Classroom meetings: encouraging a climate of cooperation.
In many ways, the classroom is a curious setting. Assigned to classes that may contain strangers, perhaps even adversaries, students are expected to interact harmoniously. Crowded together, they are required to ignore the presence of others. Urged to cooperate, they usually work in competition. Pressed to take responsibility for their learning, they must follow the dictates of a dominant individual--the teacher. (Weinstein, 1991, p.1).
As the above quote indicates, educators expect a great deal from students yet often fail to model or structure a classroom or school climate in which these expectations can be realized easily. Instead, schools often promote an atmosphere of alienation and competition and fail to teach life skills that will enable students to live and work successfully in a diverse and complex world (Bronfenbrenner, 1976).
Every day the media and our personal experiences remind us that many children in our own schools do not have the skills to handle life's problems in a competent and confident manner. Because our societies, neighborhoods, schools, and even homes have become more violent and complex, it is critical that we undertake the responsibility of teaching peaceful problem-solving skills to all children. Learning nonviolent ways to resolve conflict is critical in today's world.
A substantial body of research implies that explicit instruction in social problem solving, especially those that teach empathy skills, averts subsequent problem behavior (Shaffer, 2000). Although many programs designed to teach social skills (e.g., Second Step, I Can Problem Solve) often are effective in teaching students new techniques for problem solving, what is even more critical is actual experience in peaceful problem solving. Children may be able to recite peaceful problem-solving strategies, but they may not use them because they do not believe they will work for them. School counselors expend a great deal of time teaching skills to effectively manage conflicts, and children are able to recite major points from the lesson; yet that same day they hit another student because of a problem on the playground, in the cafeteria, or in the parking lot. This is a source of considerable frustration for school counselors and other educators. To help students generalize conflict resolution instruction to real life, sufficient practice in a safe environment is needed. Classroom meetings can help students make this generalization (Dreikurs, 1968).
Resolving conflict in nonviolent and effective ways encompasses numerous skills that also are useful in other aspects of life. The 1991 report from the U. S. Department of Labor Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), although not aimed at preventing violence, enumerates many skills that are components of effective problem solving (Nelsen, Duffy, Escobar, Ortolano, & Owen-Sohocki, 1996; Wittmer, 1993). The members of the Commission (after discussions with public and private sector employers, managers, and supervisors) identified competencies, skills, and personal qualities essential to the future of children and recommended that these identified qualities be taught in the nation's classrooms. The competencies identified as being essential for job success clustered around identifying and effectively using resources, working effectively with others (interpersonal), acquiring and using information, understanding complex interrelationships (systems), and working with a variety of technologies. Critical skills included basic reading, writing, arithmetic, speaking, listening, and thinking skills as well as the personal qualities of responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management, integrity, and honesty. It could be argued that the competencies, skills, and personal qualities listed for job success are also skills for effective living.
Classroom meetings can aid in the development of the first four competencies as well as in the development of critical skills and personal qualities. In addition to teaching problem-solving skills and helping develop the skills and personal qualifies promoted in the SCANS report, conducting regular classroom meetings can also support character education programs that are recommended or mandated in many schools (Lickona, 1991). Character education is the name currently applied to the teaching of values or morals that most people in a democratic society agree are necessary for an informed and ethical citizenry (Lickona). One criticism of character education programs is that they teach students the meaning of different character traits but do not provide an opportunity to practice the meaning of the traits studied (MacDonald, 2002). During classroom meetings, teachers can bring these abstract traits into the students' fives by asking how traits such as honesty, responsibility, and cooperation pertain to a particular situation or problem.
Classroom meetings have been utilized for decades (Dreikurs, Grunwald, & Pepper, 1971; Glasser, 1969; Muro & Dinkmeyer, 1977). School counselors and other educators might dismiss classroom meetings as being no longer relevant.
However, conducting effective classroom meetings can teach students concepts and skills that are critical to their future and to the future of our nation.
