Diverse group of students

Creating Community Agreements with Your Students

A Resource for Instructors

Community agreements are typically documents about classroom expectations for discussion and behavior that are created collaboratively between students and instructors. The agreement helps to build a foundation for an inclusive learning environment through the process of co-creation and transparency about expectations and boundaries. This guide provides a brief overview of incorporating community agreements into your inclusive teaching practice.

What is a community agreement?

A community agreement may be known by other terms such as classroom norms, expectations, guidelines, or contract. It is typically co-created through discussion between students and the instructor.

An agreement guides the way students and instructors participate in discussions or other class activities, helping all participants to interact in an equitable, inclusive, and respectful framework.

Note that a collaborative agreement needs to be distinguished from classroom policies that the instructor provides to the class, usually in the syllabus and in class meetings early in the semester. Policies are often set by the department or university to cover such areas as assessment and attendance requirements.

Why create a community agreement?

A community agreement is a useful teaching tool because it helps create a learning environment where all students feel they belong and are encouraged to participate in ways that support their individual and collective success.

It also helps all class participants be accountable for their contribution to the productive dynamics of the class.

The agreement, through its collaborative creation and framing of classroom expectations, provides modeling for civil discourse even when students may not agree with each other – what researchers Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens call “controversy with civility” in their chapter “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice,” in The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators (see Resources at the end of this guide for full citation).

The agreement also provides instructors with a framework to initiate conversations with, or respond to questions from, students about any behavior that disrupts the community agreement.

How do I create a community agreement?

Community agreements may be created in different ways depending on the style and size of the class. For example, instructors with large lecture-based classes may choose to develop agreements in a different way from instructors with small discussion-based classes. Here are some key points to keep in mind as you plan for your classroom agreement:

  • Explain the role of a community agreement within the learning environment; this may include general principles such as an inclusive learning environment as well as specific goals such as respectful interactions in discussions.
  • Provide time for students to reflect on what is important to them in a classroom agreement before entering into a group or whole class discussion.
  • Post the agreement to a physical and/or virtual space where all class participants can view it.
  • Refer to (and potentially revise) the agreement on a regular basis throughout the semester, to maintain and build an inclusive learning environment.
  • Provide students with a way to discuss uncomfortable or distressing moments with you so that any difficulties are addressed in a timely and appropriate way.

Some possibilities for developing the agreement:

  • Create a list of suggestions that students vote on (electronically or through hard copy check lists) to highlight the behaviors and attitudes they feel are most important for the success of their learning environment.
  • Ask students to brainstorm suggestions for the agreement in small groups and/or in whole class discussion.
  • Ask students to reflect, individually and then in small groups, on the characteristics of positive learning experiences and contrast these with negative experiences. From these reflections, the class may develop a list of behaviors to frame their interactions.
  • Provide options for students to express agreement with the principles before developing the final community agreement.

When do I create a community agreement?

Typically, community agreements are discussed and formulated early in the semester. That way, students and the instructor/s have a clear sense of the expectations for the class from the beginning.

However, if you don’t include a community agreement right at the beginning of the semester, look for a space where it could be added: before a class discussion, for example, or before group activities that will benefit from clear expectations.

Remember to re-visit the agreement periodically throughout the semester to ask whether anything needs to be clarified, changed, or added.

What happens after the community agreement is developed?

Community agreements need to be accessible to all members of the class, including the instructor, graduate or undergraduate student assistants, and students.

Possibilities for “posting” include:

  • In a highly visible space on Blackboard (or the Learning Management System for your class)
  • Added to any social media connected to the class
  • Added to the syllabus as part of class expectations
  • As a physical handout for each member of the class
  • As a poster that can be brought to the class space on a regular basis

Remember to update the agreement, as needed, if the class community agrees on changes or additions.

Examples of what might be included in a community agreement

This list of points that could be included in a community agreement is adapted from “Establishing Classroom Ground Rules,” from the Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington University in St. Louis.

  • I will show respect for others as individuals by learning and using their preferred names (and pronouns, if individuals feel comfortable sharing their pronouns)
  • I will respect the speaker, even when I do not agree with the point the speaker is making
  • I will assume good intentions from others but acknowledge if I am feeling hurt by the information and/or the way it is shared.
  • I will listen carefully and try not to interrupt—even when I am excited to respond!
  • I will try not to generalize about groups (even groups with which I identify) and I won’t ask another person to speak as a representative of a group.
  • I will keep an open mind and look forward to learning about–and being challenged by–ideas, questions, and points of view that are different than my own.
  • I will try to be aware of my own strengths and weaknesses: if I am someone who loves to verbally contribute, I will make space for others to share their views. If I am often silent, I will challenge myself to contribute a question or comment.
  • I will aim to allow everyone, including myself, the opportunity to revise and clarify ideas and positions in response to new information and insights.
  • I will support my points with evidence and will be honest when my thoughts about a topic are still speculative or exploratory.
  • I will try not to make assumptions and will ask questions to learn more about other perspectives, especially those that are different from my own.
  • I will maintain confidentiality as I understand that the specifics of stories shared by other students are for classroom discussion only


Please see this list of resources, some of which have been cited in the guide, for additional ideas and information.

Arao, B. & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces: A new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In L. M. Landreman (ed.) The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators, (pp. 135-150). Sterling, VA: Stylus. The electronic version of this book is available through the Boston University library system with a BU log-in.

The Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Establishing Classroom Ground Rules. Washington University in St. Louis. https://ctl.wustl.edu/resources/establishing-classroom-ground-rules/

O’Connor, Cait. (2021, August 24). Using community agreements to start the year strong. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/using-community-agreements-start-year-strong

Race Equity & Justice Initiative. (n.d.). Race Equity Toolkit: Tool D Community Agreements. JustLead Washington. https://justleadwa.org/learn/rejitoolkit/


This guide in intended for use by all instructors. It was created as a resource for Designing Antiracism Curricula (DAC), a partnership between the Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL), the Center for Antiracist Research (CAR), and Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) at Boston University. Thank you to Dr. Priya Garg from the DAC planning committee for conversation about the role of community agreements.

We welcome your feedback to help us improve the guide. Please contact us at ctl@bu.edu with “Community Agreements” in the subject line if you would like to provide comments on the guide.

Last updated September 5, 2022.