This SEL Day, I wanted to share some helpful resources on how to use group agreements in your classroom—or in any situation in which you are working with a group of young people. You may also know them by other names, such as “group charters” or “community guidelines.”
We use group agreements in our SEL curricula and all our professional development sessions because they are an excellent tool for creating buy-in among participants in any group.
And there’s another reason to use them: the proper use of group agreements helps young people build their SEL skills across all five CASEL competencies.
I used group agreements in all my high school English classes when I taught in New York City public schools, not to punish my students but to engage them in continuously creating the classroom community. Periodically, I would ask my students to reflect on the group agreements. What did they think the group was doing well? In what areas did they think they could personally do better? (Asking the questions in this way prevents finger-pointing and blaming.) My students practiced reflecting, setting their own goals, having a growth mindset, navigating disagreements, and understanding the connection between societal norms, community care, and self-actualization.
Sometimes, when I tell people that I used group agreements with all my classes—especially those with students who were disengaged at school—they ask, “But didn’t they suggest crazy things?” My answer: “Never. In all the time I’ve used them, never.” Young people want to feel safe and engaged, want to be treated well, and don’t need an adult telling them what to do or not at every moment. You can use group agreements with your toughest classes and with your toughest students. In fact, doing so will lead to breakthroughs you didn’t think were possible.
We created three podcasts that will lead you through the process of creating and properly using group agreements with any cohort of young people, whether it be your YC group, math class, or after-school club. I hope you find them useful: