Class Meetings are an effective way for students to learn many of the life skills that are just as important, long term, as academic skills. Students do not magically know how to safely get into a circle, how to listen respectfully, or how to focus on solutions. These are foundational skills that need to be taught and practiced before Class Meetings are implemented.
Before teaching your students how to do class meetings ensure that they have some basic skills. This takes time and patience.
- They need to be able to self regulate enough to sit quietly in a circle for 15-20 minutes. If they cannot do this, use a small amount of class time each day to build that skill. That might come from teaching emotional language or other self-regulation tools.
- They need to be able to listen for understanding and speak for themselves without putting someone else down.
- They need to see mistakes as opportunities to learn.
- They need to be able to be helpful not hurtful.
- After students have these basic skills, you can introduce the essential skills that are important for successful implementation of Class Meetings (e.g. getting into a circle quickly, quietly, safely; practicing compliments and appreciations; and brainstorming).
- For specific lessons see the Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom manual.
- Begin practicing problem solving with Imaginary group problems. (What if the janitor told us our room was the messiest in the school? How would we solve that problem?
- After you are confident that the students can do this, and be helpful not hurtful, try real group problems.
- When they have mastered group problems, move to imaginary student problems before introducing real one-on-one student problems.
Class Meetings are a powerful learning and community-building experience for students. Students benefit by learning many of the skills they will need for a successful life (cooperation, effective communication skills, problem-solving) as well as the intrinsic qualities of respect and empathy. Teachers benefit because their job becomes less stressful and more fun. Classrooms function respectfully and students are solving many of the behavior or discipline issues themselves. Class Meetings are not always easy and don’t always run smoothly. They take lots of practice, but the results are worth it.
Look for improvement not perfection. Keep at it even if they don’t always go smoothly. Your students are learning valuable life skills. Mistakes are opportunities to learn.