The authors of this article survey the available research and explain the importance of using classroom meetings with students of all ages. Beginning and leading classroom meetings and following a detailed agenda are discussed. Specific ways to avoid barriers to successful classroom meetings are given. Finally, suggestions for how the school counselor can encourage teachers to use classroom meetings and/or use them in classroom guidance is explored.
RESEARCH ON CLASSROOM MEETINGS
There is little available literature that investigates the effectiveness of classroom meetings. Typically, classroom teachers lead classroom meetings and rarely see the need or have the time to quantitatively research their effectiveness. Also, teachers often follow a variety of agendas, some with problem solving and some without. In addition, the frequency of classroom meetings varies, with some teachers using them only when a problem arises and others using them daily. All of this makes it difficult to comparatively study classroom meetings. There is, however, some research worth noting. Sisco (1992) found that elementary students who participated in classroom meetings had a reduced number of disciplinary visits to the office and increased self-esteem. Sorsdahl and Sanche (1985) reported that after participating in classroom meetings twice a week for 20 weeks, fourth grade students improved their behavior in classroom meetings, and this improvement in behavior generalized to the larger classroom setting. The students who participated in classroom meetings had significantly better classroom behavior than did the students in the control classrooms. Browning, Davis, and Resta (2000) found that first grade students, who participated in classroom meetings, increased their number of positive strategies for solving problems and had decreased acts of physical and verbal aggression. Lundeberg, Emmett, Osland, and Lindquist (1997) state that by allowing students to solve problems as a group, as in the classroom meeting format, students can view conflict from others' perspective. This in turn encourages empathy for others and increases critical thinking skills (Lundeberg, Russo, et al., 1997).
Although much of the research on classroom meetings involved populations of elementary school students, it is thought that they can be just as effective with older students. In fact, Dougherty (1980) suggests that classroom meetings are especially suited for middle school youth and can be used to assist in dealing with developmental tasks such as acceptance of body changes, acceptance or rejection of culturally prescribed sex roles, and forming and maintaining healthy peer relationships. Classroom meetings, if done correctly and routinely, can greatly encourage a climate of connectedness and belonging. This appears to be especially important in today's middle and high schools where there is both the fear and the reality of violence.
In order to successfully decrease school violence, educators must find ways to build resiliency in students by proactive measures that change the school climate rather than adopting policies of zero tolerance and "school shooter" profiles with their concomitant labeling. These measures often create feelings of alienation rather than foster a sense of belonging (Mulvey & Cauffman, 2001). Nettles, Mucherah, and Jones state "promoting healthy relationships and environment is more effective for reducing school misconduct and crime than instituting punitive penalties" (as quoted in Mulvey & Cauffman, p. 800). Resnick et al. state that "the most powerful predictor of adolescent well-being is a feeling of connection to school, and students who feel close to others, fairly treated, and vested in school are less likely to engage in risky behaviors than those who do not" (as quoted in Mulvey & Cauffman, p. 800). In addition, Lewis, Schaps, and Watson (1996) suggested that schools that support caring activities such as cooperative learning, classroom meetings, service learning, and a problem-solving approach to discipline had students who had a strong motivation to learn, increased liking for school, and reduced delinquency and drug use.
Spivak and Prothrow-Stith (2001) reported that the prevention of certain undesirable behaviors involves limiting the factors that encourage these behaviors and teaching children prosocial interaction skills. These faulty behaviors include those behaviors that lead to dropping out of school as well as bullying and being bullied, both of which have a link to poor psychosocial functioning. Classroom meetings can simultaneously and directly discourage bullying behaviors and teach prosocial skills. But primarily, classroom meetings can foster a sense of belonging in the classroom, and, if done school-wide, they can systematically change the climate of the school. This is of critical importance because "dropping out of school may be a symptom of institutional rather than individual pathology" (Kagan, 1990, p. 105). One of the primary reasons that students drop out of school is because they feel alienated and tend to have friends who also feel alienated (Ekstrom, Goertz, Pollack, & Rock, 1986; Kushman, Sieber, & Heariold-Kinney, 2000). Treating students as valuable resources rather than as students with deficits can reduce feelings of alienation and prevent dropping out of school (Smith, Day, Gonzales, & Bell, 1990). Classroom meetings, if done thoroughly and regularly, can send a message that every student counts, and students' thoughts and decisions are valued.
