I always hated it when an administrator told us at the beginning of the year to have our class create essential agreements.
It made sense for the classroom teachers because they had, uh, ONE class. But really, what are music teachers going to do with multiple grade levels and sections within a grade level? Post 30 Essential Agreement posters around the room?
I’d make an attempt to do it with each class and homogenize it into one poster but then I kept thinking it was false and homogenized and served no purpose. EVERYBODY comes up with essentially the same things-be kind, be respectful, be safe, be responsible, be patient, be caring, etc.
I thought about what were the biggest overarching problems in my music room and how could I address them. I came up with the below poster. It’s beautiful, right? As I always told the kids, “This is why I am not your art teacher.”
I kept this poster up for years and at the start of every year, I’d call the agreements out one by one and ask for a show of hands, who agreed. Then when I needed to remind them about something, I’d say, “Didn’t we all agree that beginnings and endings are quiet?” It was like a handshake. WE AGREED! Let’s do it!
One year I put each class into six groups and assigned each group one of the essential agreements. I gave them three minutes to talk about why it was important and then each group shared.
A lot of the essential agreements address children who are attention-seeking and many of the agreements are about great practices in performing and learning about music.
A student seeks attention by playing the xylophones overly loud. Rule: Respect our Instruments and Play Beautifully.
A student seeks attention by being louder than everyone else while speaking a speech piece or poem or singing during a song. The above poster actually was changed to read: Sing, Speak, and Play Beautifully!
During a quiet movement activity, two students talk. Rule: Move Silently
While playing instruments, a student taps another one with a mallet. Rule: Hands to Yourself
At the end of a song, instrumental piece, or activity, everyone starts to talk. Rule: Beginnings and Endings are Quiet!
The group falls apart during a song, instrumental piece, dance, or other activity and some people stop, start talking, complain, etc. Rule: NEVER stop! After a while, I didn’t have to use this one much because they were so used to figuring out how to keep going and when they did, I would PRAISE them forever about their professionalism. I’d say, “Tyrese knew that we forgot the repeat, but kept that next line going and got us all back on track! YES! Good job, everybody!” That’s what performers do-they keep going.
I wish I had started this “musical” essential agreement idea sooner in my teaching career. I hope it sparks an idea for you and you can turn it into a meaningful tool for classroom management and learning.