Dig Deeper – Creating a Values-Based Class Constitution
Build a Culture of Success, Respect and Accountability in your classroom.
All teachers strive to create a learning environment that inspires learning and provides a space where students can feel safe and supported. That’s a given. We also try to make our learning environment ‘student centred’ but that’s such a broad term that you’re never really sure if you’ve nailed it. I’m a firm believer that establishing student led learning environments is a teacher driven exercise. Your students need your guidance to develop the skills and maturity to take responsibility for their own learning or to use another buzz word ‘student agency’. Creating a Class Constitution is an excellent way to inspire your students to set rules and guidelines that go far beyond “don’t push in at the canteen”. It’s also an excellent way to integrate their personal development with their learning by integrating topics. Let’s take a closer look – here’s how you can create a culture of success, respect and accountability in your classroom with a Class Constitution.
1. Don’t set rules - set standards.
Rules Schmules! They all know the rules so apart from a quick discussion to check they know them don’t go over them in great detail. Please, I beg you.
Setting standards is an entirely different thing. Standards are those behaviours and characteristics that we want to develop in our students such as grit, empathy, self-control and altruism. These are probably new terms to students but it’s important to help them focus on the standards of behaviour and conduct that are essential to making their classroom and time at school successful. It’s time for them to “up their game” when it comes to how they interact in the class and the wider community. Success at school isn’t limited to academic success, success encompasses every area of their schooling life including their social and emotional development. Setting standards instead of rules broadens the scope of their development and this can be powerful.
2. Don’t be predictable!
Ask an upper primary student about what happens in the first week of school and you’ll probably get several similar responses accompanied by eye-rolls:
- Ugh. We’ll have to write a story about our holidays.
- She’ll make us write a set of rules for the class that no one will follow and she’ll forget about for the rest of the year.
- We’ll talk about the school values and how we can all uphold them
- Blah blah blah
Have I hit a nerve? I’ve heard this from my own student’s mouths, and it wasn’t a great feeling.
All of those activities have a purpose – you get a sense of their writing ability, home life etc from the recount, you get to discuss expectations and rules by making a rule poster together and you need to highlight the school values because they’re great words and it’s a requirement.
Creating a values-based Class Constitution is an excellent way to dig deeper into their beliefs and attitudes to their peers, school and the wider community. You’ll find out far more about them based on their discussion and answers to the drafting process. Remember, we’re not using the school values here (unless they happen to match by coincidence) we’re looking for what the students value most as a class. And you won’t be writing simple rule statements, your students will be creating statements that encompass their values for example instead of a simple rule like “Don’t push-in” a value driven statements would go beyond this because it encompasses that value of fairness and might read something like, “Be considerate of your classmates by treating them fairly and considering the needs of others before your own.”
3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me… Well your students actually.
Upper primary students are old enough to go beyond the usual first week activities. They’re looking for recognition and respect for their position as the older kids in the school. Taking the time to draft a class constitution is an excellent way to show you recognise their maturity and you will provide them with activities that celebrate this. It will also help you find out what they’re looking for from you so it’s a win/win.
4. Accountability is Key!
Being accountable simply means taking responsibility for your actions and behaviours. Upper primary students are not too young to understand this concept and the upper grades are the perfect time to teach these skills in preparation for high school. It is also important they realise their accountability, or lack of, affects those around them at school and at home. No man is an island after all. Within your class your students are accountable to each other and to you. Writing a Class Constitution helps them to recognise this value. They might call it teamwork and that’s great, as long as they understand their behaviour either lifts or lowers those around them.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Setting standards, not rules, is an excellent way to engage your students and to support and encourage self-reflection on a deeper level. As an added bonus you can also link it to the Australian Curriculum:
Students in grade 5 are required to learn about democracy and Australia’s democratic values (ACHASSK115) as well as the ways people with shared beliefs and values work together to achieve a civic goal (ACHASSK118)
Students in grade 6 are required to learn about Australia’s Federation and the origins and development of the Constitution (ACHASSK134) and explore the rights, responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizens. (ACHASSK147)
If you’re looking for help to guide your class through creating a class constitution, we’ve created a resource that includes a workbook, 4 detailed lesson plans and a poster template. All you need to do is print and teach! Click on the image to have a closer look. The poster template is included in our Free Resource Library.
Sign up below for V.I.T membership and for access to the FREE Resource library.
Have you created a Class Constitution? We’d love to hear from you or see examples. Feel free to leave a comment or tag us on social media.