When creating community with teen leaders, it is important to be intentional and take time to set the tone. The culture that is created within the community will affect all group interactions from communication, rapport, and trust. An exercise I like to do on the very first gathering of a new group is to create community agreements. The community agreements will act as a contract between all of the members. This exercise helps create buy in from all group members from the beginning because they feel invested in creating the culture. I have used community agreements with teams, student leaders, and adult groups, and while the communities served different purposes, the agreements were always the glue that brought people together.
Creating Community Agreements
My first step in the process of creating community agreements is to ask the group these three questions:
- How do you want to feel within our community?
- What do you want to see within our community?
- What do you want to hear within our community?
The questions are pretty basic, but they are important for ensuring all group members feel safe, see behavior that makes them feel comfortable, and hear words or tones that are supportive. I have each group member write the questions down and then personally reflect on how they want to answer the questions. Usually about 5 to 7 minutes is enough time for each group member to come up with what is most important to them in the three categories.
From there, I bring the group together to share. I like to write all of their ideas on a board or giant Post-its so everyone can see what is important to the other group members. Usually many of the ideas overlap because people have the same basic needs around safety in a group. Once everything is written down we have a group discussion around our nonnegotiables in each category. The nonnegotiables in each category become the foundation for the agreements.
To create the final draft I like to start with the following opening statement “Our community agrees to…” The group can decide to write their agreement as a paragraph in the style of a mission statement, or they can use bullet points. Most recently, with the leaders of Coastside Leadership Academy, we used bullet points. See our community agreements.
Accountability is the most important part of community agreements. Talk about them regularly. Revisit the agreements before meetings, gatherings, or conversations. I treat the community agreements as a living document that can be updated as needed during the group’s journey, but the core nonnegotiables stay the same.
As a final commitment to each other, I have all of the group members sign the agreement. I think signatures are a nice symbol of support for our shared community values. Plus, if anyone ever violates the agreement, their signature is proof that they understood the expectations and helps with a conversation about accountability.