By Beverly Logas Koopman
The culture of a classroom has a lot of impact on how a classroom operates minute by minute. Entire programs, like Responsive Classroom, have been built around this one reality. For more than a decade, I’ve been using a democratic approach to my classroom’s daily meeting.
Here is how it works:
Student “jobs” are clustered into five committees. Each committee has responsibilities to collaboratively accomplish during the week. Two committees run our daily meeting. The Morning Messengers launch the morning meeting and are responsible for leading it through the component parts. The Administrative Council is the leadership arm.
The Morning Messengers’ responsibilities include determining and leading a greeting that launches our circle time and a game that often closes the circle. They also read aloud the daily letter that I write and post, leading any discussion points that I have set up in the letter.
Our Administrative Council is the classroom go-to group. They field minor student complaints. They watch the goings-on of the day and look for ways to make our classroom a more efficient, happier place to learn. Each morning, the Administrative Council has a chance to share with the class during circle time.
First, however, they set the tone by asking students if they have any appreciations to share with the class. Students typically give a brief, “thank you, so-and-so, for doing such-and-such.” Occasionally a heartfelt story is recounted about someone who had done something remarkable.
The Administrative Council then moves to the suggestions portion of the meeting. During this phase, the council shares its observations and their suggestions for improvements. This requires background work, so it is only included in one meeting a week. The council’s observations and suggestions need to be briefly run past me, since I do have veto power (which I rarely enact). If the suggestion requires a change in routine, the council must write a motion. Once presented, the class has an opportunity to discuss the motion that was drafted. This discussion will often include wordsmithing the proposed motion. Once discussion is complete, the council calls for a voice vote, and the motion is either carried or defeated by a call of “yeas and nays.” Yep, eight-year-olds are using Roberts Rules of Order!
Once the business of the meeting is over, I am finally given the floor. During this portion of the meeting, I make announcements and decide whether we need to move into instruction, or have time for a game which the Morning Messengers teach and lead until meeting closing time.
Of all the many attempts I have made to positively affect the culture of my classroom, this one has been truly transformative in the most positive ways. I suspect that it might have a ripple effect outside the classroom, too, since these children are practicing skills that are used by all citizens who are engaged in democratic society. Isn’t this one of the end-goals of public education?