CONDUCTING CLASSROOM MEETINGS
School counselors and classroom teachers are in excellent positions to utilize classroom meetings in their classrooms and schools. Counselors can use them in classroom guidance lessons, but in order to permeate a sense of belonging throughout the school, all classroom teachers (homeroom or advisory teachers in the middle and high school setting) should use classroom meetings. The best use of the counselors' time is to explain the importance and benefits of classroom meetings and train teachers how to use classroom meetings. The following section provides an outline for facilitating classroom meetings.
There are many different agendas school counselors and teachers can follow to meet their content and time limit needs. The authors have been successful using a format based on the agenda designed by Nelsen, Lott, and Glenn (1993). The authors have made modifications to this agenda by adding sections on skill building and encouragement and going into greater detail in the problem-solving component. This classroom meeting format usually takes from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the age of the students and the number of agenda items or problems to solve.
Appreciations and Compliments
During the appreciations and compliments section of the classroom meeting, the teacher or school counselor encourages students to give an appreciation (e.g., a thank you for ...) or a compliment (e.g., you're good at ...). This is totally voluntary. It is important to teach students how to give and receive appreciations and compliments. Sentence stems such as "Thank you for --", "You are really good at --", or "I like the way you --" are helpful. This keeps the focus on qualities of the student rather than physical appearance. This is important for young children as well as for older students. Students also should be taught to say "you're welcome" or "thank you" when given an appreciation or compliment to avoid any awkwardness. This part of the meeting can help students recall times they observed others demonstrating one of the character traits taught. It is important that the teacher or school counselor also take part in giving and receiving compliments and appreciations.
A teacher from Lilburn Middle School in Lilburn, Georgia, shared the following example that occurred in one of her classroom meetings.
We had the most wonderful classroom meeting today. We started off with our usual appreciation and concern time. One of the appreciations said, "Ms. Price, We want to read something to you." There was no signature. My students gave me red heart balloons, a big stuffed dog that says "I love you" and lots of candy and cards. I was stunned! And then to my amazement they went around the room and each had something to read to me. I almost cried when a student stood up and said, Ms. Price, "You make my world a beautiful place." I was overwhelmed. I had no idea they had gone to all of this trouble. Then they gave me a set of papers with each of their statements written down. It was wonderful. I also had a little something planned for them. After the appreciation time, I taped hearts to each of their backs, and they had 5 minutes to write on each other's hearts something that is special to them about that person. They enjoyed reading what each person had to say. It was a wonderful time. I will treasure the memory of today always. I have never felt more loved.
Peaceful Conflict Resolution and Problem-Solving Activities
During this meeting segment, the school counselor or teacher teaches conflict resolution and leads other problem-solving activities. It is critical that students have these skills prior to solving problems in a classroom meeting. Depending on the group of students, six to ten lessons with problem resolution role-play should come before any attempt to solve problems in the meeting. There are a number of curricular activities that teach these skills. School counselors and teachers can refer to the suggestions in the appendix of this article. Conflict resolution skills can be team-taught by the school counselor and the teacher if the teacher is not comfortable teaching the skills on his or her own.
After several meetings, students are ready to problem solve. It is advantageous for the teacher to lead the meetings at this point, because he or she is privy to the classroom dynamics, problems between certain students, and ways in which students have solved some problems on their own. If the teacher is not comfortable leading the meeting, the counselor can take on this task, but, for the meeting to be most useful, the teacher should be an active part of the group. It is helpful for the teacher to ask the student to help solve a problem she or he is having with the class such as disruptions when lining up, a messy classroom, too much talking during teaching, or difficulty in teaching a particular lesson. Doing this demonstrates the proper procedure for solving problems and sends a message to students that the teacher has faith in the students to solve problems.
