Ready or not, here they come! If you work in a school, you are quite aware of what’s headed your way: kids…many who had their last real structure in a classroom back in June! When that panic sets in, many of us follow our instinct to focus on creating a highly structured environment with clear rules that must be strictly enforced…it’s time to create order out of chaos! While this is completely understandable (and sometimes necessary), I have a better idea. Instead of Rules this year, create a Full Value Commitment (FVC). The Full Value Commitment was originally created by Project Adventure as the Full Value Contract. My book (Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence, 2014) describes the FVC in more detail. Click HERE to view the contents of my book or purchase.
While there are many similarities between rules and FVCs, there are some important differences.
Like rules or laws, FVCs lay out a set of behavioral expectations for a group of people. When expectations are broken, as with rules, there are consequences. Here are some differences:
- Unlike most rules and laws, the FVC is not created by a single leader (such as a classroom teacher) or administrators. The FVC is created by the group (the class in this case).
- While rules are generally monitored and enforced by an authority figure, the FVC is meant to be enforced by the group members themselves. This may take some time. During that adjustment period, the teacher must enforce the FVC. For the many of us who are focusing on Restorative Justice practices as an alternative to traditional discipline, the FVC is a great tool (click HERE for an overview of Restorative Practices in schools)
- While the FVC is essentially a set of behavioral expectations, it is also a set of group goals. The students may not always actually meet the expectations, but should continually strive towards doing so.
- While we tend to only refer to rules when we “make em or break em,” the FVC is referred to often to help the group monitor itself as well as work through Restorative Justice processes.
While the specifics of a FVC will vary from group to group, all FVC’s seek to create an environment where each person is fully valued and has equal say about the creation and monitoring of the FVC. All FVC’s should incorporate expectations for interacting in a physically and emotionally safe way (i.e. Respect Each Other).
Creating the Commitment
The process for creating the FVC is often as important as the end result. The fact that the participants are engaged in creating the expectations that will guide behavior in their community creates a higher sense of “buy-in” and ownership than traditionally created sets of rules. The participants will utilize many important skills such as communication, debating, compromise and group decision-making. While my book offers numerous activities to create a FVC, I will give you one of my favorites here (adapted from Character Card FVC, p. 67, Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence, Goldsmith). The process below may take more than one day. I would not have the group create their FVC right away. Start the year with a basic set of rules for your students as you normally would. This gives the group structure while they are getting to know each other.
- Engage in purposeful activities aimed at helping the students get to know each other and feel somewhat comfortable in the classroom. My book contains over 150 of these activities. There are also others available for FREE on my site HERE. As I create new activities, I often add them to the site and BLOG about them on this BLOG.
- When you have determined the group’s readiness, begin by having them brainstorm characteristics or behaviors that they feel would be important to create a safe environment where everyone can learn and be happy.
- Once this list is created, divide the group into several smaller groups of four or five. Each group should work in their own space and decide which of the five (or four or six…it’s up to you) characteristics on the list are the most important for creating their safe environment. This can be a quick process or it may take some time to allow group members to debate their ideas.
- Once each group has their top five, have them prepare to present their rationale to the other groups. I often have each group lay out the cards in their groups’ designated area and have the other groups come “visit” while they present their rationale. Do this with each group. You will likely notice that while there may be some overlap between groups, there are also many differences in the characteristics and behaviors each group prioritizes.
- Once each group has presented, inform the class that, as an entire group, they need to determine which are the most important five (or six or seven, again, you decide) to become the basis of the group’s FVC. Often, the students have become quite attached to the ones they chose in the smaller group so some conflict may arise due to these connections. That’s OK. Help them work through it. While it’s tempting to allow the group to keep more behaviors than you asked for, don’t do it! The struggle to narrow it down to those final ones is extremely important in creating that high level of “buy-in.” Also, resist the temptation to allow the students to use a “majority rules” method. In the end, EVERYONE has to be in agreement. This supports the “Full Value” piece. Attaining consensus may require a significant amount of discussion, debate and compromise: all essential life skills.
- Once the group has decided on the behaviors to include in the FVC, they must be written down and everyone, staff included, must sign off. You can get creative with this part. I often require the group to determine a design that has an inside and outside. The included behaviors are written inside the design. I have had groups draw fish tanks with each behavior written on a big fish with their signatures on smaller fish, a tree with leaves where the trunk was the most important behavior and the branches coming off were the other behaviors (kids signed on leaves) and a volcano with the behaviors spraying out the top while the names were all written on the volcano itself.
- Display the FVC prominently. At any time, you can refer back to it. For example, at the end of week 1, ask the kids “How are we doing on our FVC?” “What things are we doing well? What needs to improve? What can each one of you work on for next week?”
While this may seem like a great deal of work up front, it will almost definitely pay dividends down the line. My friend Chris Cavert of FunDoing once told me a story about his days as a teacher. For the first few weeks of school, he worked on creating a true community by focusing on activities and games that helped the students become more comfortable with each other and get to know each other better. They also developed their FVC. Many of the veteran teachers warned him that he was getting behind in the curriculum and should get moving. By mid year, he had caught up, and soon actually passed the others as his class experienced far less behavioral difficulties than his colleagues! Feel free to contact me with questions. I would love to hear how it goes if you give this a try!