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A Democratic Classroom Environment

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.

Key Ideas

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Teaching Strategies

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.