Students who wish help with a problem from the classroom meeting are asked to sign up prior to the meeting on the problem-solving clipboard. This is a clipboard or a notebook placed in a designated area in the classroom. Students should write their names and briefly explain the problem. It is important that students obtain permission to discuss the issue in the meeting from the students with whom they have a problem. This helps prevent defensive behavior and frivolous problem solving in the meeting and sets a tone of respect. Young children can verbally explain the problem to the teacher, and the adult can ask the permission of all parties involved to have the class solve the problem. Signing up ahead of time gives the teacher the opportunity to determine if the problem is an appropriate one to solve in the meeting, prevents surprises for the teacher and student who may be accused of something, and gives the teacher a strategy for managing classroom problems. For example, students often complain to the teacher about the misbehaviors of other students. Instead of dismissing or solving the problem for the students, the teacher can ask if the student wants to bring the issue up in a meeting. By doing this, the student learns that the teacher is not going to solve the problem (i.e., punish the other student), yet is not going to dismiss the student's complaint. Often, problems get solved on their own between the time a student signs the problem-solving clipboard and the actual classroom meeting. When this happens, the teacher can ask how the students solved their problem so others can learn from them.
During the problem-solving phase of the meeting, students are asked to briefly share the problem and their feelings. Using an egg timer may help to keep students' descriptions brief. Then, the teacher asks the students to volunteer solutions to the problem. It is important that the teacher, or designated student, write down all suggested solutions. This demonstrates to the students that all ideas are valuable. After listing all solutions, the class begins to assess the pros and cons of each. It is critical that the evaluation of the solutions be done after the list is completed rather than after each suggestion so that a student, whose suggestion is later decided to not be productive, is not embarrassed and afraid to offer solutions in the future. If a student happens to purposefully suggest an unproductive solution such as fight it out, once the solution's pros and cons are assessed, the class quickly gets the idea that only useful suggestions will be taken seriously.
Once the suggestions have been evaluated, the students involved in the problem are asked to choose a solution and agree on a date to implement the solution if not in the present classroom meeting. If the students involved cannot decide or agree on a solution, they can ask the class to decide for them by taking a vote. For younger students, the teacher may want to display a chart of solutions and ask the students to choose from the chart. Possible solutions for the chart are: apologize, share, talk it out, avoid each other, recognize their efforts, find a way to help them, agree to disagree, use an "I" message, and work on something together.
If the school counselor is leading the meetings as part of the classroom guidance program, then consulting with the teacher before the meeting begins is essential. Prior to the meeting, the counselor should look at the problem-solving clipboard and ask the teacher for his or her perspective on the problem. It is important to ask the teacher to participate, as a member of the classroom, in the meeting.
It is interesting to note that in the beginning, students often come up with solutions that are punitive in nature such as lose recess, go to time out, in-school suspension, detention, put their name on the board, or call their parents. With guidance and modeling from the teacher and proper instruction during the conflict activity section of the classroom meeting, students can learn to actually help each other solve problems through cooperative means rather than punitive. Scheider (1996) suggests that problem-solving approaches to misbehavior, rather than punitive approaches, help students "make decisions that satisfy their needs without violating those of others" (p. 23). She shared a story that a kindergarten teacher told her.
A student was stealing from his classmates almost daily. One day, when the boy was absent, she addressed the problem in a classroom meeting. Her kindergartners reasoned that maybe the classmate steals because he feels he doesn't have enough "stuff," so the next day they arrived with pencils, erasers, and pieces of gum, many gift wrapped, and showered him with presents. "He never stole again," says the teacher, eyes filled with tears, obviously moved.
