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Creating caring and democratic communities in our classrooms and schools.

The habits a society wants adults to hold are established most readily when a child is discovering and establishing "self" in the world beyond family life, particularly between five and twelve. (James Comer, 1997, p. 222)

For years, the American Association of University Women's (AAUW) Educational Foundation has been studying the climate on school campuses across the United States. As with previous studies, the most recent report, Hostile Hallways: Bullying, Teasing, and Sexual Harassment in School, indicates that harassment of all kinds happens frequently, often in plain sight, and that it can begin as early as elementary school (AAUW, 2001; Woods, 2001/02). Girls and boys are affected, emotionally and psychologically, to an equal degree by harassment. The study also found that many students choose to avoid harassers by skipping school, dropping out of a particular activity or sport, and/or dropping courses (AAUW, 2001; Woods, 2001/02). The failure of schools and teachers to take bullying, teasing, and sexual harassment seriously is clearly a violation of the equal protection clause found in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps what is less obvious is how such failure sabotages the social, emotional, moral/ethical, and cognitive development of youth, and how it adversely affects the larger community.

With the recent increased focus on raising test scores and the subsequent misguided standardization of curriculum and instruction found in many schools and districts across the United States, one must ask if those entrusted to make important decisions are paying any attention to the vast amount of literature linking social and emotional health to academic achievement. The early school years are a critical window of opportunity for developing the important "habits of life" that will lead to success as an adult (Comer, 1997). In his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than I.Q., Daniel Goleman (1995) argues that emotional well-being is a very strong predictor of success not only in academics, but also in employment, marriage, and general physical health. Yet, as Comer (in O'Neil, 1997) points out, "It is difficult to internalize a sense of well-being, high self-esteem, and a passion for achievement in an environment that is chaotic, abusive, or characterized by low expectations" (p. 9). Thus, it would be prudent for educators to contemplate the learning environment and its impact on students' overall development. When serious attention is given to establishing a positive and supportive classroom that is also physically and psychologically safe, student learning will also increase (Comer, 1997; Wong & Wong, 1998).

As a teacher educator, I believe that in order for educators to help students become caring, empathic adults who are able to help realize the ideals of democracy, we must abandon traditional approaches to classroom discipline and management (i.e., compliance and efficiency models). School personnel must understand the need to create communities in classrooms and schools that move us toward the goal of equipping young people with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for effective and productive participation in an increasingly diverse and democratic society. All who are invested in young people today must be committed not only to academic achievement (i.e., cognitive development), but also to the social, emotional, moral/ethical, and psychological development of each and every student.

Citizenship for a Democracy

Wherever democracy has fallen, it was too exclusively political in nature. It had not become part of the bone and blood of people in daily conduct. Unless democratic habits of thought and action are part of the fiber of a people, political democracy is insecure. (Collected works, p. 225)

Recent media attention to the seriousness of ongoing physical and verbal abuse experienced by many students on school campuses today has understandably produced a rash of programs aimed at restoring order and safety. While order and safety certainly are essential to establishing positive and supportive school communities, if we hope to raise empathic, caring adults who exhibit moral integrity in their personal and professional lives, programs that focus on order and safety alone will be insufficient. As citizens of a democratic society, students must understand democratic rights and freedoms and how to exercise them responsibly. Furthermore, students must understand that "democracy is not so much an 'ideal' to be pursued as an 'idealized' set of values that we must live and that must guide our life as a people" (Apple & Beane, 1995, p. 7). A solid character may very well be a prerequisite to good citizenship. Indeed, such qualities as respect, responsibility, justice, integrity, industriousness, caring, and trustworthiness are the shared values upon which a democracy depends. Berreth and Berman (1997) argue that empathy and self-discipline are central to character development, and it is these skills that form a foundation for moral behavior. As Dewey (1941) so perceptively warned, unless such characteristics become part of the "blood and bone" of each and every citizen, democracy is destined to fail.

Although well-intentioned, schools and teachers who focus solely on establishing order and safety in the classroom may be missing critical opportunities to nurture students' character and traits of good citizenship. Perhaps more than ever before, future leaders and citizens will need the skills of effective communication, cooperation, care, and the ability to work with diverse groups of people (Poussaint, 1997). Along with the home, schools are the most likely place where students can build character and learn the essential democratic habits of thought and life. To achieve this goal in the classroom, teachers must change how they perceive their role. The remainder of this article describes the key ideas that should be part of any teacher preparation program. I strive to incorporate these ideas into the classroom discipline and management course I offer to pre-service teachers.

