Classroom culture: Democratic classrooms

10.14.13 | Learning on the EDge | 5 Comments

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.

Children are practicing skills that are used by all citizens who are engaged in democratic society.

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?


About Beverly Logas Koopman

BEVERLY LOGAS KOOPMAN is a 3-4-5 multiage teacher at Discovery Elementary School, Buffalo, Minn. Her last Kappan article was “From Socrates to wikis: Using online forums to deepen discussions,” Phi Delta Kappan, 92 (4) (December 2010/January 2011), 24-27.

Comments on Classroom culture: Democratic classrooms

  1. Mark Stoltz says:

    Is there more detailed information on implementing your classroom meeting, it’s members, their roles, and more details about how the process works.


    • Beverly Koopman says:

      Mark, I will pull together an outline and post it in the next week. I’d love for you (and others) to experience this approach to learning. It is beyond cool to get to work in such an environment!

      Stay tuned.

  2. Great post Beverly!
    Mark,I would recommend starting with The Morning Meeting Book and other resources available at the Responsive Classroom website


  3. Reading through the different strategies presented in this module was an eye opener for me. Using the “democratic” process with the students by allowing them to have a “say” in the decisions that will ultimately impact them directly is not something that I have in mind that could be helpful. However, after reading it, it makes a lot of sense. When people in general feel that their input is valued, they tend to make a concerted effort to see to see to it that the learning environment is successful.

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