Contingency Contract: Definition & Example

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore contingencies and how contingency contracts can be used in the classroom. These contracts are useful to correct poor behavior or encourage good behavior.


'Unless' and 'except' are important words depending on when they are used. For example, if I say, ''I am going to the theater tonight with Dave and Jody,'' you would likely assume that, come hell or high water, I'll be taking in a play or movie tonight. Of course, if I were to say, ''I will be going to the theater tonight unless it is snowing,'' you know for certain there's something that might stop me from going, and you also know exactly what that thing is: snow. Yuck.

We put conditions like the one in the above example on things all the time. Conditions are so present that they're included in various business dealings or even in the classroom. When these conditions become official in a signed contract, they are called contingencies, and this is called a contingency contract. In this lesson, we will explore contingency contracts and how they are used in the classroom.


Contingencies are used all the time in our daily lives. For example, most home purchases are contingent on a home inspection. In fact, contingency clauses pop up in all different types of business transactions as well, though they function on the same fundamental principle by acting as insurance against uncertainty.

In fact, contingency clauses are becoming increasingly common in mergers or when companies buy one another. For example, when Google attempted to buy Groupon in 2010, contingency clauses were a key part of the negotiations—and possibly the reason negotiations broke down. Google wanted to ensure Groupon would continue to remain profitable, so they tried to include a contingency clause against a future downturn in Groupon's business.

In the Classroom

Just like when a business wants to ensure that the relationships it undertakes are profitable, teachers want to ensure that they have healthy and enduring relationships with their students. This, of course, proves easier with some students than with others. In the case of more difficult students, some teachers find contingency contracts useful. Just like with the business relationship discussed above, these contracts attempt to provide future safeguards against misbehavior or assurances of a certain work level in exchange for certain incentives.

Essentially, a teacher-student contingency contract is an agreement between the two parties that the student will agree to act in a certain way or complete certain actions. This can be just about anything—from agreeing to stop acting up in class, to turning their homework in on time, to participating more in classroom discussions.

Developing a Contract

While contingency contracts are flexible and can be adapted to many situations, there are some basic ground rules a teacher should follow when setting one up.

Negotiate With the Student

This is a contract, not a set of rules. After all, you're probably here because you've already established some classroom rules, and the student won't follow them, right? Make sure the student is engaged in the process and is providing input on the contents of the contract.

Student Responsibility

Frame the contract in a way that makes the student know it is his/her responsibility and being undertaken for their benefit. While it may help you in the short term, ultimately this will help the student in class and with their work.

Include All Responsible Parties

Depending on the behavioral issue, you may need to involve the student's parents, counselors, coaches, or even the school psychologist. If these people are implicated or will have a role in encouraging the student and/or holding the student accountable, make sure they are included in contract development.

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