Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Sharing Power in the Classroom

Starting a classroom meeting means making space for student voices in a way that we cannot always control and that may lead us in some surprising directions. Some years ago, I offered a workshop on starting classroom meetings with a group of teachers who were largely reluctant. What turned the tide for one teacher was a lesson on adjectives - or "describing words" - with her second graders.

She had a posterboard with several different categories of describing words - colors, size, shape, character traits, and so on - and she asked her students to generate a frenzy of examples in each category. When they got to character traits, the ideas came easily: happy, sad, angry, tired, bored, surprised, excited, and on and on. It was an intoxicating kind of momentum that can generate lots of free associations and new ideas. So when one student offered "bossy," another was quick to chime in, "That's you, Ms. P!"

Children are more honest than adults give them credit for, often brutally so, and for the teacher this turned out to be a bit of a wake-up call. She smiled and dutifully added "bossy" to the poster and finished the lesson, but her student's assessment lingered. Later that day, we spoke about it. She explained that she wanted her students to see her as someone they could trust, someone who did not wield control so unilaterally. She wanted to learn how to share some of her power and let her students make some of the day-to-day decisions. We agree to start a weekly classroom meeting the following week and see how it goes.

Many wonderful references exist for starting classroom meetings. Start with this article about morning meetings by Roxann Kriete.

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