Creating a safe and inviting classroom community is critical to building trust and rapport with students. Classroom culture affects many aspects of a student’s educational experience, and administrators look for traces of it when they evaluate. But, how can teachers create a positive atmosphere? Classroom meetings may be the answer.
One of my friends who was a long-time junior high ELA teacher now turned administrator is gifted at developing relationships with students. His classroom meeting model is tangible and effective, and because it works, I asked him if I could share the information in a post. Thankfully, my friend, Ben, was more than willing to share what works in his room. I asked him several important questions, and his answers are insightful. Keep reading for tangible and practical ways to build classroom community at the secondary level – in any subject.
What is a classroom meeting?
Classroom meetings occur for 15 to 20 minutes once a week. They allow students to sign up for classroom jobs, provide a safe place to discuss relevant issues, allow time to resolve any class conflicts from the week, offer the chance to answer student-generated questions, and provide an opportunity to highlight one student in a special way.
What is the value of classroom meetings?
The value is in the routine of showing genuine care for students. It slowly develops classroom trust and community. Additionally, it gives students opportunities to mature. Through illustrations of conflict resolution, chances to deal with topics close to them, and opportunities to practice listening with both eyes and ears as well as taking turns, students have the routine to grow social and emotional empathy.
Walk us through a typical classroom meeting in your room.
Starting a meeting…
We usually meet on Fridays following a brief independent reading session or independent work time. Meetings start when a student who is assigned the job of time manager rings a bell for the class to circle up. I sit with students on the floor with a clipboard-box. The box contains a baton and questions written on Post-its. I pull these questions from my classroom question box in the morning. (Students can write questions that are on their mind on a Post-it at any time throughout the week and place it in the box.)
When everyone is ready, I review expectations about listening with your body. We talk about taking turns and the gifts of attention and time. I also thank them for being my students. I articulate my thankfulness for filling a role as a student and specifically draw attention to some of the work they have done during that week.
Choosing a discussion topic…
We center on a topic that I designate and pass the baton around the circle. The topic might be something they’re thankful for or something that they’re most looking forward to during break. It could also be used to address something in the news. In this case, we might center on their thoughts regarding a recent tragedy or their plans for the Super Bowl.
Later in the year, students assume the roll of selecting a topic. One of the jobs (more on that later) is that of meeting manager. The student who volunteers to be the meeting manager has the chance to facilitate all of these responsibilities. It’s an opportunity that I introduce in the second quarter.
Facilitating the discussion…
While the baton goes one direction, the clipboard goes the opposite. As the students with the baton respond to the topic for the day, the students with the clipboard sign up for class jobs for the following week.
Class jobs can be whatever big or small tasks you may have a need for. Some examples on my board included time manager, class reader, photographer, people greater, sanitation expert, all-purpose aid, and technology manager. I delegate a few other jobs to decrease my micromanaging of class procedures. Feel free to email me if you’d like to know more about these jobs and their significance.
When the baton makes its way back to me, we turn to conflict resolution. In this, I pose a conflict that I have with class behavior and how it makes me feel. I then ask the students how to best resolve it. After I take 2 or 3 suggestions, we vote on one. I try not to spend too much time here. Some weeks, we skip this part entirely, and I fill it with a compliment on how well everyone has been doing in class. If there’s a student to student conflict, I eventually later in the year grow into leading a conflict management discussion for them.
Wrapping up with questions and highlights…
I then move on to questions from a question box I keep in my room. Students look forward to this time during which I answer any questions they generate during the week. They’re often anonymous, sometimes very personal and sad, so I advise you to sift through these before you engage in the meeting. Pick only the ones that you’re prepared for and put the other ones into next week’s meeting. Give yourself some time to process the heavier questions.
To close, one student each week has the opportunity to be highlighted. Student highlight is a role listed on the clipboard. This student is asked get-to-know-you kinds of questions. After the discussion, we celebrate the student, and I thank him or her for being part of our class community.
Why should classroom meetings be a priority?
Some teachers might hesitate to spend fifteen minutes of class time each week on a classroom meeting. They are a technique teachers might begin with honest intentions of keeping for the entire year but eventually decrease their frequency due to time crunches. How would you respond to those concerns about classroom meetings in light of the pressure to meet the pressures of curriculum, learning standards, and test scores?
I’ve had students for the past eight years tell me that it was their favorite part of LA. Some, when recognized for honorary student awards, have shared their classroom meeting stories with parents, churches, and professional groups like Rotary. They always express how special it is to be a part of the community that classroom meetings create. I’ve never had a complaint about handing some of the classroom responsibilities over to the students at the cost of fifteen minutes per week. Speaking in terms of investments, the return on investment is exceptional.
Simply compare the pros and cons of the practice.
Pros: Classroom meetings…
- promote soft-personal skills.
- demonstrate job/working skills.
- encourage self-esteem.
- introduce students to healthy conflict management techniques.
- provide counsel on stress, conflict, and relationships.
- give students the feeling of community, control, empowerment, and responsibility.
- create a learning group.
Cons: Classroom meetings…
- take 15 minutes out of the week.
- encourage teachers to give up some control of the class.
And there you have it. Classroom meetings are a powerful research-based practice. They involve students in constructive decision making, build a climate of trust and respect, and foster self-esteem, among many other benefits. My goal with this post is to share one of the most successful classroom meeting models I’ve witnessed, in the hopes that it will help other teachers to create their own positive, empowering mini community. You might not be able to implement classroom meetings exactly like Ben, but take what works, and tweak the rest.
Ben VandenBerg taught 7th-grade language arts for 15 years. He has certifications to instruct in the Adlerian psychology of Positive Discipline for the classroom and Positive Discipline for parents. His Project Discovery was featured in the InterBusiness Issues in 2014 for creative approaches to integrating student passion and professional careers into classroom curriculum. He’s a property manager and small business owner managing over 30 employees and uses the classroom meeting in his employee meetings as well. He works with local park districts to build writing programs for children to guid kids towards the fun and magic of poetry. He is now Assistant Head of School at Peoria Academy in Peoria, Illinois. You can contact Ben at [email protected]