ARCH – Setting Expectations and Boundaries with the ARCH

accountability respect compassion honesty - ARCH programINTRODUCTION: Understood by successful youth workers in the field, it has now been confirmed by research that groups working together, both youth and adults, need established expectations. Setting expectations and boundaries, while providing groups the opportunity to both create and modify these standards, is essential for developing strong group unity.

The ARCH, both an acronym and representative image, was developed as a tool to create agreed expectations and a reference point for discussion while working with groups. To co-create accepting the values of Accountability, Respect, Compassion and Honesty, members of a group collectively define these values and with consensus agree to uphold them. If defining each value to the ARCH becomes difficult, consider asking youth to define the opposite of each value. What does disrespect look like? What does it mean to be dishonest or to not be accountable for what you have done? Once a list has been generated, review each definition and get full consensus from the group. The ARCH can represent the strength of a group working together with these common values. This model gives adult leaders and youth members a reference point for both positive and constructive feedback. The glue or “tension” that gives the ARCH it’s architectural strength is the center “keystone” which metaphorically represents applying these values all at the same time. Without application the values the ARCH fall to the ground.


  • Thinking of the needs of others, not just your own.
  • Understanding the views, experiences, and uniqueness of others.
  • Helping others to feel good about themselves.
  • Being patient and tolerant of your own and others’ mistakes.

Architecturally, the keystone is what keeps an ARCH from collapsing. The keystone represents simultaneous COMMITMENT of each value. Removing the keystone or not applying all the values at the same time, causes the ARCH to fall to the ground. By upholding the ARCH, groups learn that together they can set goals, build bridges and accomplish their goals by working together.


  • Following through with commitments and assigned tasks or responsibilities.
  • Being willing to recognize when mistakes have been made and take ownership.
  • Doing what is right without being monitored or expecting a reward.
  • Following through with what you’ve agreed to do.


  • Yourself
  • Others
  • Environment
  • Equipment


  • hinking of the needs of others, not just your own.
  • Understanding the views, experiences, and uniqueness of others.
  • Helping others to feel good about themselves.
  • Being patient and tolerant of your own and others’ mistakes.


  • Willing to share and discuss your thoughts and feelings.
  • Able to reflect and assess your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Acknowledging mistakes, especially if done without being confronted.
  • Knowing what you are capable of doing and living up to your capabilities.


  • Provides a common language.
  • Teaches values and character through relationship based role modeling.
  • Creates a shared expectation base.
  • Simple – Easy to remember; teaches responsibility.
  • Symbolic – Can visualize how the ARCH supports a community; gives meaning and connection to the ideals.
  • Reinforcing –Over time youth understand that the ARCH covers almost every expectation and teaches judgment. Youth learn to value the ARCH through direct application.
  • Non-confrontational – When youth agree to uphold the ARCH, they have created their own accountability, which you can use to point out behavior that is in contrast to these values.
  • Flexible – Can be applied flexibly to a wide variety of needs and expectations. It can be easily translated between different ages and developmental stages.
  • Adaptable – Can be used in different settings, by different people, for different goals and purposes.

Contact Ian Meeker, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Division of Extension Bayfield County at  or Scott Pilate Duluth-Edison Schools for more information.


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