How a Class Constitution Supports Social Emotional Learning

Build Social Emotional Investment

Regardless of the grade level or subject area you teach, as educators, we all know the importance of a well-supported classroom culture. This has everything to do with not only how safe students feel in the classroom physically, but also how invested they are socially and emotionally. We want students to feel confident enough to raise their hand, answer questions, and engage in group projects and with their peers. With a classroom model that is supported by the students and their direct involvement with their own learning, students are able to learn along with their peers as well as have the opportunity to teach them. By providing this space, students become not only in charge of their own education, but also develop learning skills to prepare them for the real world.

“When students treat their learning as a personal endeavor that demands their significant contributions, they are less likely to watch from the sidelines. They are key players in writing, thinking, researching, experimenting, and debating.” – Mary Anne Smith

Creating a classroom constitution is a great way to engage students and build investment in their own learning. The role of this classroom constitution will be to encourage students to work together to build an environment driven by both independent and group learning, where all students focus on supporting one another to be the best students they can be.

Create Buy in

So many times when we see students are confused about a lesson or work that has been assigned, they ask us why they have to do it. When I was in the classroom, this happened so often I got to the point where I would explain my reasoning to students as the beginning of each unit or lesson. By explaining why the lesson is important, students are better able to develop a big picture understanding of lessons or units throughout the school year, and tie in each activity back to that ‘Why.’

So why a classroom constitution? While we can create classroom rules as educators, how do we get students to buy into it?

As twenty first century learners are developing in the classroom, we are seeing that they want to be engaged and are passionate about being leaders of their own education. By being given the opportunity to be the authors of their own classroom constitution, students are much more invested in upholding it as well. We can even nurture a reverence to be upheld for that set of class rules, supporting a positive social emotional learning environment. In an article about how classroom ‘agreements’ and SEL go hand in hand, EVERFI teacher Brian Krause asserts:

“(having) set community guidelines based upon what we wanted as a class – (created) a democratic process of listening to and hearing others to create a safer space for everyone.”

Find the right time

The ideal time to create a class constitution is at the beginning of the year. That being said, involving your class in creating a shared set of expectations can be beneficial at almost any point in the school year.

When I taught 5th grade, we were encouraged to walk students through all classroom processes: signing out for the restroom, lining up, how to rotate in small groups, etc. This is when students start getting to know their classmates,where everything is, and learn expectations for the year. One of the most useful things I did was send a parent letter home explaining why we were going to have a classroom constitution and set expectations for myself, their student, and of them. This was an effort to make sure everyone was on the same page and was also something we could refer back to throughout the year, especially during parent teacher conferences. By involving students in the process, we encourage them to be themselves with their peers and to engage in developing the classroom culture.

Get Started

This is meant to be fun for students! Give them the opportunity to work in small groups and come up with some examples of rules and classroom culture expectations that make sense to them.

A great way to make sure all students participate is to give each person in the group a job. This is a way for students to hold themselves and each other accountable, as well as provide you as the teacher the opportunity to walk around and observe. With the ever changing standards and assessments, observing students while participating in this group work could be a time to assess them as well. There are many jobs that can be assigned, this is meant to be a useful tool for both you and the students. Most commonly used are:

  • Scribe– This student will take notes and keep track of their team’s thoughts. If students are working in a large group it might be useful to have 2 scribes, as one may hear something the other doesn’t while students are engaged in meaningful discourse. If there are two scribes then they can collaborate with each other and see what concepts may have been missed or not heard. 
  • Artist– As a way of engaging all learners, having an artist in the group can help students who may be visual learners. This person could organize the thoughts by color, design an image of an idea, or add onto an already existing idea. 
  • Researcher– The role of the researcher is important especially if you are integrating technology into the lesson. This student can look up ideas or provide meaningful questions that encourage their group to think deeper. When writing a class constitution, this student may look up what other class constitutions incorporated, or search for questions their group has. 
  • Project lead– A project lead is encouraged to keep everyone on task and making sure that all of their peers are engaged. A great way for them to become leaders is to provide a rubric for the activity and have project leaders make sure all content is covered, or grade their group on how collaboratively they worked together.

Once students have spent some time coming up with examples of rules they would like, have each team write what they came up with on the chalkboard/Smartboard. You could also assign this as a role within each group and have the person who wrote on the board justify the rule they would like to see most of the class constitution. This is another way to tie in oral language and presenting skills into a lesson without it being too formalized, and this role, along with the others, should rotate among the students so that throughout the year, each student has experienced a different job. 

By writing what every group came up with on the board, the class will begin to see a big picture of what everyone came up with. Give students time to come up to the board and see what each team wrote, during this time you can have them place post-it’s on rules they like, or argue against ones they may not like to have included.  I really liked circling repeat answers and using that as a way to affirm why it should go on the classroom constitution. Have students vote for rules that aren’t repeated, discuss in a large group the rules they didn’t see written, and explain why something should or shouldn’t be added. 

Once this is done, you guessed it… formalize the classroom constitution. Grab a poster board that will hang in your classroom where students can see it for the rest of the year and put all of the rules that were agreed upon on it. And lastly, don’t forget to have each student sign the constitution as a symbol of their agreement to respect what they, as a class, decided upon.

Kassie is currently the Schools Manager for Albany and Syracuse and started with EVERFI in 2017. As a former 2nd and 5th grade teacher, she lead her schools’ OLWEUS anti-bullying campaigns where she saw the need for social-emotional learning support. She received her Masters in Peace Operations from George Mason University in Washington, DC and attended Hartwick College for her Bachelors’ degrees in Political Science and History.

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