I’ve had rather a long blog pause and, while this is fairly normal for me, the reason this time wasn’t just the general busy school timetable or a lack of topics – I’ve had a change of school. As well as physically changing locations, this also involved changing roles, changing school profiles and changing the way the curriculum is delivered. Most importantly, it’s taken me a while to get my head around all these changes and change my expectations for the year.
One of the things I’m proud of in my new Grade 4 classroom is how well class meetings work and how effective they’ve been in providing a voice for students. We began them at the start of Term 1 as a chance to celebrate our successes in the early days and attempt to get on top of any issues. Frustratingly, the early meetings weren’t particularly useful and left me feeling a bit flat. There were certainly students who had useful things to say but there were also students who weren’t really invested in the process and seemed to view it as a non-learning, time wasting opportunity.
So I reflected….
- How had I originally presented/explained it?
- How had this been interpreted by the students – why did they think we had classroom meetings?
- Did my intentions match how the meetings were run?
- How could I encourage debate and discussion but moderate the tempers that seemed to fly up as soon as issues were raised?
The other big problem was that, while I was encouraging students to bring their own topics, I was still running the meeting and controlling most of the talk.
We started again. I clarified why we held class meetings and had students share their thoughts on this. We agreed there were 3 main reasons:
- to talk about and organise upcoming events in our classroom;
- to talk about and solve problems;
- to celebrate our successes and recognise growth in learning.
Next item on the agenda….was the agenda. We had a place on our whiteboard where students could add items but what had been happening was that students were filling it just before our meeting time with things they were still very clearly upset about, leading to very heated and not particularly rational discussions. They needed to have a bit more thinking time on topics and we all needed advance notice. So we agreed that agenda items could only be added as you left the room for recess/lunch/end of the day. This immediately stopped items about flare ups at recess as they were usually resolved before it was time to leave the room for lunch. It also gave me and the students chance to look at the agenda and have a think about the topics coming up.
Probably the hardest but most beneficial change was that I shut up. As a teacher, I obviously find this incredibly challenging. I constantly want to butt in, comment, add something, take over and scaffold. I’m not perfect but I’m learning not to. I still manage the flow of the meeting (although am intending on stepping back from that too) but, once the person who wrote the agenda item is speaking, I leave them to it and let them manage the comments, suggestions and discussion from there. If they need help, clarification or a mediator, they throw the ball back to me to let me back into the conversation.
Our class meeting on Friday showed me how far we’ve come and I was incredibly proud to be part of such a mature, thoughtful discussion. There were 4 items on the agenda which we worked through in 20 minutes to the satisfaction of the group. No one person dominated conversation and many students contributed. Those that didn’t still voted on resolutions and looked like they were interested in and part of the process. On the 3 agenda items which weren’t mine, I said about 5 sentences and wasn’t invited back into the conversation because they didn’t need me. And nothing could have made me happier.
Do you hold class meetings? How do you decide on an agenda and how are they run? What have been your biggest successes and biggest areas of learning?