Essential Agreement

The Tool

An essential agreement is the agreed way in which a group of people are going to behave. It is one way of defining the culture, when culture is understood as 'the way we do things around here'.

The aim of the essential agreement is to create a safe and respectful space in which people can work together productively. It is a set of agreed statements about how people agree to behave (e.g. allow everyone an equal opportunity to speak, mobile phones are to be switched off etc.)

How to use

  • create a contract with your team
  • to define the culture
  • to agree on how you are going to act
  • to encourage discussion
  • to reach group consensus

As a leader essential agreements can have many uses, some of which could be:

  • when formulating or reviewing a policy - seeking consensus, building shared understanding
  • collaborative learning and knowledge sharing technique amongst whole staff on, for example, what learning looks like in our school
  • clarifying relationships - for example working with School Board to build a shared understanding of their role in the school
  • problem-solving technique - building a shared understanding of the culture of your school in handling problem
  • Creating a 'contract' with your team / or with the staff as a whole / or with pupils / or with the parents


  • Individually allow people time to reflect on their own beliefs and values - what's important to them?
  • You can use an Artifact - Storytelling technique to encourage people to reveal their beliefs about a subject e.g.beliefs about learning, beliefs about the purpose of schools etc.
  • Having listened to each person's stories start designing some principles for working together.
  • Use a Place Mat activity so people have time to think individually, before seeking consensus.
  • Consider using See, Hear, Feel protocol to encourage people to explore what (for example) learning looks like, sounds like, feels like.
  • Take time in the group to build your agreement, so that everyone shares an understanding and buys into the agreement.
  • Identify key tag words - make each word count (see the example below). Use compelling, audacious words that inspire action.
  • Live the agreement, and be willing to tweak it through regular review.


Example #1: Here is an example of an essential agreement that a year 8 class wrote at Tanglin Trust School, Singapore:

As a member of the year 8 community

  • I will be careful with my words and say only what I'm prepared to stand by later.
  • I will try not to take things personally.
  • I will ask questions to ensure I understand things clearly.
  • I will always do my best.

Don't break the contract.

Four Agreements

Be impeccable with your word.

Don't take anything personally.

Don't make assumptions.

Always do your best.

Example #2: Here is an example that a group of IB Coordinators created as they approached working with their staff teams to embed Approaches to Teaching and Learning in the Diploma Programme.

We agree to:

  • Commit to having opinions
  • Notice good ideas
  • Work as a team – use WE not I language
  • Take responsibility for our own learning
  • Respect and challenge different views
  • Be receptive
  • Be honest
  • Honour time – it is precious


An example of such an essential agreement based on the IB Learner Profile can be found here.

Click here to access a helpful article about designing an essential agreement for teaching and learning in an IB school.

Click here to access examples of essential agreements in schools.

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