One of my students raised their hand and said that after we had almost finished our discussion on our essential agreement. I was a bit confused at first because I wondered if he had missed the point. Then I had to smile because it was at that moment that he was really starting to get it. No, there weren’t any real obvious “don’t do this” things on the list…and I was glad that they noticed.
We started off the year with thinking about values. I showed them some different money amounts – a 20 cent coin, $2 coin, $5 bill, $10 bill and $20 bill and asked them which one they would choose. Most chose the $20, but a few not wanting to be selfish said that they would only take the $10 or $5 bill because they didn’t need the $20 (these are well-off families). Why choose what you did? This led to a lovely discussion about the word ‘value’. After this I introduced them to the idea of a Chalk Talk (which I love) and we did one around the question, “What do you value?”
The next day I told them that I had typed in all of the words they had written into wordle and we created a class wordle of our values (see below). We looked at it, noticed things we valued a lot and a little and let it sink in for a bit.
A few days later, we looked again at our class values wordle and I asked them, “If we truly value these things, what will that look like? How would we show that? Which ones relate to our time as a class?” I chose individuality to start with (since I loved that it was included) – if you truly value individuality, how would you show that? A few hands raised…”You wouldn’t judge other people”, “You would be accepting of who people are and how they are different.” I showed them how to frame it into the structure: We value ….so we . I talked about how we needed to think about what we wanted our classroom to be like and sent them off in pairs to think of what they would want included. They came up with some great stuff. Typed it all up, then went over and discussed it the next day. What’s the most important things to you? We changed wording, combined ideas, talked about why different things couldn’t possibly be cut. A lovely discussion that I thought was almost finished with as we had our ten or so things…..when one boy raised his hand.
“Where are the rules? If this is our essential agreement, shouldn’t it say the things we can and can’t do?”
My first response…”No, it’s not the rules. It’s an essential agreement.” That’s when I realised that to him, they were the same thing. We chatted some more…“What’s an essential agreement? What does essential mean? What does agreement mean?” We looked up the words, chatted in pairs about them, came together to conclude what they meant.
This year I wanted my students to go beyond rules to the reasons behind them…and I’ve really felt like what we value is most reflected by how we act, so why not start there? I want to keep what is the most important to us at the forefront so we can remember why we want to act in a certain way…to remember the kind of people we want to be. I know I want to do that personally as well as professionally. To remember the point behind it all. If you remember those things, you don’t really need ‘rules’, instead you have a goal in mind of who you want to be. Much more powerful in my own life. Hopefully also in theirs.
If you’re curious, here’s their essential agreement below. Pretty good stuff for anyone to live by (I tried to get them to cut it down more, but they were pretty set that these were all essentials)