While there can be some hazards to holding classroom meetings and discussing problems when the student in question is not present, this approach seemed best to this teacher and was extremely successful. Briggs (1996) explains that conflict in the classroom is an excellent moment for social learning and discusses how classroom meetings teach alternative win-win solutions to problems. Discussions of problem solving can elicit statements about observed character traits and about exhibited skills in listening, speaking, and working effectively with others.
During the old business portion of the classroom meeting, students are asked to report on how their attempts to solve their problem worked. If there is not adequate problem resolution, the class may suggest other solutions, the involved students can agree to try another solution, the matter can be tabled until another meeting, or the students may be referred to another source of problem resolution such as peer mediation.
During this part of the meeting, students can discuss and make decisions about other things in the classroom. Where to take a field trip; when to have the math test; whether to have "Pet Day," "Grandparents Day," or "Pajama Day"; which novel to read in Literature class; and how to pose for a class picture in the yearbook might be things the class discusses. The New Business segment of the classroom meeting is also an appropriate time for discussing a service-learning project. Students can discuss what the needs of their classroom, school, and community are and ways they can contribute to a solution. Allowing students to share power in the classroom sends a message to students that they are capable of making decisions and that their opinions are valued.
Classroom Encouragement Activity
Whereas the compliments/appreciations section of the classroom meeting is optional and gives encouragement only to some of the students, the encouragement activity gives encouragement to the entire class. The teacher or counselor usually designs these activities, but the class should be consulted for ideas. The following are several classroom encouragement activities.
Personal notes from the teacher/counselor. The teacher or counselor writes a short personal note to each student and distributes the notes during the classroom meeting or puts them in each student's desk before class begins. The notes might say "you've really improved your handwriting this week" or "thank you for helping me pass out papers yesterday" or "thank you for coming in each morning with a smile on your face."
You are really good at--guessing game. The teacher or counselor writes a statement about what each student is good at, or the students themselves can write this. Then the teacher or counselor reads each statement, and the class tries to guess whom that statement describes. For example, he or she might say, "Who is really good at listening to others in the classroom?" or "Who is a really good kick ball player?" or "Who is really good at acting?" Children enjoy this game and making mistakes (i.e., guessing the wrong name) actually makes students feel good.
Affirmation signs. The teacher or counselor writes each student's name on a piece of construction paper and hangs the papers around the room. Then the students are asked to write a compliment or encouraging statement by each student's name. Teachers and counselors may want to list examples of statements on the board and in some cases the teacher may want to proofread the statements before giving them out to the students. There are several variations of this activity. The signs can be hung on each student's back. Other students write affirming statements on the paper. This is the opposite of "kick me" signs. Another variation for younger students is to construct the signs in the shape of hearts for Valentine's Day, feathers around a turkey for Thanksgiving, or snowflakes for winter.
Charades. Each student is given the opportunity to act out, without talking, something that they do well. Others guess what it is.
Show and tell. Students bring in items of significance to "show off." This gives them permission to brag about something about which they feel proud.
These are only examples of the possibilities. Students are good at brainstorming activities. Once teachers and counselors start creating their own classroom encouragement activities, they may want to make a booklet of all the ideas and distribute them to all the teachers.
ACHIEVING SUCCESSFUL CLASSROOM MEETINGS
Teachers often become discouraged because their classroom meetings are not as successful as they would like them to be. This is an opportunity for the school counselor to use their skills of encouragement--emphasizing that learning a new technique is often difficult. The counselor can have suggestions ready such as reading material about implementing classroom meetings (e.g., this article; Fleming, 1996; Kepler, 19998; Nelsen et al., 1996; Sartor & Sutherland, 1992) and offering to co-lead the next meeting or observe the teacher's classroom meeting. Often, classroom teachers are overly critical of their performance and can be reassured that they are on the right track by the counselor. Nelsen et al. state that classroom meetings fail for specific reasons. The six reasons they offer include not sitting in a circle, not having meetings regularly, not allowing time for students to learn skills, not having faith in students' abilities, not understanding that solving the same types of problems repeatedly allows time to practice skills, and not going around the circle and allowing every student a chance to speak or pass. The following section provides a description for avoiding the reasons for failure and achieving classroom meetings that are successful.
