Ho`ala Agreement System

In 2012, the Character Education Partnership awarded Ho`ala School’s Agreement System the Promising Practices Award.  

The Character Education Partnership (CEP) gives these annual award for unique and specific exemplary practices that encourage the ethical, social, and academic growth of K–12 students through character education. Schools were selected for their unique and effective school improvement efforts.

Winning practices include new and effective ways to help students solve conflicts, decrease bullying, and take action in their schools and communities as well as programs to increase parent and community involvement.

About the Agreement System: In Hawaiian Ho`ala means “awakening of the self”. Ho`ala is about awakening ourselves to a “new” vision of education where students take personal responsibility for their learning. As the adult community serving children, Ho`ala is about awakening to those parts of ourselves that require acknowledgement, personal growth, healing and new learning. Being at Ho`ala means one has a willingness to align with those ways of being that truly serve the faculty, the students, the parents and the community at large.

It is our goal to create caring communities where students attend to those around them in a compassionate, loving atmosphere. Teachers are natural, genuine and competent. For some students their teacher will be the one adult in their life that believes in them so that they can resist the pull towards negative choices.

“The most fundamental trait of persons of good character is that they take people seriously as persons…Teachers and other school personnel best promote dispositions in students to take people seriously as persons by taking students themselves seriously as persons.” 
Steven Tignes: The Character Education Manifesto (1999) 

Ho`ala students are treated as important, valuable and equal in regards to the quality of respect shown to them by the entire adult and peer community. Both academically and socially their experience is taken seriously. As a result, they more often will treat those around them with equal respect.

From Middle school on the signs of rebellion and individuation typical of this age group may be present. It is Ho`ala’s intent that there are few examples of overt or covert hostility and many more instances of collaboration.

Discipline that Supports Character Education

Ho`ala is not about controlling student behavior. It is about developing in young people the awareness and understanding as to “why” they need to act kindly, fairly and responsibly. Ho`ala strives to teach children the social and emotional skills they need in order to nurture these ways of being in their lives.  It is not enough to say we want our students to be responsible. We must have policies and procedures in place that encourage the students to move toward this ideal vision. Furthermore, as adults we must work as a cohesive group employing the same practices and interactions with one another that we ask the students to practice.

“When a school is peopled by adults who are themselves exemplars 
 of care and responsibility, the students will come to trust them and 
 accept their guidance.”
Linda Inlay, River School Principal (2004)

In order to gain student agreement, teachers need to be aware of the behaviors we practice daily…both in front of and behind the students. In our classrooms we must “consider the student’s voice.” First we ask them for their thoughts, and then we work to let them know we hear them and value what they say. We model respectful behavior and at the same time help them develop trust. This method of considering the student allows teachers to guide students with reason and persuasion rather than with coercion. This trust opens the students to moral teaching or character education.

Human beings are decision- makers

They grow and develop a sense of purpose, responsibility and significance when they are allowed to make decisions for themselves. Often times when adults see a child move towards making a poor choice or one deemed dangerous they often step in to protect, divert or in some way stop the “bad” play. Often this action results in removing the opportunity for decision making from the child, thereby reducing the opportunity for learning and instead the child learns that they are not capable, trusted or respected.

 As teachers we may feel the need to remind students who do not do their assignments on time to do them. By acting as the child’s memory we are eliminating the skill they need to develop in themselves of being responsible for their own work. In order to feel good about ourselves and not feel bad for having to give a low grade, or for feeling like our student’s grades are a reflection of us, we hound them. This is a no win situation. Our students need for us to be confidant about who we are. If we are doing our job to the best of our ability and doing everything we can to touch our students then, when students begin to act out or make choices that may result in negative consequences for them, we let them have them. We are there to support them by giving them opportunities to reflect on what they are doing and how it is or is not serving them. We offer them time to decide on a plan to help them “make right” what went wrong.

Mistakes are great things

Mistakes teach us what we don’t want to do again. They give us feedback about what does not work. We may need to keep making the same mistake over and over in order to finally get it. At Ho`ala making mistakes is how we learn. Like learning any new skill, riding a bike, swimming, skiing, driving, they all require practice, all will entail making mistakes. With support and practice eventually we will learn, be competent and feel great about ourselves because we overcame our obstacle.
 Intimidation, fear tactics, shame, blame, humiliation only serve to make learning more difficult for the child. We want to give children the message that everyone makes mistakes and that what is important is that we learn from them. All decisions lead to consequences, some more positive than others. The most important thing is to take time to reflect on them. When a mistake has been made it is essential that one:

  • Acknowledge that you did it, don’t lay blame, or justify actions.
  • Clean up the mess, apologize for any harm you may have caused.
  • Ask how you could make things right…listen for the answer.
  • Accept the consequences; agree to do what has been asked (if you can).
  • Learn from the mistake.
  • Forgive yourself for making the mistake.