The Dimensions of Effective Classroom Management and Discipline

Discipline per se makes no sense except in relation to what the teacher is attempting to accomplish in the classroom. (Alfie Kohn, cited in Charles, 2002, p. 192)

If we hope to create classrooms and schools that are positive, productive places where young people can learn important "democratic habits of thought and action" (Dewey, 1941), then teachers must be challenged to think beyond the traditional approaches to management and discipline. Educators must understand and appreciate the difference between getting students to comply with a set of behavioral expectations and teaching them to discern right from wrong and make good behavioral choices. Learning to make decisions that are guided by an internalized set of attitudes, values, and democratic ways of being is most likely to occur in environments where students have opportunities to contribute and feel supported, and where they sense respect and belonging from peers as well as the important adults in their lives (Comer, 1997).

These principles were the foundation of my course titled "Seminar in Creating Caring Communities for Learners," in which I emphasize that an effective classroom management and discipline system:

* Ensures that teaching and learning can occur

* Is built upon and is reflective of the nation's shared values * Nurtures in students the qualities needed for effective and productive participation in an increasingly diverse and democratic society.

As a guide for thinking about how one's discipline system can and should facilitate students' social, psychological, and ethical development, I have developed the following guidelines (see Figure 1):


Safety First: Physical and Psychological Safety. An educator's primary concern should be the establishment and maintenance of an environment that ensures every child is free from physical harm. The general room arrangement (e.g., furniture, materials) and procedures for moving about the classroom help to achieve physical safety. Beyond making sure that students do not get hurt physically, however, teachers also must pay special attention to protecting and nurturing the psychological well-being of every student. Whoever said "sticks and stones may break my bones, but word s can never hurt me" was wrong. Words do hurt! In fact, the psychological damage done by words (or even nonverbal gestures) may leave deeper, more permanent scarring than the external markings caused by sticks and stones. The most recent study conducted by AAUW (Woods, 2001/02) emphasizes the importance of eliminating bullying, teasing, and harassment on school grounds, particularly name-calling (e.g., "sissy," "faggot"). Early on, students must learn to be kind and gentle with their words and actions, and to show respect for themselves and others. These habits, along with the ability to exercise self-control in difficult situations (e.g., anger management) and resolve conflicts peacefully, are central to healthy relationships and good citizenship, and to ensuring that school environments are free of harassment.

Efficient and Effective. All teachers hope to create an environment that enables teaching and learning to occur. New teachers often set out to run an efficient classroom that is free of chaos. However, while effective teachers may be efficient, not all efficient teachers are effective. In addition to implementing a challenging and engaging curriculum, effective teaching is largely the result of well-established classroom procedures that have been taught and practiced by the students until they have become routines (Wong & Wong, 1998). Teachers--new teachers in particular--need to understand how the first days of school set the stage for the rest of the year. Sufficient time must be spent establishing important classroom procedures (e.g., signals for getting the students' attention, accepted ways of entering and exiting the classroom, how to ask and answer questions, how to pass out papers, and where to put completed work) so that critical instructional time is not continually being wasted.

Interestingly, while few educators would disagree that the first days of school are a critical window of opportunity for establishing an effective and efficient classroom, far too many teachers fail to adequately utilize that time. In their book Classroom Management for Elementary Teachers, Evertson, Emmer, Clements, and Worsham (in press) provide an excellent set of checklists for starting the year out right. Wong and Wong (1998) also offer a comprehensive list of procedures in their book The First Days of School.

In addition to establishing procedures and routines, effective classrooms typically establish a set of rules or norms of behavior, as well as logical consequences (positive and negative) that are applied according to students' behavioral choices. To increase the level of student ownership and to give students a voice in how the classroom is governed, teachers should involve students in a democratic process of establishing these rules and consequences. Indeed, the discussions emanating from this process will help students consider why rules are necessary, and thereby increase the likelihood that the rules will become an internalized set of values by which students live in the world outside of the classroom.

