“The meeting is convened.” Say ten year old Harper who is chairperson for today's primary school class meeting.
There’s often discussion in parenting and education circles today about cultivating resilience and skills such as collaboration and empathy in children. Research tells us that children learn these skills by having real opportunities to acquire them over time through practice and observation.
The fortnightly class meetings in the primary school provide the children with regular experience in a democratic process. This is a forum for discussion and resolution, lead by the children. They are impressive leaders, demanding decorum and respect from the group. You’ll quickly be told by the student leaders if you’re not listening to another person or speaking out of turn!
Here’s how it works. The primary children (aged 6-12) meet to discuss, celebrate and decide on issues that are important to them at school. The Cycle 3 children (age 9-12) take turns to run the meeting and the delegated chairperson calls for agenda items from the group. A short discussion is invited for each agenda item before seeking suggestions for solutions. Votes are taken and a decision is agreed upon. The meeting closes with the singing of the Australian National Anthem.
For children of this age, they often bring up issues to do with "what's fair". For example, “The rules for the dodge ball game at lunchtime” (Gabriel, 7), “Walking on the stairs safely” (Jasmine 6), “No eating from the veggie patches if they’re not yours.” (Sienna, 10). Children of this age are often concerned about the rules and abiding by them. They are developing their sense of justice and moral code so the meetings are the perfect forum for exploring issues that are real to them (and not imposed by the adults). They have some control of their environment which is important to them.
We’ve been running these meetings for more than a decade and it amazes me how smoothly the meetings run and how the older children know exactly what to say in tricky situations. At the beginning of each year they make the ground rules for the primary school, deciding on consequences and modifying the ground rules when it seems logical to do so. The teachers provide guidance only if necessary.
In a Montessori environment we believe the children should be allowed to practice society. Even with the capability of self discipline and a decision to act responsibly there must still be the opportunity to practice acting responsibly.
What are the benefits of a class meeting?
- Children develop good listening skills. If you want to be part of the group, which they do, then you need to listen carefully to participate in the discussion.
- Children gain confidence especially a new 6 year old when they have to speak up in front 60 children articulating their point of view.
- Resiliance is learnt when not everyone may agree with you or to be able to argue your point of view. Likewise empathy comes with listening to the views of others.
- Children develop self esteem by knowing one’s idea or issue is heard by the group.
- Children develop leadership skills by running the meeting.
- Self discipline is achieved when the older children give good advice to younger peers and feelings of responsibility then flow to model the behaviour of their own advice.
by Raji Sivapalan, Montessori Teacher and Guide