Learning: A Social Contract Between Teacher & Student - Steve Barkley

Learning: A Social Contract Between Teacher & Student

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The following contract was shared with me by Mary Palmer who is an instructional coach at Century High School (CHS) in Bismarck, ND. Mary has been a secondary English teacher for twenty five years at CHS and has also served as a secondary staff developer for the district.

The Bismarck district has been implementing a standards –based learning approach over several years; first in the elementary grades, then middle school, and next fall in the high school. Working with her principal, Steve Madler, they have been challenging the staff to examine current grading and reassessment procedures for alignment with standards –based learning. Mary shared some work from Tom Schimmer’s Grading from the Inside Out, which included a social contract for reassessment. Some teachers worked with the ideas and created an initial list of student responsibilities in order to receive reassessment. Mary thought they were accurate in those responsibilities and felt there were teacher responsibilities that aligned.

After seeking input from several areas Mary states:

“This chart reflects changes made after feedback. Now I see teachers who are hungry for answers about reassessments and late work, and I am hoping this piece will help them see and articulate the full picture of the learning cycle, a cycle that does not give students free reign “to be irresponsible, to reassess and hand in work whenever they feel like it,” but a cycle that takes the responsibility of learning seriously.”

    “I don’t want this list to get too long, so I am wondering if this covers the fullness, the complexity of the teaching-learning process? Does this give clarity to the base questions of “Do students get to reassess at any time for any reason?” “Do students get to reassess as many times as they want?” and any other questions that come up when teachers are first challenged to allow, to encourage, reassessment? “

I think Mary’s work provides a great reference point for teachers in PLCs, departments, or as a whole school staff to examine practices and policies. It’s a terrific tool for a coach or principal to engage teachers in conversations about their classroom decisions regarding motivating the greatest student learning and teaching learner responsibilities. It also provides a starting point for teacher and student conversations that lead to their own partnership agreement.

Mary and I are anxious to hear your thoughts. You can comment below or contact Mary directly mary_palmer@bismarckschools.org.


Learning: A Social Contract Between Teacher & Student

–Do everything you can to prepare for success, and I promise to help you—




·  Establishes learning cycle, helping students understand how to learn

· Articulates clear learning targets and proficiency expectations aligned to standards

· Exhibits behaviors that lead to high levels of learning such as motivation, self-direction, personal responsibility for their own learning.

·  Self-monitors progress on targets

·  Designs learning activities and practice work (formative assessments) that complement established targets, that scaffold the learning

·  Creates a learning environment where students feel safe to take intellectual risks, to ask questions

·  Completes learning activities on time: reading, labs, homework (for practice, extension, application, preparation, review), research, etc.

·  Perseveres through struggles and communicates with teacher

· Provides timely and focused feedback in regards to how the student met the target and/or how the student can continue to progress ·  Reflects on feedback, self-correcting and learning from errors

· Communicates with teacher regarding fixes or continued breakdowns in understanding and/or application

· Offers tutorials and/or outside resources that foster continued learning

· Guides students in how to study and prepare

· Takes initiative to seek help and studies/practices given materials

·  Continues to self-monitor growth within learning targets

·  Gives various assessments of learning that clearly reflects established learning targets · Performs the necessary prep work to feel confident and successful
· Assesses evidence of student learning and reports a score that reflects the level of learning · Predicts success based upon continued self-reflection of learning
· Offers students opportunities to reassess, to show further evidence of learning

· Offers enrichment opportunities for students meeting the standards.

·  Provides a plan regarding how things will be different the second time – evidence of new learning.

· Engages in further challenges

We hold high expectations for academic achievement and behavior for all students, and we will provide support to help them persevere, actively learn, build healthy relationships, and make positive choices (CHS Mission for MTSS).

#rollPATS – Perseverance, Active learning, Trust, Strength & Success!

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3 Responses to “ Learning: A Social Contract Between Teacher & Student ”

  1. Bill Connolly Says:

    I admire the thoughtfulness of the lists, as well as the thinking that went into the relationships between the teacher and student bullets. I think it is helpful for both groups to see how their responsibilities parallel equally challenging expectations for the other.

    One suggestion (not sure if it’s possible) is to perhaps group or cluster the actions in categories. It is a lengthy list (X 2), and it may help with progress monitoring, with PLC discussions, and with PD to be able to name the areas of the contract that are proving most challenging or most improved.

    Just calling this a contract is a key decision, I think, as it shows that teachers and students are partners in learning. It is NOT top-down and BOTH groups must prepare, reflect, and persevere in order for the organization to achieve its mission.

    Great work!

    Best, Bill

  2. Mary Palmer Says:

    Hi Bill,
    Thank you for your feedback on this teaching and learning contract. I like the idea of grouping and was thinking about about your “prepare, reflect, persevere” idea and trying to tie that into the categories or clusters. I will let you know if we come up with something that works, that makes sense. Mary

  3. Timothy Seller Says:

    Back in the 1980’s I used a beginning of the year activity called “Expectations for Teacher and Student Contract”. It was brain stormed and created by all involved and then went home for a parents signature (in agreement) and space to add. Today I still find it as important. I have an expression on my wall everyday that helps, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”… Steve Barkley will always be an inspiration to me as he was in the first years of PLS and Iowa. Thank you for your sharing Ms. Palmer.

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