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Setting Group Agreements

This is one method to establish agreements within your class community.

Pre-Activity Instructor Reflection 

What norms would you like to see in your classroom? Do these norms privilege your values over your students’ in any way? For example, if being assertive and speaking up is a norm that you think is important, are there students whose cultural backgrounds might influence them to think differently? Is it possible to honor differences like these in a way where none are viewed from a deficit lens? 

(Optional) Begin with an Introductory Activity 

Option 1:

Ask students to freewrite on the following prompt:  

Think of classes you have had that you have enjoyed being in, and those you were uncomfortable being in. Write down 5 reasons, or things about the class that made that class enjoyable, and 5 things that made that class uncomfortable. 

Option 2:

Share this picture (project to the class/screenshare on Zoom). Ask students to answer: What do you see in this picture? How sure are you? How do you know? What else can it be? What might someone else be seeing? 

Have them share their answers and reflect on how the same thing can be seen in different ways. Ask what they think the artist intended for them to see. Make the point that you can’t always be sure about what you are seeing and hearing, so it’s important to follow up before making judgments. 

Start by Sharing Your Expectations and Why You Hold Them 

  • Distinguish between course policies (unilateral choices you’ve made) and community agreements (what will collectively be constructed).  
  • Be transparent about course policies and expectations you’ve predetermined and why they matter to you. 

Small Group Brainstorming 

  1. Divide the class into smaller sub-groups of three to five individuals. 
  1. Have students brainstorm at least 3 characteristics of an engaged class (for F2F+ courses, you can add details, such as “an engaged, discussion-based F2F+ class” or “an engaged, problem-solving telepresence class”). 
  1. For each of the characteristics, have the students suggest 3 agreements that the group could adopt to make classes more productive. 

Large Group Sharing and Building Consensus 

  1. Encourage each group to share their lists (add them to a shared document) and work to achieve consensus. Talk about the rationale behind each expectation and how it supports learning in the class. Ask the groups to explain their reasons for suggesting a particular agreement and to specify what they mean if the agreement they suggest is vague. There may be some overlap.  
  1. If topics particularly relevant to the course modality (F2F+, telepresence, etc.) haven’t come up, raise them, such as: 
    • Some modalities environment may increase accessibility and also may create accessibility challenges – how do we plan for accessibility? 
    • How do varied points of access impact participation? In-person students, what would you like to see from your classmates on Zoom? Zoom students, what would you like to see from your in-person classmates?  
  1. Work with students to engage in perspective-taking by asking how breaking an agreement might affect others in the class and why the person breaking the norm might have done so. Facilitate a conversation on how to respond if a student departs from the norms. 
  1. Record the community agreements and post them on your Canvas course space. 

Review and Revise Community Agreements 

  1. Periodically, have the class take a moment to evaluate whether the community agreements established at the beginning of the semester are serving the group, and whether revisions need to be made. 
  1. Use the agreements to address challenges (from lack of intellectual risk-taking to conflict), and continue to revise, as needed.