Community agreements are statements that guide how members of a classroom community (students, instructors, TAs) aspire to work and interact with each other. Ideally, they should emerge from a process implemented at the beginning of a term. Once developed, a list of community agreements is a living document. Use it as a guide throughout the term and revisit it from time to time.
Here are some basic steps for creating a set of community agreements:
- Generate ideas for community agreements. 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 expectations for how those in the course (students, TAs, instructors) will relate to and work with each other, particularly in moments of disagreement, tension, and conflict.*
- Block class time early in the term to introduce the concept of community agreements.
- Discuss the proposed list of agreements. Working individually or in small groups, ask students 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.
- Synthesize student contributions. Working from the class discussion or shared documents, synthesize students’ responses into a refined list of agreements. Be sure to keep the list short (between 4-8) – long lists can be overwhelming and hard to implement. Share the list with students and keep it posted in an easily accessible place, such as the course Canvas page.
- Revisit the community agreements. You might find it helpful to have students read through the agreements at the beginning of a group assignment or before discussing a particularly sensitive topic. Refer to the community agreements when things get difficult in class or when a conflict arises.
*In some classes, it might make sense to co-create community agreements from scratch, rather than work from a draft. This might be particularly important in classes that deal with extremely difficult subject matter and/or require students to be vulnerable. 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 having everyone reflect on a few prompts, such as:
- 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?
Working in small groups, invite students to generate a list of potential agreements in a shared Google doc, on a whiteboard, or in an online discussion forum. As a class, discuss areas of overlap in everyone’s responses or where there might be a need for elaboration. Then continue on with Steps 4 and 5 above.