Socialization for Character Development. As previously argued, the purpose of a classroom management and discipline system goes well beyond the maintenance of a safe and efficient classroom. Schools are primary institutions of socialization. If emotional intelligence is a strong predictor of success in and out of school (Goleman, 1995), then educators would be amiss to emphasize only the cognitive-academic development of students and neglect their social, psychological, and moral/ethical developmental needs. An effective classroom mirrors a caring community and instills in students the foundations for moral and ethical behavior. According to Berreth and Berman (1997), "Nurturing empathy and self-discipline is our best hope for establishing an ethic rooted in shared rights and responsibilities" (p. 24). Lickona (1991) suggests that teachers should employ four classroom processes (community, cooperation, moral reflection, and participatory decision-making) that can affect character development, both in the formal, academic curriculum, and in the informal, human curriculum (e.g., rules, roles, relationships). Within the teacher preparation program, educators must not only discuss these processes, but also provide teacher candidates with sufficient examples of how to incorporate them into everyday classroom life.

Socialization for Democratic Development and Participation. Cherry McGee Banks (in J. A. Banks, 1999) argued that "maintaining a democratic society and preserving and enlarging freedom require citizens who embrace democratic values and recognize their responsibility to help narrow the gap between real and idealized American values" (p. 99).

While a full discussion of how to prepare students for life in a democracy is beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that we learn democracy through democratic participation. Hutchinson and Hunt (2001) argue that people who have not had the experience of governing will not learn to govern themselves. Therefore, with the teacher's support, students must co-create the governance system of the classroom (i.e., rules and consequences) and learn to be responsible for how the community functions. Schools serve as a microcosm of society. It is within the walls of each and every classroom that students learn some of the more challenging aspects of democracy. For example, for democracy to thrive, our citizens must balance individual rights with two important concerns: 1) concern for the welfare of others and the common good, and 2) concern for the dignity and rights of all individuals (not just the dominant group members).

We will move closer to ensuring "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for each of us when individual citizens learn to strike such a balance in their personal lives. It is within the classroom that a student best learns that she is not an island. In school, the important skill of considering the way in which exercising one's rights and freedoms might affect the larger community is put to the test in a way that cannot be tested at home. If we ever hope to "narrow the gap between real and idealized American values" (McGee Banks in Banks, 1999, p. 99), students need opportunities to think critically about complex issues involving equity and social justice. Clearly, these goals cannot be realized through traditional methods of striving for classroom efficiency, nor by strict compliance to models of discipline and management. (For a more thorough discussion of democracy in schools, see Democratic Schools by Apple and Beane, 1995.)

Carpe Diem: Making Every Lesson, Every Decision an Opportunity

Educators must seize every opportunity to teach, nurture, and develop in students the traits of "good citizenship" and a deep commitment to the nation's shared values. The following "target understandings" will help to ensure a teacher's success in achieving this worthy goal:

* Without a vision of what you hope to accomplish through your management and discipline system, it is unlikely that your vision will become a reality. One's ultimate goal must be at the forefront of every decision in the classroom. Therefore, teachers must take time to develop a vision for what they hope to accomplish (i.e., for students) and identify several factors that will ensure that one's purpose is fulfilled (i.e., through a plan of action). This vision should reflect a commitment to developing good character traits and the skills needed for democratic living.

* Your actions must be consistent with your vision and goal(s). Actions speak louder than words!

* Practice what you preach. If teachers want their students to become good citizens who exercise moral integrity, then they must model such behaviors. If one values democracy, being an unsympathetic dictator in the classroom is out of the question. Every decision you make must help your vision become a reality.

* It is important to identify a set of classroom procedures/ routines that will help your classroom run smoothly. These procedures/routines must be taught during the first days of school and consistently reinforced throughout the school year. If something in your action plan is not working, you must analyze why that is so and develop an appropriate alternative. Ultimately, teachers must ensure that teaching and learning can occur.

* When students are unable to gain a sense of belonging in the class, they often turn to the mistaken goals of seeking attention, power, or revenge, or begin to display feelings of inadequacy (Dreikurs, in Charles, 2002). Teachers can prevent a good deal of misbehavior by creating an engaging curriculum and an environment in which all students feel accepted, respected, and valued. When the agreed-upon classroom rules are broken, teachers first must identify what is at the root of the student's actions (e.g., mistaken goals). Only then can teachers respond appropriately to misbehavior and provide a corrective that will help the student internalize a set of values that will guide future decisions in a positive way.