Sit in a Circle
It can be disruptive and time consuming to move desks and chairs so that the students are sitting in a circle. With practice, however, even young students can learn to quickly and quietly move into a circle. On a practical level, sitting in a circle allows participants to see everyone and keeps students from being excluded or from excluding themselves from participating (Landau & Gathercoal, 2000). However, there are other important reasons to form a circle. The positioning of students and teacher makes a statement about the power dynamics in a classroom. Also, the act of forming a circle signals that a different activity is beginning and that different student and teacher behaviors are expected.
The circle signifies equality; that everyone is equally important in the classroom meeting and that the students, not the teacher, will be responsible for problem solving. "The circle is a universal symbol for unity and wholeness and the form of meeting in circle is ancient" (Our Heritage of Circles, 2001, p.1). Forming a circle demonstrates that the class is a unit and must work together as equals to solve problems.
Hold Meetings Regularly
Canceling meetings for another activity sends the message that classroom meetings are not important. If students are planning to have a meeting to solve a problem and the meeting is canceled, they may become discouraged about their abilities to solve their own problems. Teachers have many responsibilities, and it is understandable that they might not want to take the time to have a meeting. The teacher might be able to solve the problem more quickly than the students could solve it in a meeting; however, this does not provide opportunities for students to learn the important skills delineated earlier. Sometimes students might pressure a teacher to hold an" emergency" classroom meeting to immediately solve a problem. Although there might be an occasion when this is helpful, in most instances, it is best to wait until tempers subside and there is adequate time to follow the complete agenda of the classroom meeting rather than only problem solve. Students usually are willing to wait for the regularly scheduled meeting when they are reasonably certain that the meeting will be held.
Allow Time for Students to Learn Skills
Problem-solving skills that include those skills and competencies in the SCANS report (as cited in Nelsen et al, 1996) are not learned in one session. Working effectively with others, understanding complex interrelationships, and using good listening and speaking skills, for example, are high-level competencies that take repeated practice over time. No one expects students to learn to read in a few weeks or to learn how to play a sport after a few practice sessions. Skills that include learning to work with others to solve problems in a non-punitive way take time and practice to learn.
Have Faith in Students' Abilities
This recommendation for having successful classroom meetings is related to the previous one. Because learning new skills takes time, teachers (and counselors) often become impatient and take over the meeting. They censor suggestions rather than allow students to learn that some solutions will not work because they are punitive or they do not consider all aspects of the problem. Having to endure an ineffective solution to a problem until the next classroom meeting is often an effective learning device.
Many classroom problems occur because of troublesome interpersonal relationships. Understanding the functioning of interpersonal systems, (i.e., that a change in one part of the system affects all other parts) is a skill that takes time to comprehend. It is .also a skill that is needed throughout life--in school, in personal relationships, and at work. Classroom meetings will not be successful and important skills will not be learned when the teacher or counselor attempts to have the students "decide" on a plan that the adult has already determined is the one that should be implemented.
Solving the Same Types of Problems Repeatedly Allows Students to Practice Skills
Teachers sometimes become discouraged because their students solve a problem and then the same or similar problem occurs again. Discussing the problem allows students to determine reasons that the problem has reoccurred and to plan a more effective solution. Being able to revise or "fine-tune" a plan is a competence that is needed in many aspects of life. Teachers can guide students in figuring out the common elements of problems and how a particular solution might work for similar problems.
