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PBS students discuss, ratify classroom charters

Dr. Sarah D. Hraha, Director of Emotional Intelligence

The Gazette is Phillips Brooks School’s weekly parent newsletter. Each week, the lead article from the Gazette is cross-posted here on the PBS Blog.

By now, most of you may have heard your child mention that they worked on creating a charter in their classroom. Even if you haven’t heard this word mentioned in your car ride home from school, it’s a word you will begin to hear more often as the school year progresses.

When Dr. Marc Brackett – the founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence – came to PBS in January to speak to our parents, he spoke about RULER, the evidence-based approach for integrating social and emotional learning into schools. One of the primary tools of RULER is the charter: a collaborative document that helps schools establish supportive and productive learning environments.

Each classroom at PBS is developing a classroom charter that consists of a list of five words that describe how they want to feel at school. Once each classroom community has collaboratively developed their list of words, they then work to outline a list of behaviors that foster those feelings. In addition, students develop guidelines for preventing and managing conflict and a plan for what to do when the charter is broken.

Now that most of our charters have been agreed upon, they have been written in their final forms (somewhat final, actually, since charters are living documents and can be revised if needed), signed by the members of each classroom community, and displayed prominently in our classrooms.

During the first two weeks of school, I observed the charter creating process in several classrooms. Students clearly seemed to enjoy this alternative to developing classroom “rules,” as it was something they could easily connect with: How do I want to feel at school?

Long lists of feeling words covered the boards, and as students worked in small groups, they pared down their lists to a manageable few. Finally, the entire class agreed upon their top five words. Here are some examples: appreciated, respected, noticed, included, safe, proud, open-minded, excited (about learning). Words common to many lists were safe and included.

Although these lists are inspiring and powerful, they are only words if no actions back them to make them a reality. As the process continued, teachers asked students, “What would safe look like in our classroom and on the playground?” “How will we know if someone is or is not included?” These questions spurred further discussion and lists of behaviors: We will…work together; treat others the way we want to be treated; give our best effort; be OK with making mistakes; encourage others to join.

Finally, teachers asked their students about strategies for dealing with conflicts and moments when the charter is breached. Continued discussion produced ideas like taking a pause and deep breaths, using our words with each other, thinking before we speak or act, talking to a friend, listening with an open mind, and taking responsibility for our actions.

Our classroom charters will come in all shapes and sizes, but they will be documents collaboratively created by each classroom in which all the children will have participated and will own the agreement. Each classroom can refer to their classroom charter as a beacon to who they aspire to be. It’s an exciting way to begin the school year and something we will continuously build upon as we work together to learn and develop social and emotional skills.

Dr. Sarah D. Hraha came to PBS in 2017 as the school’s first Director of Emotional Intelligence – a role designed to capitalize on PBS’s strength in the area of social–emotional learning. She is an accomplished professional with decades of experience in elementary classrooms and 15 years’ experience in educational leadership, teacher education and consulting, and SEL-curriculum design.


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