First day of class is the time to set expectations and class rules whether you are in person or virtual. While it is a priority to have a positive, upbeat environment, we need to make sure that all students are comfortable and feel supported.
I have a number of colleagues that take time to create a class contract together. My friends and colleagues June Delane and Heather Dragoo do an awesome job with this. Both are high school English teachers and setting norms is especially helpful to set a positive environment to encourage discussion and sharing. June emphasizes that her class is a ‘Safe Space’; she is each student’s advocate; and students should follow the Golden Rule — treat others the way you want to be treated. Heather takes a different approach. She starts by talking about creating a class community where everyone can learn and grow and asks student to write on the virtual whiteboard what behaviors they feel create a positive and supportive environment. Together they create their own norms. she summarizes the input and displays it in each class announcement and in the live class each day. It gives them ownership and responsibility to make sure that they are following the norms they created.
I jump in and provide my students with a Class Contract. It’s simple with my 4 Bs: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Responsive and Be Awesome. Each ‘B’ has some bullet points that clarify expectations. I talk about it my first day and then I ask the students to take a minute, read the slide and ask them if they agree with it. Once they indicate they agree, then I ask them to agree to abide to it and designate with a thumbs up icon. I also have the Class Contract posted with announcements and include in every live session.
Teaching high school students that struggle with math, I know that many don’t like the subject. Be Awesome summarizes to be positive and do your best. enough, on the first day of instruction, one student typed in the chat for all to see “I hate math’. I didn’t call him out, but I referred back to starting the day keeping our Class Contract in mind and reminding students to be positive and do our best. I don’t know that I changed his mind right away, but I did see he has been trying.
With distance learning a mandate in many areas, I have been hearing about extensive disruption in synchronous sessions, some out of a teacher’s control. A class contract may not help in some of these tenuous situations, but when it is in our control, it sets the right foundation and it lets students know you are committed to a supportive environment.
Here’s a copy of the Class Contracts I have referred to. If you have one, please share! I’d love to hear your story to how you establish a supportive environment on day one and maintain it throughout the year.
Provided by Heather Dragoo, English Teacher