Germantown, Tennessee--August 16, 2018--Riverdale teachers of grades 5-8 have embarked on a series of professional development activities to enhance school culture. Provided by the organization, Facing History and Ourselves, the school’s first session centered on the concept of social contracting.
“Contracting,” according the Facing History and Ourselves
website, “is the process of openly discussing with your students expectations about how classroom members will treat each other”. Assistant Principal Michelle Bardos arranged the professional development session for teachers over the summer.
More simply put, Riverdale’s resident FH instructor, Erin Fristick explained, “On the first days back to school, contracting requires teachers to discuss rules and ending social goals with their students and then generate a contract special to that classroom”. And, the idea has really caught on amongst the middle school teachers. Well over a dozen teachers have completed the activity and have posted unique social contracts on their classroom walls.
“We start by asking the students to have discussions around prompts like Have you ever not wanted to answer a question in class? Why?
” said Fristick. “Social contracts take the student buy-in of classroom rules and procedures to a new level. Suddenly, the students describe ways that they can take bigger social risks and become more engaged during classroom learning—making for a very safe and optimal learning environment,” she said.
Fristick teaches four sections of Facing History and Ourselves as an elective option to middle schoolers at Riverdale and has reported that interest and enrollment in the course is on the rise. Sharing these practices with the entire teaching staff was warmly received by the school and she expects that Riverdale will host future sessions.
The next [suggested] topic for a middle school wide training will focus on student identity mapping, according to Fristick, who was busy implementing an FH Identity lesson in her first period class. Students in the class were busy having deep conversations about identity after reading a few passages that cover topics like religion, race and gender. When the students are sharing out, some offer up very personal accounts. The students have recently completed their first assignment in which they complete a graphic organizer that answers the multi-faceted question, “Who Am I?”.
“The conversations we have in class are unbelievable, and so powerful,” said Fristick. And, it’s clear that this classroom is perceived as a safe place in which students are empowered.