Why Class Meetings?
Everyone wants to belong. As educators, we not only have the task of educating students, but also the responsibility of creating an environment that is inclusive of young people with different ethnic backgrounds, languages, values, socio-economic and academic levels.
A Class Meeting is one of many strategies that helps to strengthen a sense of belonging, provides a consistent vehicle to repair harm, allows students’ concerns to be heard, and explicitly teaches students to solve conflict non-violently. By establishing a process for addressing harm, students are more likely to fully invest themselves in the classroom community, take risks, support others, stand up for themselves, speak up and speak out.
The first step in creating an atmosphere for inclusion and problem solving for class meetings is setting up your circle. Take time to practice setting up your circle with students.
- Pair students to move desks carefully and quietly
- Provide a map so each student knows exactly where to place their chair in the circle
- Process your circle set up with students. Ask what was done well and what can be changed to improve the set up of the meeting.
“Energizers” are opportunities to get kids moving, thinking, and laughing to begin your meeting. One of our favorites was “I like my neighbor who…”.
- Students sit in a circle.
- Be sure to have one less chair than students in the circle.
- One student stands in the middle of the circle. The student says “I like my neighbor who is wearing blue”, for example.
- Any students wearing blue must move from their seat and move a minimum of two seats away (think musical chairs without music).
- The student left standing begins the next round with “I like my neighbor who…”
Tribes is a wonderful resource for energizer activities. Go to https://peacelearningcenter.org – toggle over store, and click shop – you’ll find energizer activities there.
Once students have had the opportunity to connect through energizers, shift your meeting to compliments. Students begin by complimenting an individual or the entire class for a behavior that was supportive, kind, encouraging, etc. A possible language frame is as follows: “I would like to compliment (person/entire class) for (specific behavior). The student/s respond by saying “Thank you.”
Now that students have had an opportunity to connect through energizers and be acknowledged through compliments, it’s time to restore relationships through conflict resolution. Establish your ground rules for conflict resolution. Below are a few from my classroom.
Tip: Read issues prior to the meeting so that, you as the facilitator have an understanding of the conflicts and have thought about possible consequences.
- Submit issues in writing prior to the class meeting. A coffee can or shoebox that only you have access to keeps issues confidential.
- Read the significant events and ask the author if the issue is still a problem
- If it still a problem ask the author to recount what happened. If the issue is not a problem, ask the parties to share how they resolved the problem.
- One person speaks at a time. Remind students that they may hear something they don’t agree with and that they must wait. They will get their turn.
- Ask students to use an “I-message” – I feel (emotion) when you (behavior) and I would like to you stop please.
- The I-message and apology may be enough. If not, mutually agree to a related consequence. For example, if a pencil was taken, the pencil would be replaced by the student.
- Apologize and if ready, accept the apology.
- Debrief: What worked during our meeting? What can we do better next time?
Class Meeting Reflections
Class Meetings were initially very uncomfortable for me to facilitate. Honestly, my first attempts at running class meetings were abysmal. As the teacher I was uneasy about being uncertain how the meeting would go.
I had many questions about how to run the meetings. How long do the meetings take? How do I prepare to handle an issue? Where do students write their concerns? What if I can’t resolve the issue? Won’t students who are not part of the issue be disengaged? How does the meeting begin? How do we know the meeting is over?
As a young teacher I learned that, when asked, many of my colleagues were eager to share their ideas about class meetings with me. Additionally, Dr. Jane Nelson’s book, Positive Discipline in the Classroom, was another incredibly helpful resource.
Finally, having expectations for setting up, incorporating energizers, including compliments, and providing clear steps for conflict resolution made the difference in facilitating effective meetings. Because of these pieces, class meetings were an important part of building and strengthening my classroom community.