* If adults always intervene to resolve problem/conflicts between or among students, students will never learn to resolve conflicts themselves. Students must be taught, and have the opportunity to practice, conflict resolution and effective communication skills. We must make it our goal to equip youngsters with the skills to become effective problem solvers.

* In every situation, you must resolve to do what a "reasonable" and "prudent" person would do in a similar situation. In addition to their professional and ethical responsibilities, new teachers must come to understand their legal obligations. In those very challenging situations, the law always comes back to what a "reasonable and prudent person" would or would not do in a similar situation. These elements of professionalism are best learned through the practice of using hypothetical classroom and/or playground situations to develop a solution. It is a good idea to provide teacher candidates with a school district's guidelines and policies regarding sexual harassment, appropriate ways to interact with students (for example, when and how it is appropriate to touch a student), and reporting of suspected child abuse. (For more information regarding the legal issues in education, see the issue of Educational Leadership titled "Understanding the Law," volume 59, number 4, 1997.)

* Keeping open lines of communication with the home is essential to helping each student reach his/her potential. In order to have a successful relationship with parents and/or guardians, the first home contact must be a positive one. In addition, teachers must establish a rapport and develop a means of communicating student needs, progress, and successes on a regular basis. Teachers should be encouraged to call parents/ caretakers during the first week of school simply to express their excitement about the upcoming year and invite cooperation. I ask my teacher candidates to create a newsletter to be sent home with their students; this newsletter outlines their vision and plan for management and discipline, and invites parent/ caregiver support.

With these important understandings securely in place, even the novice teacher can have a successful first year. Effective teachers capitalize on every teachable moment to introduce, reinforce, and deepen student understandings of what it means to be a caring, responsible, and ethical citizen. In addition to class governance, teachers can nurture these qualities through 1) literature selections; 2) social studies lessons; 3) discussions of current events; 4) analysis of song lyrics; and 5) ethical debates (e.g., a discussion of the implications of using animals or human embryos to make advances in science and / or medicine). Whatever the means, students must have daily opportunities to internalize and embrace a set of democratic attitudes and values that, ideally, will become part of the "bone and blood" of their daily conduct.


Apple, M. W., & Beane, J. A. (1995). Democratic schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. (2001). Hostile hallways: Bullying, teasing, and sexual harassment in school. Washington, DC: Author.

Banks, J. A. (1999). An introduction to multicultural education (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Berreth, D., & Berman, S. (1997). The moral dimensions of schools. Educational Leadership, 54(4), 24-27.

Charles, C. M. (2002). Building classroom discipline (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Collected works of John Dewey, The: Later works (1925-1953). (1996). [Electronic edition, ed. by L. Hickman] Charlottesville, VA: InteLex.

Comer, J. P. (1997). Waiting for a miracle: Why schools can't solve our problems--and how we can. New York: Penguin Putnam.

Dewey, J. (1941). Education today. London: George Allyn & Unwin.

Evertson, C. M., Emmer, E. T., Clements, B. S., & Worsham, M.E. (in press). Classroom management for elementary teachers. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than I.Q. New York: Bantam Books.

Hutchinson, J. N., & Hunt, J. A. (2001). Living democracy in the classroom. Democracy and Education, 13(4), 2-6.

Lickona, T. (1991). Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility. New York: Bantam Books.

O'Neil, J. (1997). Building schools as communities: A conversation with James Comer. Educational Leadership, 54(4), 6-10.

Poussaint, A. (1997). Starting small: Teaching children tolerance [Video]. Available from Teaching Tolerance: The Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, AL.

Wong, H., & Wong, R. (1998). The first days of school. Sunnyvale, CA: Harry Wong Publishing.

Woods, J. (2001/02). Hostile hallways. Educational Leadership, 59(4), 20-23.

Cathy A. Pohan is Assistant Professor, Teacher Education, San Diego State University.
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Title Annotation:educators' role is to nuture and develop traits of citizenship and commitment to the democratic values in their students
Author:Pohan, Cathy A.
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 15, 2003
Previous Article:Young children's views of Australia and Australians.
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