121 How to Use Respect Agreements in Your Classroom

July 24, 2023

In the traditional approach to classroom management, the responsibility of maintaining a positive and respectful environment has largely rested on the teacher’s shoulders. However, with the introduction of respect agreements, a wonderful shift occurs. These agreements distribute the responsibility among every person in the classroom, fostering a sense of collective ownership and accountability.

In this episode, Nicole explains how she used respect agreements to empower students to actively participate in sharing classroom culture.

What are respect agreements?

Classroom respect agreements are essential tools for fostering a positive and inclusive learning environment. These agreements, also known as class norms or guidelines, are collaboratively developed by teachers and students to establish a framework of respect, cooperation, and mutual understanding within the classroom.

The 4 Parts of the Respect Agreements

There are 4 main parts of the respect agreements. Students are tasked with explaining what respect looks like in the following relationships:

  • Teacher to student
  • Student to student
  • Student to teacher
  • Everyone to the classroom

The main goal is to create a poster for the classroom that can be referred back to throughout the school year.

Respect agreements have 4 parts: 
-Teacher to student
-Student to student
-Student to teacher
-Everyone to the classroom

Creating the agreements

Nicole broke the students up into groups and asked them what it looks like, sounds like and feels like in respectful relationship. She had students focus on one of the relationships listed above at a time.

Here are two ways to gather student ideas for the respect agreements:

  • Provide students with sticky notes and have them write their ideas down individually. Then, place like sticky notes together.
  • Use chart paper and have students rotate around the room adding ideas to the chart paper. Have them star the ideas of previous groups if they agree. Put an “x” next to anything they disagree with and address these ideas in a whole group setting.

A whole group conversation is vital to make sure that students and the teacher fully understand what the agreements will be. Then, once the agreements are complete, students sign the agreements.

Why is collaboration important when establishing classroom agreements?

Our students come from different cultures. As a result, it’s important to come up with a common definition of respect for your classroom.

Additionally, co-creating these norms helps students see their role in creating a positive classroom environment. “It really just cultivated a sense that we are this team, we are this unit. We are working together for this common goal of learning and growing.”

What Do When Behavior Breaks Down

We’d love it if co-creating respect agreements was the end of the process. But, as we know, students will struggle with adhering to the agreements from time to time.

So, what do you do when the behavior breaks down?

Pre-established consequences

When Nicole’s class created the respect agreements, she didn’t want to focus on negative consequences right away. But, she believed it was important to clearly communicate what would happen if the agreements weren’t adhered to. So, she decided that she’d ask her students for input.

Together, they discussed potential consequences for breaking the agreements. This helped Nicole discuss consequences while still maintaining a collaborative environment.

Once students listed potential consequences, the class created a tiered list of consequences. They started with the least severe (quiet reminders) to the most severe (office referrals). Nicole explained that she would start with the least severe consequences in the case of minor behaviors.

Address the Behavior Right Away

Don’t ignore behaviors when they arise. Instead, refer back to the respect agreements. Explain how the student’s behavior directly violates part of the agreement.

This can be done with individual students in a private setting. However, if a large group of students is violating the agreements, its best to stop and address them with the class.

Nicole recalls an incident that she had in her classroom. She was doing a collaborative activity where students were using a Jamboard to share ideas. Students were talking over each other, engaging in side conversations, and positing inappropriate things on the Jamboard.

Rather than getting upset with students, Nicole stopped the activity. She explain that students were not following the agreements that they established. And, as a result, students would not be allowed to continue the activity. She referred to specific parts of the respect agreements that were being violated. Then, she provided them with a quiet assignment to complete instead.

While some students were upset, she noticed a shift in their response. Rather than being upset with her for shifting activities, students took ownership of their role.

“It really didn’t feel like that teacher vs. students moment that can sometimes happen when you are issuing a consequence. And, I think it was because I was able to fall back on that respect agreement and communicate that ‘I’m not punishing you. I’m reinforcing these norms in our community. And, we can’t continue activities that are breaking those norms.”

In addition, she didn’t feel like she had to repair the relationships after issuing the consequence. Instead, students were more willing to return to work following that situation.