Social Contracts

For those of you new around here, I teach middle schoolers. And lets be real honest here for a minute, middle schoolers can be mean. Bullying is a major issue at our school and probably at most middle schools. I certainly don't ever remember having to deal with the 'mean girls' when I was in middle school...perhaps I was either lucky or lived with my head in the clouds. 

I am also a semester teacher so January 7th I receive 180 new somewhat smiling faces. I will say that I absolutely love changing classes each semester: it means new class dynamics, new faces and most importantly a reset on classroom rules and procedures.

On the flip side of this, you can also get very different the 3rd period class you adored last semester is now the class that leaves your stomach in knots...

Last Wednesday as I listened to a few of them comparing their probation officers, offenses and sentencing, I realized that I was going to need a different tactic to handling student behavior this semester. I wasn't dealing with sweet 11 year old's or hormonal 12 year old's trying to find their place but 13-15 year old's that think they are adults.

Enter the Social Contract.

The idea is that if the students write the social contract then there is more likely going to buy in for following the contract and for the consequences that happen when someone breaks the contract.

So on Monday I collected sticky notes and a large sheet of butcher paper: each student will need four sticky notes and something to write with.

For the warm up I had the students think about the best class they have ever had and we discussed a few of their answers as a class.

Then I posted on the board the following questions:
How do you want me (the teacher) to treat you?
How do you want to be treated by your peers?
How do you think that I (the teacher) want to be treated by you?
How do we treat each other when there is conflict?

I gave the class two minutes to write down an answer to the first question, then four students collected them and added them to our large sheet of butcher paper. I then called on three students to read/share a few answers allowed. The beauty in the anonymous set up is that students are more likely to be honest when their name isn't attached and no one can opt out of sharing if all they have to do is read someone else's sticky note. And then we repeated with each of the questions.

In some classes we had lots of students itching to share and talk about what they want in a class or from their peers, and in other classes they just met the requirements of three students sharing. I really let the conversation evolve depending on the personalities of the class and I was SUPER pleased with how wonderful each and every period was yesterday.

Today a girl was extremely disrespectful to me, so we met privately and I reminded her that the class agreed as a whole that they would treat me respectfully and I would treat them respectfully. It was such a different way to approach our private redirection by taking the spotlight off of want I want but what the class agreed on.

My plan is to type up the contract, eliminate all of the repeat answers and have all of my students sign the contract and post it in our class hallway. But I kind of love the way all the sticky notes look right now.

While I don't think the social contract is magic fairy dust...although one can hope...but I do hope that it cuts down on a bit of the meanness that tends to creep in the classroom.

Have you ever tried a social contract before?
How do you handle disrespect or meanness in the classroom?

- The Babbling Box!


  1. This is a GREAT idea, A! You are in a whole different world in middle school. I can't even imagine. I really do hope this works. It sounds like they were really into this different approach. I am giggling about "mean girls" as I sit here and watch Alison on PLL! I have used a social contract when it our spend the night field trips come around because no way am I taking a bunch of crazies on a spend the night field trip.

  2. My favorite part of all this is when you can say, "You and your classmates agreed to...." I agree with you that this is a better approach than, "I expect you to..." I also like that you added the, "and I will treat you with respect. Your kiddos are a lot like mine were last year, and this was a constant battle for me too. They want the respect from others but don't remember to give it too.

  3. It appears that your students enjoyed this activity! Here's to hoping you have a smooth semester! Virtual Cheers!
    Short and Sassy Teacher

  4. I do social contracts with all of my classes and I love them! It's such a great idea and the kids have a lot more "buy in" then just classroom rules that the teacher creates. Good luck this semester!
    Loose Shoelaces