Community agreements, also called classroom or discussion agreements, are very useful for creating a respectful and supportive learning environment. Some faculty share a pre-made list, others invite students to co-create the agreements by offering a handful to start and then asking students what other issues all in the class should agree to. Community agreements are most often established at the beginning of the semester but they can be introduced and updated at any time.
Community Agreements serve to:
- Establish an inclusive and supportive learning environment
- Clarify expectations
- Facilitate student engagement, especially across differences
- Guide responses for all community members when the dynamic of the class has gotten heated or challenging
- Allow a class to add or edit agreements to adapt to challenging social interactions
Below are community agreements we would suggest. Also consider these other examples of community agreements from New School colleagues and others.
- Cultivate a brave space – We cannot guarantee safety, but we can strive for a space where we share bravely, take risks, be vulnerable and hold each accountable with love and respect.
- No one knows everything; everyone knows something; together we know a lot. We are all learners and have different life experiences; we can all learn from each other without canceling anyone.
- We can’t be eloquent all the time.
- Be respectful – of your own feelings and those of others, as well as of all races, cultures, sexual orientations, gender identities, religions, class backgrounds, abilities, body sizes and perspectives when speaking.
- Recognize your own and others’ privilege – When entering a space, when speaking or not speaking be aware of privilege based on many forms of identity. At the same time, don’t assume the identity of others.
- Honor Confidentiality – What we share stays here. If you tell stories about this time, ask permission first, or if nothing too personal remove identifying information.
- Administrators have some limitations related to university guidelines
- Share from your own experiences – Your perspective is shaped by your tradition, beliefs, identities and life experiences. Speak from your heart using “I” statements to take ownership of what you say. The only person you can truly speak for is yourself.
- Honor silence and time for reflection – This also allows time for others to move up their speaking. Practice waiting: W.A.I.T. – why am I talking?
- Practice active listening – Try to listen without judgment, with the intent of understanding the speaker. Listen to understand, not to respond. As soon as you’re thinking “That’s good.” or “I don’t like that” or you’re planning how you’re going to respond, you are having a conversation in your mind and not listening to the speaker.
- Agree to disagree… but don’t disengage – Listen with the intent of understanding, not to agree or to believe what is being said. Your presence adds value to our group process. You do not have to agree or believe anything shared; your job is to listen for understanding. Disagree with the statement, not the person if you must disagree.
- Acknowledge intent, address impact – We may not mean to cause harm, but it can happen anyway. When someone is hurt we first attend to the hurt person, and then can process why and how the hurt happened and how to prevent it in the future while maintaining active group engagement.
- Acknowledge the liveliness of language – As an example, “you guys” may be intended as gender neutral but may not be received as such; the term “queer” can be offensive to one person and essential for another.
- Move up, move up – If you usually don’t share much, challenge yourself to share more; if you find yourself sharing more than others, challenge yourself to listen more.
- Suspend status – We are all partners in our quest for insight and understanding, and we each have different areas of expertise.
- Lean into discomfort, agree to be uncomfortable together – Where you’re challenged is where you have space to learn.
- Expect and accept non-closure. There is often no easy solution, and we can expect to remain in uncertainty and with the need to continue to dialogue and explore.
- Stay present; take care of yourself – Truly engaging can be challenging and vulnerable.