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How to Create a Social Contract in the Art Room

Have you ever heard of a social contract? It can be a wonderful way to incorporate Social Emotional Learning skills into your art room routine.

A social contract is an understanding among members of a group or community that defines the rights and responsibilities and an expectation for how to treat one another.

A social contract can help to ensure your classroom runs smoothly and respectfully. Traditionally, the year may start out by reciting art room rules to students. Alternatively, consider having students create a piece of art based around an overarching theme tied to a concise art room rule.

To show how a social contract in the artroom can be displayed.

Here’s how to create a School-Wide Collaborative Art Social Contract:

1. Get the words right.

It may be a short quote or a set of specific rules. It may even be a collection of school-wide rules or your school mission statement every student could recite. Consider for each school year, selecting a strong, themed quote to act as your single art room rule or way of thinking.

2. Create a display.

Using the words, create a large banner to display all year long. It can serve as a visual reminder as they create together and throughout the school year. If you do not have enough space on a wall in your art room, brainstorm other spaces to try this! Perhaps it would work well in the cafeteria, hallway bulletin board, or outside the main office.

To show how a social contract can be displayed

3. Discuss with students.

It is very important to take time to explain to students the meaning of the text. Do not assume all students know what the words mean. Even words like “kind,” “success,” and “positive” could create an excellent discussion with your artists. It is best to keep the text pretty short and sweet.

4. Have students create their own.

This is where the idea becomes an official social contract. It is one thing to simply talk about an idea. However, to actually create something based on an idea further cements the thinking. Therefore, after you have discussed the text with your students, have them each create a simple, small art piece to be displayed near the social contract text. After they create the art piece, it is important they sign their artwork, acting as their written agreement to put their best effort forward to upholding the discussed social contract.

Fish as a part of a collaborative artwork

5. Display all artwork.

After collecting all your artists’ beautiful signed creations, it’s time to make a more permanent collaborative piece. Consider keeping your social contract collaboration up the entire year. This way, each time a class comes to art, you can refer to the agreed-upon “way of thinking.”  This gentle reminder brings ownership to students and their classroom actions. It continues to encourage our artists to be their best selves.

Image of social contract art under blacklight

Whether you are praising or struggling with a class, you can simply point to the social contract and use it to affirm your compliment or redirection. One of the most amazing things about using social contracts is that it can lead to many important connections and discussion topics students need to consider. Here, you will find some other helpful vocabulary to pull into your discussion about social contracts in our school.

Useful vocabulary:

  • citizenship: personal response to membership in a community
  • character traits: characteristics or qualities that describe behavior
  • community: a group of people living in the same area and under the same government
  • culture: the customary practices and beliefs of a social group
  • school climate: the values, culture, practices, and structures within a school that cause it to function in particular ways
  • bias: personal judgment; a way we think about things formed by our experience

Image of social contract art

If you’re looking for more on this topic, check out this article, How to Discuss Social Issues in the Art Room without Bias, for tips on how to talk about hard topics.

Creating a social contract can be a really powerful tool. Taking the time to choose the right words, discuss with students, and create will help to set a positive tone that can last all year. Not only will you create meaningful artwork with students, but you will surely have some meaningful discussions, too.

Would you use a social contract in your art room?

What age level may benefit most from a discussion about social contracts?

How can you further tie in SEL to the use of social contract collaborations?

Sarah Krajewski is an elementary art educator in Wisconsin. Her teaching philosophy is mirrored in her classroom mantra: "I am positive. I am creative. I am mindful. I am amazing. I am an artist.”

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