When adults are invested in their students’ success we are sometimes apt to get emotional towards our students’ choices. We want them to have it more together, we think they know better, or we take personally what the child has said to us. When adults express negative emotions due to our preferences not being met, we create reactions rather than allowing for independent decisions. In other words we get into a power struggle. When we experience intimidation or fear, we are likely to pull back in the other direction rather than weigh out the factors and make a conscious decision. Our negative reaction gives way to their negative reaction and the cycle begins. It is important to offer students choice DEVOID of emotional weight. Neutrality in tone, facial expression, and wording serves to reinforce the assumption that each person truly is responsible for his or her own choices. A student’s choices need not “hook” us.

When adults give children too much latitude in the decision-making process with parameters that are too wide, it generally results in an atmosphere of chaos and disrespect. When adults set limits for children that are too confining, there is usually an atmosphere of control, resentment, and sometimes rebellion. We convey respect by making appropriate choices for ourselves and not making choices for others that are theirs to make.


Limits are like fences around the playground. They provide a parameter within which children can feel safe and explore. The trick is that as children grow, they naturally want to expand the boundary. The more adults pre-determine the various levels of decision-making, and ensure that there are appropriate consequences in place ahead of time, the better armed they will be for children’s continual pressure to expand the parameters.

Choices = Logical Consequences

The school sets educational and behavioral standards and the student can choose how much of this they want to receive. The student has daily opportunities to choose. A student who does not wish to learn or participate on any given day cannot disrupt or disrespect the class. The adult must define the limits of the choices such that the safety and opportunity to learn for all other students is not compromised. A student who does not fulfill their school service agreement can expect not to be allowed to attend any extra-curricular activities or social events.

 *Students cannot choose to harm themselves or others, to harm the school premises or to disrupt the learning environment. These are beyond the limits of the safety zone.

The Agreement System

The Agreement System teaches students to be responsible for and conscious of their own choices and their own behavior. Unlike many discipline systems, which use fear or intimidation to shape behaviors, it is designed to raise awareness of how one’s actions affect self and others. 
 At the foundation of the Agreement System is a set of expectations established prior to the beginning of the school year. Students commit to living up to the expectations or adhering to the consequences when they do not.

The Ho`ala School Agreements
1. I agree to support the learning situation so that teachers can teach and students can learn.
2. I agree to accept the reminder of the teacher or an order to go to login quickly and quietly.
3. I agree to do nothing that could possibly harm or disrespect self, others, or school.
4. I agree to be in class during class time and within boundaries at all times.

When a student breaks an agreement, the teacher reminds without judgment or humiliation. Often, these “logins” are for seemingly small infractions such as not pushing in a chair or getting three reminders for disruptive behavior within a class period. The reason for this excessive diligence is that logins provide a way to get students aware of their behavior without nagging. Also, they are an opportunity to practice making and learning from mistakes.

 Once the student gets a login, he or she is then expected to quickly and quietly fill out a “yellow slip” recording the broken agreement, log it into the logbook, and return to class. The student then gives the yellow slip to the teacher, who subsequently turns it over to the student’s homeroom teacher for record keeping purposes. If it is the third login of the day, the student may be asked to remain in the office or another classroom for the rest of the period when it seems he/she cannot handle being in class. If the student does not feel the login was fair, that student can contest it with the teacher privately or in a scheduled conference with another adult facilitator at a later time.

 *Note: This is a developmental process thus K-2 students will be trained by their teachers and classroom aid to learn the required procedures. They will be guided and supported through the process until they are able to manage it on their own.

 The tally of these reminders, or “logins” maintained in the logbook is cleared at the beginning of each month, allowing students to start fresh. Within the month, however, there are consequences for reoccurring logins.

 *Note: It would be ideal for parents to be part of the plan and reinforce the system at home. We strongly urge each parent and child care provider for the children to attend the Parent Support Series provided at no cost through Ho`ala. First series begins in September and runs through October, the second one begins in February and runs through March.