particularly important in classes that deal with extremely difficult subject matter and/or require students to be vulnerable. Note: If you decide to co-create community agreements from scratch, be sure to set aside even more class time.

To generate ideas from scratch, consider starting the process by having everyone reflect on prompts such as the following:

    • What do you need from others (peers, instructor, TAs) for this to be a positive, inclusive learning environment?
    • What do you need from others to succeed during collaborative/group work?
    • What do you need from others to succeed during discussion?

Invite students to work in small groups to generate a list of potential agreements in a shared Google doc, on a whiteboard, or in an online discussion forum.

Step 3: Discuss

Ask students to work individually or in small groups to share their responses to the draft agreements. Have them generate a list of additions or refinements on a shared Google doc, whiteboard, or online discussion forum.

As a class, discuss areas of overlap in everyone’s responses or where there might be a need for elaboration. If you are teaching a large class you might solicit feedback via PollEverywhere or ask students to leave suggestions in an optional survey.

Step 4: Synthesize

Working from the input students offered during class discussion or in a shared document, synthesize students’ responses into a refined list of agreements. You can create a synthesized list with students during the class if you have the time, but it might work better if you do this after class. Be sure to keep the list short (between 4-8 items) – long lists can be overwhelming and hard to implement.

Step 5: Share

Once you’ve finalized your list, share it with students. Give students an opportunity to make suggestions for improvement or refinement before you post them. Keep the list of agreements posted in an easily accessible place, such as the course Canvas page.

Step 6: Revisit

Think about when/how you might refer back to the agreements throughout the quarter. Some possible times to revisit your community agreements are:

  • At the beginning of a group assignment
  • Before discussing a particularly sensitive topic
  • When things get difficult in class or when a conflict arises
  • At midterm to check in and see if you’d like to make any adjustments