A democratic classroom environment: Using the class meeting to engage students in shared decision making and in taking responsibility for making the classroom the best it can be.
- Creating a democratic classroom environment means involving students, on a regular basis and in developmentally appropriate ways, in shared decision making that increases their responsibility for helping to make the classroom a good place to be and learn.
- A democratic classroom contributes to character because it:
- Provides an ongoing forum where students' thoughts are valued and where any need of the group can be addressed
- Creates a support structure that calls forth students' best moral selves by strengthening community and holding them accountable to practice respect and responsibility
- Mobilizes the peer culture on the side of virtue, because students are working with the teacher in a continuing partnership to create the moral culture of the classroom.
- The chief means of creating a democratic classroom environment is the class meeting, a face-to-face circle meeting emphasizing interactive discussion and problem solving.
- Meetings go better when there are clear rules for talking and listening and consequences of breaking them, and when students help to set the agenda.
- Meetings can deal with problems (cutting in lunch line, put- downs, homework problems) or help to plan upcoming events (the day, a field trip, a cooperative activity, the next unit).
- Problem-solving class meetings have the best chance of helping students go beyond "saying the right words" to actually improving their moral behavior when:
- The teacher poses the problem in the collective voice: "How can we, working together, solve this problem?"
- After a solution is reached, asks: "What should we do if someone doesn't keep our class agreement?"
- Writes up the agreement and consequence(s) as a Class Agreement or Contract
- Has everyone sign it to show personal commitment.
- Posts it in a visible spot for easy reference.
- Plans with the class when to have a follow-up meeting to assess how the new plan is working; then follows through.