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August 22, 2023
ASCD Blog

The Power of Student Commitment Contracts

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Exclusive book excerpt: this practical resource is loaded with classroom management tools and other strategies to help new teachers survive—and thrive.
Instructional StrategiesClassroom Management
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Credit: PeopleImages.com - Yuri A / Shutterstock
Editor’s note: In their recent book, Smart from the Start: 100 Tools for Teaching with Confidence (ASCD 2023), Stronge, Straessle, and Xu offer a plethora of practical tools—backed by decades of research—to help new teachers navigate their first three years in the classroom. Organized into a five-part framework and further unpacked in 30 user-friendly “mini-chapters,” this guide is filled with strategies, templates, checklists, and more to support effective teaching.
In this exclusive book excerpt from Part 1: Getting Ready for the Start of School, the authors share tools and tips to prepare new teachers—and the administrators and instructional coaches who support them—for the upcoming school year. The following is excerpted from Chapter 3: Classroom Rules and Student Behavior.

Getting Student Buy-in for Classroom Rules

It is important to ensure you have classroom rules that are clearly articulated and set expectations for students; however, the teacher is only part of the classroom. The students need to own the rules, as well, for a robust learning environment and for order to be maintained. So how do you get students to buy into the rules? First and foremost, begin on day one by building relationships with your students. Knowing your students and letting them get to know you goes a long way in establishing trust and understanding. By understanding who they are as individuals, you can learn about their motives to either follow or not follow the rules. Additionally, by recognizing the individuality of students and using proactive behavior management strategies, students can recognize that the rules allow them to grow and learn as individuals in a harmonious environment (Aelterman et al., 2019).

Student ownership of the rules will create a symbiotic atmosphere where teaching and learning are the responsibility of both the teacher and students.

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In the following tool, you can see an example of how to individualize the rules. This approach tends to work well with students in 4th grade and up, but for younger students, you may need to take other steps. In addition to building relationships with students, tying rules to positive consequences and teaching students the rules in an explicit manner have been found to be effective in getting younger student buy-in (Alter & Haydon, 2017). Teaching students the rules in an explicit manner helps them understand what is expected and why, which helps garner student buy-in. While most teachers carefully review and discuss classroom rules and state them clearly, teaching the rules takes time and finesse. That time will be worth it, however, as student ownership of the rules will create a symbiotic atmosphere where teaching and learning are the responsibility of both the teacher and students. And the result will be a more robust and productive classroom learning environment.
Using a student commitment contract helps to get buy-in from students by giving them the ability to individualize their needs for the classroom. While it will still be necessary for the teacher to develop classroom rules from the themes of what students provide, this tool allows the students to think deeply about who they are as individuals, their learning, and learning needs, and to make commitments to the whole class. It also gives students an idea of what they can expect from the teacher. As written, this is for older students, but it can easily be adapted for younger students. Also, this can be used as a “station” activity on the first day of school.
Smart from the Start Tool
This post is excerpted from Smart from the Start: 100 Tools for Teaching with Confidence by James H. Stronge, Jessica M. Straessle, and Xianxuan Xu, Arlington, VA: ASCD. Copyright 2023 ASCD.

Smart from the Start

100+ tools to help new teachers establish and improve their practice in meaningful ways.

Smart from the Start

James H. Stronge is president and CEO of Stronge & Associates Educational Consulting, LLC, an educational consulting company that focuses on teacher and leader effectiveness with projects throughout the United States and internationally. Additionally, he is the Heritage Professor of Education, a distinguished professorship, in the Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership Area at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia.

He teaches doctoral courses within the School of Education's Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership (EPPL) Program, with a particular focus on teacher and leader effectiveness, human resource leadership, legal issues in education, and research design.

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