In our classroom children and adults have a voice in how they learn best, how the learning environment is designed, and how the community is managed. Our classroom is democratic! As a teacher, I facilitate democracy by involving children in classroom meetings and engaging them in problem-solving. Rather than imposing my adult-created rules and policing children’s behavior, I try to build a community in which children are free to monitor their own behavior and act independently.
The classroom meetings I establish include children in negotiating, reflecting, and questioning solutions to issues that effect them directly. I am a facilitator and, once a topic for discussion or question is posed, I do my best to participate as an active listener. The meeting topics are always ones which I am interested in hearing and willing to try the ideas that children suggest. I’ll begin the initial meeting by sharing guidelines for meetings with the children: 1) everyone has a chance to speak, 2) we listen to each other, and 3) we treat one another with respect. These guidelines may be posted and shared at the beginning of every meeting, if needed. While some class meetings are regularly scheduled during the school week, impromptu meetings may help to solve unexpected issues that effect the entire group.
Creating classroom guidelines with children during class meetings is what I consider preventative work that reduces misbehaviors and encourages responsibility. I lead children to consider respect, responsibility, and the space they are in when helping me to create guidelines and -sometimes- consequences. When children think critically to create guidelines, they are prepared to problem-solve issues that come up daily. The most successful management experiences I have with children are those in which the children seem to forget I am “the adult in charge” and negotiate with one another a solution that satisfies all involved. Just this past year, I had an experience in which two children became so angry at one another they were unable to think logically. I asked them if they were ready to solve the problem and, when one of them said, “no” I said, “Okay, I’ll check in when both of you are ready to figure this out. Right now I want you to choose different things to do and spend some time apart.” They agreed that being apart was a good idea. Later in the day, I called them aside to discuss what had happened earlier, they came to this informal meeting with ideas about how to make the other feel better and what they would do in the future if a problem arose. As they shook hands on their new agreement, I was in awe!
All of the ideas mentioned here do NOT negate my responsibility to provide clear and simple expectations for children’s behavior and work. They also do NOT negate my responsibility to discipline children who are acting out-of-control and disrespectful. However, rather than discipline being merely a punishment, I try to give logical consequences that help children develop appropriate behavior for the experience in which they are involved.
* Some of the ideas mentioned above are put into practice with the support of a co-teacher who always graciously includes me in planning, preparing, and teaching learning experiences.
Gartrell, D. (2011). A guidance approach for the encouraging classroom (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.