Class Meetings: A Lesson in Democracy

We had a class meeting today.  I love class meetings.  They are such a great way to solve problems, give everyone a voice, work together as a team, learn something new.

Last year, because of a new protocol introduced in our district, I started doing class meetings in a different way than I had done for so many years before.  At first I wasn’t sure about how it would work–mainly because it was new and new is sometimes scary–but jumped in with both feet and gave it a try.

We schedule class meetings once a week and there is a set way we do it each time:

1.  I start with a list of the things we’ve done during the week.  Usually this includes the activities we’ve done, books we’ve read, concepts we’ve worked on, and then also includes any special things we do.  Last week that was a special musical performance and meeting with our Learning Buddies.  We review this together and kiddos can add anything that I may have forgotten.

2.  We sit in a circle and then mark the list according to three criteria:

  •      With green dots, we mark the activities we like the most.  Each kiddo gets one choice.
  •      With blue dots, we mark the activities where we think we learned the most.  Again, everyone gets one choice.
  •      Lastly, with red dots, we mark the activities that we think we could improve upon, work on, or do better at the next time.

Someone is the timer for this section, and allows us 2 minutes for each round.   A student puts the dots on the ActivBoard flipchart with the pen.  This is what our flipchart looked like from today’s meeting:

3.  After these steps, then we work!  By looking at what we’ve marked, we decide what we should discuss; usually it is the item with the most red dots. The timer allows us 15 minutes to discuss the problem and work on a solution together.

4.  After we’ve reached consensus (more on this later), we decide what we’re going to try and then start doing that.

For the past few weeks, our discussions have been around the volume of our voices, choosing smart carpet spots, or other behavior-related issues.  Today, though, something really cool happened.

See how there are red dots by “getting back into our Writer’s Notebooks” and “analyzing the algorithm?”  Those were both topic-related items, based on how well we did something in writing and math, rather than how well we followed (or not followed) the rules of school.

Well, we decided to talk about Writer’s Notebooks, and what came up as a result was nothing short of amazing.  For the next 15 minutes, my students discussed (without raising their hands, which we’ve been working on!) how they feel like they haven’t been doing the best job of coming up with good ideas to put in their writer’s notebooks, and how they need to really get back into the routine of writing.  They made suggestions of how they could do this, calmly and respectfully, and worked hard together to decide on a plan of action.  I was most impressed by the leaders that naturally rose to the top, how the others listened to them as they led, and how many kiddos invited others who hadn’t said anything yet into the conversation.  Somebody even got up–without being prompted–and started keeping a list of who had shared (and how often they spoke), so she would know who we still hadn’t heard from.  There were a couple of times that they started to get off track or started talking over each other, but both times someone was there to calmly remind us of our job or of the time we had left.  The best part was that this time that person wasn’t me–I’ve been working on talking less during class meetings. 🙂

Today was a great picture of what kids can do when they are allowed to identify real problems and then work to solve them.  I didn’t have anything to do with the decision made today–outside of setting up the framework for discussing it–and they came up with a completely doable solution, that everyone was happy with.

And so now a word on consensus….in our meetings we don’t vote on an idea; we work to try to reach a consensus.  That is, work on the problem until we get a feel that most of the group is happy with the plan.  Unlike voting, it doesn’t become an “us against them” kind of thing, and the most popular or loudest voices don’t get to make the decision.  By allowing more than just choice A and choice B (like in a vote), often times choice C will arise; a choice that is often a combination of the first two, or is even better than what we originally mentioned.  And the best part is that usually that final solution suggestion comes from the quietest voice on the carpet, the one who has been sitting and listening and then finally has the courage to speak their mind.

I am so proud of my learners.  I am so glad that my friend Mike Holdinghaus taught me how to do class meetings this way.  I am so glad that we take time out to learn important things like how to have a civil discussion, how to make a decision and how to work together.   This is good stuff, people, good stuff.  And it’s all stuff that they’ll need and use long after they leave me for middle school. Hopefully for the rest of their lives. 🙂


12 thoughts on “Class Meetings: A Lesson in Democracy

  1. Nicely done. I have started reading the blog since the last email that was sent. I will certainly use this as a conversation starter with Rosie.

  2. Love your goal to talk less during these incredible sessions. I am convinced that we as adults talk way too much anyway, but especially where kids are concerned. What a gift we give kids when we close our mouths and trust them to open theirs.

    • The funny thing? It was a kid who brought it up to me! After our meetings they always write me a “Friday Note” (thanks again for the idea, Mike!), and on a note last week someone suggested that I shouldn’t talk to much and that the kids should talk to each other instead of to me during the meeting. The truth hurts, but when it’s said in such a respectful way, which is was in his note, it’s hard not to listen. So I did. 🙂

  3. Jen . . . I love your blog! I’ve never followed a blog before but what a great first! Your words are beautiful and encouraging . . . and teach me how to be better for my kids in the classroom. I love learning from you and love how bold you are with sharing your class with us all because it truly is nothing short of amazing. Thank you!

    • Rachael, I appreciate your kind words! I never thought of myself as bold. I love that you said that. This is just my attempt at another avenue to share the amazing things my kiddos do each day. I would not be able to do this without them! You know I love to write, so this is another place for that to happen, too. Thanks for following along and maybe you could start your own someday. I know I’d subscribe, because I could learn a thing or two from you, too!

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