Re-Energizing a Behavior Pledge

As members of the Bywood School community: We respect all people, we respect all property; We walk safely, we talk quietly; We never touch to hurt another person; We always keep our school a safe and clean place; So that we can learn and succeed.

—Bywood Elementary School Behavior Pledge

With the advent of each school year, possibilities abound for fresh starts and new beginnings. A few years ago, Lisa Kostaneski, then principal at Bywood Elementary in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, decided that what her school needed to jumpstart the year was to revisit their schoolwide behavior pledge and infuse it with life.

This pledge, created with passion by adults and students many years ago, was recited each morning by every member of the community as part of the morning announcements and routines. And, as is common in many schools, Lisa had noticed that the recitation had become increasingly rote and lifeless as the years passed by.

The beginning of a new school year sparked Lisa to create a structure that would help teachers and students reflect upon the meaning behind the pledge. At the same time, they would be addressing important goals for the first six weeks of school, such as establishing classroom and schoolwide behavior expectations and building a sense of community.

The structure was simple. Every week during the first six weeks of school, teachers and students in each classroom focused on exploring one line of the Bywood Pledge. They began during week one by discussing the first line, “As members of the Bywood school community.”

Lisa provided teachers with open-ended questions to facilitate the conversations, such as, What does it mean to be a member of a community? What makes a community good? What are your responsibilities and rights as a member of the community? She also helped teachers carve out the time they needed to engage in unhurried and rich conversations.

After lively discussions about what it means to be a community, each class created a visual with the common heading, “A community is . . . ,” to represent their ideas about the first line of the pledge. The charts were displayed prominently in the hallways outside each classroom. As classes moved through the halls during the first week of school, students were encouraged to compare their ideas with the ideas of students in other classrooms.

The visuals also offered opportunities for adults to connect with children about values and expectations included in the pledge. For example, when visiting a classroom, the principal or assistant principal might share an observation or reinforce specific behavior, such as, “I can see that your class is already becoming a strong community. I see you sharing ideas, listening carefully to each other, and having fun together during Morning Meeting”—all ideas articulated on the class display.

During the second week of school, students and teachers explored what it meant to “respect all people and all property,” the second line of the Bywood pledge. Lisa again provided prompts for these conversations, carefully constructing questions that were appropriate for the age range of students at Bywood:

  • What does it sound like and look like when people speak respectfully to each other? (Ask students to give specific examples.)
  • What does it feel like when people treat you with respect?
  • What are some ways we can show respect for our classroom, our materials, and our whole school?

For the next four weeks, teachers and students continued to deconstruct the pledge and to create visuals to express their thoughts. Here is a sampling of some of the discussion questions from subsequent weeks:

  • We walk safely, we talk quietly: What does it look like to walk and move safely (in the classroom, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, etc.)? When is it important to talk quietly?
  • We never touch to hurt another person: How can you tell when someone is hurt or feeling uncomfortable? What are some ways to get someone’s attention without touching them?
  • And we always keep our school a safe and clean place: What does it mean to feel safe in our classroom, on the playground, in the cafeteria? Why is it important to keep our school (classroom, playground, etc.) clean?
  • So that we can learn and succeed: How can we help each other reach our goals? How can we encourage one another when things are hard?

Throughout this process, Lisa noted that students not only developed a deeper understanding of schoolwide rules and expectations, but they also developed a stronger sense of ownership of their school. As one child articulated it, “Now we all know what the words mean and how we are supposed to act when we’re together.” By paying attention to the meaning and subtle nuances of each line of the pledge, students and teachers at Bywood Elementary laid an important foundation for living in community and having a productive year of learning and growth.

Babs Freeman-Loftis, Responsive Classroom professional development specialist, was assistant head of the lower school at the University School of Nashville for nine years, and before that, a physical education teacher.

  About Bywood School
Bywood Elementary School is located in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. The current principal is Daniel McGarry. Bywood serves a diverse population of approximately 640 students. Ethnic backgrounds include over twenty nationalities. Students from Bywood come from homes in which twenty-nine languages and dialects are spoken. Mutual respect and appreciation are the keystones of Bywood’s community.

Source: Upper Darby School District website:

Tags: Building Schoolwide Community