Allow Every Student a Chance to Speak or Pass
Most teachers can name the students in the classroom who will volunteer answers and the ones who will sit silently. For classroom meetings to be successful, all students must believe that they will have the opportunity to offer something to the discussion. For young children, an object such as a stuffed animal or play microphone could be used to signify who can talk; older students could use a scarf or a small object such as a ball. This keeps vocal students from monopolizing the meeting. The rule is that the only person allowed to talk is the person holding the object. Passing that object around the circle provides quiet students an opening to speak without having to raise their hand or make themselves heard over louder voices. Students must also be able to pass without penalty. Using an object to signal whose turn it is to speak is an excellent way to prevent common misbehaviors during the classroom meeting.
Landau and Gathercoal (2000) suggest keeping a classroom meeting journal. Time can be given immediately following a meeting so teachers and students can record their thoughts and impressions of what occurred in the meeting. Students can be encouraged to note instances when one of the character traits being studied was observed and to note the use of specific skills such as those listed in the SCANS report. In addition, this is a venue for the more quiet student to "voice" his of her opinion.
It is a good idea to hold classroom meetings immediately before an event that students enjoy, such as lunch, going home, or recess. This allows for an automatic time limit with which the students are likely to agree. If the meeting is always held right before math or some other subject, students might be tempted to find ways to manipulate the teacher into going over the time limit so as to avoid doing class work.
Emmett and Monsour (1996) suggest using ground rules for the classroom meetings. They recommend using rules such as keeping things discussed confidential, listening well, being respectful, sticking to the topic, and having the freedom to pass on any question. It is important to get student input when making rules and to first problem solve solutions to any rule breaking prior to using logical consequences. Only after all problem solving has been attempted should the teacher resort to a logical consequence such as removal from the classroom meeting for that day.
Some teachers do not allow students to use other students' names when solving conflicts. The reason is so that an accusatory tone does not permeate the meeting. It is the experience of the authors, however, that if there is proper preparation for problem solving, using names is not a negative but a necessary part of effective problem resolution. Appropriate preparation includes role-playing before actual problem solving, gaining of permission by all parties prior to discussion of a problem, practicing true problem solving rather than punishment as a solution, and establishing an atmosphere of trust.
A final consideration is related to the use of the word problem. Some classes and teachers may prefer to use the term concern to denote an issue that needs addressing. In some cases, the word problem has a negative connotation and a student or teacher's concern does not necessarily mean that a problem exists.
ENCOURAGING TEACHERS TO IMPLEMENT CLASSROOM MEETINGS
When the school counselor suggests that teachers use classroom meetings, teachers may only see that this is one more activity that will take valuable time away from teaching and from preparing students for the "high stakes" testing that is being implemented in many districts. Because teachers often must stop teaching in order to solve students' disruptive discipline or interpersonal problems, the school counselor should help teachers understand that the regular use of classroom meetings that include problem solving can actually give teachers more time to teach by reducing the number of disruptions. In addition to using the meeting to solve discipline problems, teachers can also use the meeting to discuss academic and homework concerns (Lickona, 1991). Lickona provides examples of the effective use of classroom meetings with students of all ages.
The best way to introduce the idea of classroom meetings is at the beginning of the school year. One of the first New Business items can be a discussion of what the classroom rules should be and what the students want their classroom to be like. Prior to this, the school counselor may want to teach a few interested teachers how to hold classroom meetings and then elicit their help in teaching the entire school faculty. Teachers who were reluctant to hold classroom meetings initially might be persuaded to initiate them if other teachers talk about their merits. Videotaping classroom meetings is an excellent teaching tool. Also, holding a faculty meeting as a classroom meeting, beginning with a compliments and appreciations section and ending with an encouragement activity, demonstrates how classroom meetings are done. The school counselor may want to introduce classroom meetings and their benefits by leading classroom meetings as part of his or her classroom guidance activities. The counselor can ask the teacher to co-lead and then take the classroom meetings over when they feel comfortable. Ideally, students eventually take on the responsibility of leading classroom meetings.
