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Where are the rules? Formulating essential agreements in the PYP

Michelle Twining

Michelle Twining, Mount Scopus Memorial College, Australia

These highlights illustrate an approach to developing essential agreements in a PYP classroom.

Following our class discussion on our essential agreement one boy raised his hand. “Where are the rules? If this is an essential agreement, shouldn’t it say the things we can and cannot do?”

I was a bit confused at first but then I had to smile. When I said these were not the rules but essential agreements, I realized that, to him, they were the same thing.

Further discussion was needed!

We started the year thinking about the worth of things and values. We discussed various amounts of money from a 20 cent coin to a $20 note. I asked them which one they would choose. Most chose $20, but a few said that they would take the $10 or $5, because they did not need $20.

When I questioned why they chose what they did, this led to a discussion about the word ‘value’ and a brainstorm around the question, “What do you value?”

Michelle Twining_Where are the rules_image 22

Wordle on values

Over the course of the next few weeks we created a ‘Wordle’ of values, then noticed things we valued a little and a lot.

Then we asked, “If we truly value these things, what will that look like? How would we show that? Which ones relate to our time as a class?”

We framed the sentence structure: ‘We value… so we…’

In order to dig a bit deeper to see what that value would look like in practice, we asked questions like “If we truly value individuality, how would we show that?”

Answers included:  “You wouldn’t judge other people”  and  “You would be accepting of who people are and how they are different.”

We then thought about what we wanted our classroom to be like and the children went off in pairs to discuss. The next day we asked “What are the most important things to you?”

Michelle Twining_Where are the rules_image 3

The class were adamant that everything was essential and nothing could be lost from this agreement!

We changed wording, combined ideas and asked the following questions:

  • What is an essential agreement?
  • What does essential mean?
  • What does agreement mean?

We looked up the words, chatted in pairs about them and came together to conclude what they meant.

I wanted my students to go beyond rules to the reasons behind them and understand that what we value is most reflected by how we act, so why not start there?

What is most important to us should remain at the forefront of our minds so we can remember why we want to act in a certain way, and the kind of people we want to be. I know I want to do that personally, as well as professionally: To remember the purpose behind it all.

If you remember those things, you do not really need ‘rules’; instead you have a goal in mind of who you want to be. This is much more powerful in my own life.

Hopefully, also in theirs!

If you enjoyed reading these edited highlights you can read the full post here.

Michelle Twining enjoys teaching with a global-minded, inquiry-based approach and creating a culture of thinking within her classroom. She tweets @smwhreinbetween.


9 Responses to Where are the rules? Formulating essential agreements in the PYP

  1. Sanjay Prabhakaran 2 January 2014 at 4:54 am #

    Hi Michelle,

    I am so impressed by the way you led your students to think beyond rules. Given the right lead , students come up with the most indepth thoughts. Reading the essential agreement was such a pleasure, children have a very unique way of expressing the World in their own way.


  2. Kavita AGGARWAL 21 January 2014 at 3:25 am #

    I think this is the best way to discuss essential agreements in class .

  3. Sarah Olayvar 21 January 2014 at 6:51 am #

    This is one of the best so far that I have read about discussing and creating essential agreement. Teacher and students sometimes are so ‘used’ to creating them but failed to understand the reason why they made them. It would be best to let the class understand the value of it. Great post!

  4. Liat 19 May 2015 at 1:09 am #

    Hi Michelle,

    I really like how the focus isn’t on rules but rather on an Essential agreement which reflects the collective values and behaviours which the class themelves want their learning environment to be like.

  5. Olga Greenlee 30 October 2016 at 12:33 am #

    I enjoyed your example. I find the student led discussions revealing revealing me and to them.

  6. Daniel Mannering 4 September 2017 at 3:41 am #

    Was looking for a way to move students away from thinking about rules and what they can’t do, great example and great student discussion. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Mohd Abdul Burhan 22 August 2022 at 1:25 pm #

    Thank you for sharing


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