To function smoothly, classrooms need to be run like a democratic government. As a teacher, I will be the designated leader who runs the classroom and directs its instruction. I will enable my students to influence the workings of the classroom by assigning class jobs, providing leadership opportunities, giving them choices regarding instruction and activities, acknowledging and respecting their voice in the classroom, and encouraging civility and self-governing behavior. Because my students will be the beneficiaries of my instruction, their participation in classroom affairs is essential.
Classroom jobs will be one way for my students to participate. Through class jobs I will teach them several valuable life skills. As they take ownership of various classroom duties, my students will learn the value of responsibility. Beth Lewis, in an article about classroom jobs in elementary school classrooms, said, “If we want to teach children to be responsible, we have to trust them with responsibilities. Classroom jobs are an effective way to enlist students in the duties of running a classroom.” The classroom cannot function without the help and participation of each member. Its success depends upon each student diligently completing his or her assigned tasks, which teaches them that part of being responsible is being dependable. Class jobs will also help my students more deeply appreciate their educational experience because working for their education will build their satisfaction of it. Hard work is another valuable skill my students will develop through class jobs. Because the flow of the classroom depends upon each member faithfully fulfilling his or her responsibilities, my students will learn that working hard is very important.
They will also learn that hard work is a key ingredient in the recipe for effective leadership, which is another important aspect of a democratically-run classroom. I will teach my students that true leaders are hard workers. We will study historical accounts, watch movie clips, and read stories about powerful leaders who exemplify a strong work ethic. I will also teach my students that true leadership requires leading by example. I will assign students to be group leaders when we have activity centers or participate in other class activities. They will be expected to model appropriate behavior at the centers and will encourage group members to follow instructions. Inspiring their peers to behave appropriately may be challenging at times, but these group leaders will learn that they cannot inspire change in others without being an example first.
Effective leaders also respect agency and the voice of each individual, which are two closely connected elements in classroom democracy. Each is essential for students to have a meaningful educational experience, and there are several ways I plan to provide them. I will provide a variety of classroom activities for my students to choose from. Students learn and perform in different ways, so they need freedom to choose activities that reflect what they know and can do. It is also important to me that I know what my students are interested in. I will start the year off by having them fill out a short information sheet where they can record their interests, and I will use their responses to plan future classroom activities. This will show students that their voice is being heard and that it influences their choices in the classroom. I will also have brief class meetings periodically where my students and I can discuss their thoughts and feelings about our classroom environment. They can tell me what they like and what they think should be different. This will show my students that I consider their interests in the choices I give them.
When students know that teachers listen to them and value what they say, civil behavior often improves. Civility is another important aspect of a democratically-run classroom. I will teach civility in my classroom by modeling it in my interactions with students. My example will be the foundation for my teaching and will reinforce the behavior I expect. I will communicate my expectations by establishing rules and consequences in my classroom that encourage civil behavior and address incivility. M. Winston Eagan, in his article “The Golden Rule,” suggests an effective object lesson for teaching civility. He began the lesson by introducing himself using a roll of toilet paper, and then he carefully passed it to someone else. Each person did the same until they were all connected. Everyone had to be careful not to rip the toilet paper when they passed it. He used this experience to talk about the “connective tissue” that would bind them all together and sustain them throughout the school year. I love this idea because it demonstrates how fragile relationships are during their early stages and how easily they can be torn apart. I plan to use this object lesson to teach my students the importance of civility in their relationships, that civil behavior is required in my classroom.
It is very important that I teach my students the kind of behavior I expect from them. In addition to encouraging civil behavior, I also plan to inspire self-governing behavior. I mentioned earlier that I will communicate my expectations by establishing a behavior plan. My students will help me create this plan, and by instituting this system, I will train them to govern themselves. They will know what I expect, and they will clearly understand the consequences for their behavior. Because they helped create the system, they will be more motivated to follow it and will more carefully monitor their own behavior.
I also will train my students to trust themselves. Many teachers micromanage their students’ behavior and try to solve every problem. This communicates to students that their teacher does not trust them. Students are conditioned to rely on the teacher for solutions rather than creating their own. I plan to provide opportunities for my students to participate in self-governing behavior by encouraging them to solve their own problems. If there is a problem, I will ask students how they can solve it. I will provide suggestions if they are needed, but I want my students to trust themselves and to learn that they can solve their own problems and govern their behavior. As they learn to trust themselves, students will also learn to govern their own behavior.
These are all very important aspects of classroom democracy. Without any one of these the mechanics of the classroom will suffer. I am thrilled about the opportunity to establish an effective democratic classroom of my own and observe how it positively impacts the learning experiences of my students. I am confident that as I adhere to the principles I have discussed, both my students and I will enjoy the experiences and success we desire.