Classroom meetings also are excellent time savers for the school counselor. Students who constantly come to the counselor to solve their problems in the classroom take up a substantial portion of a school counselor's day. The school counselor can suggest that the classroom teacher let the students solve these types of problems in the classroom meeting. If the teacher is hesitant to lead the meeting, the school counselor can volunteer to do so as part of his or her classroom guidance program.
There is a plethora of topics and activities that school counselors can use in their classroom guidance programs. Most, if not all, of the topics that counselors (and teachers) deem important for their students (i.e., decision-making, critical-thinking, effective communication, and relationship skills) can be taught within the classroom meeting structure. This structure, with its emphasis on equality, inclusiveness, and encouragement, may be especially useful in today's changing schools.
As schools become larger and more diverse, educators are challenged not only to help students learn to respect and value other cultures but also to provide learning experiences that value different cultural traditions. For example, many cultural groups regard cooperation as being more important than competition. Classroom meetings, with their inherent spirit of cooperation, can help students from such cultures as Asian and Native American feel more included. Students who feel alienated, even though they are from the majority culture of the school, also can feel more included by participating in classroom meetings where every voice is important.
Asking teachers to conduct regularly scheduled classroom meetings may seem overwhelming to them, because educators already have many tasks to perform, some of which are directly related to education and some of which are peripheral. However, when one considers that important skills that relate to education can be taught by the effective use of classroom meetings, teachers might be persuaded to use them. Fleming (1996) states that the mandated curriculum shapes students' minds, "but it is their cultural experiences in the classroom, working through friendship, self-esteem, motivation, and team spirit--in short, their relationships--that will have the greatest influence on the way they conduct themselves as citizens" (p.76).
Middle school counselors may discover that finding one teacher in a teaching team who is willing to conduct classroom meetings is a viable option. At the very least, students can experience classroom meetings whenever they rotate to this teacher's class. In addition, exploratory classes might prove to be a good place for teaching these valuable skills and holding classroom meetings. In high schools, classroom meetings can be held in homeroom or elective classes. In these situations, if a student brings up a concern about another teacher or student who is not present in the class, that teacher or student can be asked to join the classroom meeting so that the concern can be addressed.
It is important to remind teachers that educators often report that classroom discipline problems decrease with the regular use of classroom meetings (Nelsen et al., 1996), and fewer discipline problems permit more time for teaching. Because this is a new way of relating to students, teachers need encouragement from counselors as well as their assistance in getting started and not giving up at the first difficulty that presents itself. The old saying "practice makes perfect" applies to leading classroom meetings, and the outcome is worth the effort. "When people sit around in a group and share experiences, the universe of possibilities begins to change" (O'Reilly, 1993, p. 41).
Various Conflict Resolution and Social Skills Resources
Committee for Children. (2002). Second Step A Violence Prevention Curriculum. Seattle: Committee for Children.
Kreidler, W. (1984). Creative Conflict Resolution. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foreman.
Kreidler, W. (1994). Conflict Resolution in the Middle School Cambridge: Educators For Social Responsibility.
Kreidler, W. (1995).Adventures in Peacemaking. Cambridge: Educators for Social Responsibility.
Kreidler, W. (1996). Early Childhood Adventures in Peacemaking. Cambridge: Educators for Social Responsibility.
Levin, D. (1994). Teaching Young Children in Violent Times, Cambridge: Educators for Social Responsibility.
Schmidt, F., & Friedman, A. (1990). Fighting Fair. Miami Beach: Grace Contrino Abrams Peace Education Foundation.
Shure, M. (2002). I Can Problem Solve:An Interpersonal Cognitive Problem-Solving (ICPS) Intervention. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Briggs, D. (1996). Turning conflicts into learning experiences. Educational Leadership, 54, 60-63.
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Dana Edwards, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, and Fran Mullis, Ph.D., is an associate professor; both are with the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, Georgia State University, Atlanta. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Publication:||Professional School Counseling|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2003|
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