Our classrooms are filled with students who have unique personalities, come from diverse backgrounds, and possess different abilities. Sometimes, we can get lucky and a productive harmony just happens. Most of the time, there are personality clashes that inhibit our vision of establishing a culture of mutual respect and productivity. Whether your classroom culture is reminiscent of Shangri-La or has more in common with rush hour traffic in Delhi, holding regular class meetings can be an important tool to mitigate behavior issues and teach expectations. Below are guidelines and talking points to get you started.
Give Rationale/ Get Buy-In ⇒ Introduce the concept of the class meeting as an opportunity to build on (or work on building) relationships. Share that it is an opportunity to express feelings, gratitude, and frustrations in a safe way.
“As much as I care about you learning ______, I also care about how you are doing, what you like about this class, and what you dislike about this class. Research shows that when we are anxious, unhappy, or feel dismissed, we don’t learn as well. I want to ensure that we are taking time to respect that our feelings count. Today, I’d like to hold a class meeting for us to share our feelings, stresses, frustrations, and maybe even some gratitude in an open and safe environment so we can continue to improve together. “
Establish Norms ⇒ It is imperative to make explicit the expectations of how the class meeting will go. Explain that this isn’t a conversation like they might have with their friends – it is still a classroom. Explain also that the purpose of meetings is to identify problems and think about solutions. Those goals can’t happen if multiple people are speaking at once. Further, in order to prevent the meeting from devolving into a “gripe” session, it is important to remind that the focus is on solutions. For groups that find taking turns speaking a challenge, consider using a talking piece to help manage the conversation.
“I want to make sure each individual who has something to say has the opportunity to be heard. We know we can’t just all talk at once – as hard as it is going to be, in order for this to be successful, we need respect each other enough to not interrupt and to politely raise our hands when we have something to add. I’ll do my best to give everyone a chance to say their piece and I apologize if I miss anyone. For this to be effective, we can’t just list complaints. If possible, try to add a potential solution or alternative to anything negative. Understand as well, there may be some things you or I don’t like that are non-negotiable we need to learn to manage them instead of eliminate them.”
Identify Area(s) of Growth ⇒ Consider focusing your class meeting around a central idea or a distracting/destructive pattern of behavior. Without a starting point, it can be difficult to elicit responses. This focus can also help prevent the meeting from heading down the path of “teacher vs. student.”
“A top concern for me is the way that we tend to ____________ when ____________. The reason(s) I see this as a significant issue is/are ____________________.
Elevate ⇒ Let students know you have high expectations and believe they can and will meet them. Don’t open the door to the possibility that they won’t.
“I thank-you in advance for ‘adulting up’ and taking this seriously. What do you think about what I said was a top concern for me? __________?”
Be Open and Calm ⇒ Be prepared for open and honest feedback – that is what you are asking for. Upper middle school and high school students aren’t exactly known for their tact and eloquent poise. Thank students for being honest and rephrase sharp criticism in the way you’d like to have heard it.
“That’s a little hard to hear phrased in that manner. I want to make sure I understand your point-of view. Are you saying _______________________?”