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Creating the Community We Want With Group Agreements
Read It and Talk About It
Elizabeth Johnson, Education Director, Youth Communication

Group agreements are the norms that guide how participants interact with each other so that the space is safe and inclusive for everyone. Different from your program/agency’s “rules,” group agreements are created in a collaborative activity like the one described below. Engaging teens in this process generates their buy-in and deepens their sense of responsibility to ensuring safe space. We encourage you to do this activity after reading a Youth Communication story where the writer describes finding a sense of belonging, connection, and sense of safety in community space.

Directions:
1. Explain that the goal of this activity is to develop a list of agreements that everyone can live with about sharing and learning together as a community.
2. Introduce brainstorming and explain that it is a process used in problem-solving to generate the maximum number of ideas for consideration. Here are some guidelines for consideration:

  • All ideas are accepted; every idea will be written down.

  • There should be no comments, either positive or negative, on any of the ideas presented.

  • Think about what others have suggested and use those ideas to get your brain moving along new lines.

3. Post up a large piece of blank white paper. Draw a circle in the middle, leaving a few inches between it and the edge of the paper.
4. Facilitate a group brainstorm with the following questions. Ask them one at a time, waiting for brainstorming to happen as described above, before introducing the next question:
  • “How do we want it to feel like in our space together?” Write ideas INSIDE the circle.

  • “In order to feel that way, what kind of behaviors and actions do we want from ourselves and each other?” Write ideas INSIDE the circle.

  • “Next, what DON’T we want it to feel like in our space together?” Write ideas OUTSIDE the circle.

  • “What kinds of behaviors and actions do we NOT want from ourselves and each other?” Write ideas OUTSIDE the circle.

  • “Finally, look back at what is in the middle of the circle. Are there any new ideas you have about what kinds of behaviors we want in order to keep those things written outside of the circle from happening? (For example, if you said you don’t want to feel judged or stereotyped, then how should we talk with one another?)” Add any new ideas INSIDE the circle.

5. After the brainstorm, tell the group that everything outside of the circle is not going to come into our group. We’re leaving these feelings and behaviors “at the door.”
6. Focus the group on what is inside the circle. Going around the group, ask each teen to identify the top three ideas that are the most important to them. Draw a star next to each.
7. After everyone has shared what is most important to them in order for the group to feel safe and inclusive, transition to a new large piece of paper posted up titled “Group Agreements.”
8. Work together to create a list of the agreements this group believe are important enough to commit to as the norms everyone needs to follow when together in the group. Be sure to ask for revisions or objections before you settle on the final list, which will probably have 5-8 agreements. Below is a sample list you could make suggestions from (the group needs to feel safe for you, too):
  • Talk one at a time; one mic.

  • Avoid being judgmental.

  • Listen and discover, rather than give advice.

  • Be open and honest; speak your truth.

  • Share the talk space. Give everyone a chance to speak.

  • Don’t make fun of what other people say or do.

  • What’s said in here, stays in here.

  • Speak for yourself only, with “I”.

  • When you disagree, challenge the idea NOT the person.

  • Speak with respect about all people- no hate language or put downs.

Elizabeth Johnson
All Activites for Youth are created by Elizabeth Johnson, Youth Communication's Education Director. She specializes in social and emotional learning and literacy development and offers story-based professional services for educators. For more information, contact Elizabeth at ejohnson@youthcomm.org or 212-279-0708 ext. 103.
(AFY-06-17-2015)