Group agreements are rules, intentions, or guidelines for behavior and interaction that are communally formulated and agreed upon. They are a useful tool for fostering participation, inclusivity, and habits of explicit consent and accountability in the classroom. When inviting students to formulate and abide by group agreements in a class, some introductory framing is helpful to make the activity as productive as possible.
When introducing group agreements, bear in mind that your students may have different amounts of experience with formulating group agreements. It’s important, therefore, to articulate clearly both why you’re doing this exercise and how it will feature and function in the class.
You might wish to employ group agreements in order to
- make your classroom’s norms more explicit;
- have students themselves articulate the ground rules they need for an effective learning environment; and/or
- introduce students to collaborative process and decision making, and more.
Whatever your reasons, you should be clear with yourself and your students from the beginning. These reasons should also shape the method by which you invite students to formulate the agreements, e.g. by individually submitting proposed agreements and then voting, by brainstorming agreements in small groups and then compiling, or by pooling suggestions generated from the whole group at once.
Be sure to communicate how the agreements will feature and function in the class as a whole—and follow through! It’s helpful to review the agreements once or twice in the weeks following the initial formulation session so that students have a chance to edit, subtract, or elaborate on agreements. After that, make sure to return to the agreements throughout the semester so that they don’t slip from memory. You might remind students of the agreements by
- posting them on the home page of your course website;
- adding them to the syllabus document; and/or
- setting aside times during the semester to review the agreements and collect feedback as to whether or not the class feels as if they’ve been operating in accordance with them.