On the first day of class, we collectively developed a class contract meant to guide our behavior for the remainder of the course. None of the rules came directly from the teachers - students formed groups and brainstormed standards they would like to live and work by, and we recorded their suggestions in their own words. In doing so, we allowed students to develop a sense of self-governance, collaborative spirit, and ownership of the guidelines they had set for themselves. The contract was then signed by all students and teachers and displayed on the classroom wall. Our participation in the signing of the contract was important for highlighting the importance of mutual respect between teacher and student as well as between student and student.
The contract was displayed on the classroom wall (see picture above), surrounded by paper clocks that we made the same day to illustrate the way we each spent our time throughout the course of a typical day. As an early activity, the clocks not only got students thinking about the way they used time (as related to the course's essential question), but were also a constant reminder to students that they were welcome to bring their lives and interests outside of school into the classroom, and that we were interested in learning about them as individuals.
Along with creating classroom expectations through a democratic process, our efforts to connect with students as individuals from the very beginning was instrumental to our success in creating a comfortable yet respectful classroom culture that endured through the entirety of the summer.