Center for Teaching and Learning

Community Norms and Expectations

Group agreements are expectations, rules, and guidelines for behavior that are collaboratively developed and agreed upon to help motivate student participation, foster inclusion, and clarify accountability in the classroom. They can help establish the norms and expectations for behavior for your course, and developing them collaboratively with your students is a great way to incur student buy-in.

One approach to developing community norms and expectations with your students is to provide a "starter" list (like the one below) and to ask your students to help you edit.

For example, you may want to start with the following draft list of community norms ask your students to help revise it:

  • Everyone here has something to learn.
  • Everyone here is expected to support each other in identifying and clarifying their confusions about course material.
  • Ask for clarification if you are confused.
  • Recognize that everyone will start from different bases of knowledge.
  • Listen actively and attentively.
  • Challenge one another, but do so respectfully.
  • Be respectful while still being critical.
  • Critique ideas, not people.
  • Ideas shared during class will be treated respectfully.
  • Do not interrupt one another.
  • One person speaks at a time.
  • Everyone has the right to be heard.
  • Build on one another’s comments, work towards a shared understanding.
  • Always have your book or readings in front of you.
  • Do not offer opinions without supporting [textual] evidence.
  • Avoid put-downs (even humorous ones).
  • No name calling.
  • Take responsibility for the quality of the discussion.
  • Hold yourself and each other to high standards of excellence at all times.
  • Do not monopolize discussion.
  • Speak from your own experience, without generalizing.
  • If you are offended by anything said during class discussions, acknowledge it immediately.
  • Consider anything that is said in class strictly confidential. (ie, "What's said stays here, but take what you learn with you.")
  • Have the humility to recognize that you do not know everything and that everyone can stand to improve.
  • Try to focus on learning instead of debating.
  • If you see someone not being included in the conversation, try to include them.
  • ...


When introducing group agreements, it can be important to discuss with your students why you are doing so, (and why you are doing so collaboratively with them). Some framing approaches that might be useful are:

  • to make your classroom’s norms more explicit and transparent;
  • to have students themselves articulate the ground rules they need for an effective learning environment; and/or
  • to introduce students to collaborative process and decision making;
  • etc...


You can invite students to contribute to the community norms by:

  • asking them to individually submit proposed rules or guidelines and then voting (in class or as homework), or
  • by brainstorming agreements in small groups and then compiling/pooling suggestions generated from the whole group at once.


It can be helpful to review the agreements once or twice in the weeks following their initial formulation so that students have a chance to edit, subtract, or elaborate on agreements. After that, it can help to return to the agreements throughout the semester so that they don’t slip from memory. You might remind students of the agreements by

  • posting them on the home page of your course website;
  • adding them to the syllabus document; and/or
  • setting aside times during the semester to review the agreements and collect feedback as to whether or not the class feels as if they’ve been operating in accordance with them.

Group Contracts

A similar, but alternative approach to group agreements is to have students develop and sign a group contract

  • A group contract is created by a group to formalize the expectations of group members.
  • Should contain the following:
    • Group members’ names (and contact info)
    • 5 - 7 ground rules regarding preparation for and attendance at group meetings, and behaviors that will be expected of all group members
    • Assignment of specific tasks, roles, and responsibilities along with due dates.
    • An agreed-upon method for peer feedback during the project so that problems can be addressed before the project ends.
    • A place for each group member to sign, indicating their agreement to the contract.
    • From Portland State University:
      • Start by asking each student to list 1-4 specific things that they will want to do in their group;
      • 3 things that they have experienced in groups that they DON’T want to happen; along with how you think it can be prevented;
      • Finish this sentence… “I function best in groups when…”
      • Finish this sentence… “I really hope our group can…”