by Jane Nelsen
I feel passionately about the value of class meetings in schools and family meetings in homes to teach children many valuable social and life skills for good character. They learn to listen to each other and to value differences. They learn to help each other by focusing on solutions to problems that are respectful to all concerned. They learn that they can be accountable for their mistakes because they won’t experience blame or shame. Instead they will get help from their fellow students during the brainstorming process for solutions. They can then choose the solutions they think will be most helpful.
However, class meetings aren't about perfection. They don't provide magic pills that solve all problems immediately. Learning the skills for effective class meetings takes time just as reading, writing, and arithmetic take time—and when practiced skills improve and deepen.
The following Q and A provides an example of the joys and frustrations that can be experienced when first implementing class meetings.
Class Meetings Working Except for One Child
We implemented the class meeting format in November and the kids love it. They are coming up with real strategies that are helping one another. I have a lot of confidence and am happy with the results with most of the children except for one. A young girl age 6, grade 2, youngest child. She has difficultly dealing with other children and often displays a goal of Misguided Power or Revenge. She is often violent with the other children. I have started sharing special time with her, and giving her purposeful jobs that allow her to play a positive helper role with the other kids.
I myself however am still confused. You talk about firmness. When she acts out violently I let her know that the behavior is unacceptable and ask if she needs some time to cool off. She is often able to apologize after and can see that her behavior was inappropriate. I feel that the violence is not getting better. The kids are all asking why she is not being held accountable for her actions. We discuss it at class meetings and the other kids identify her behavior as attention seeking and often offer to work with her or ask for her help but it doesn’t seem to be working. I am lost in my follow through here. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much
In my experience, there is always one child in every classroom who decides to be the challenging student. If that child should happen to move, it seems that another child is happy to take that role.
I remember sitting in one classroom where "Phillip" was discussed in 3 of the 4 items on the agenda. I asked Phillip if he felt the kids were helping him or ganging up on him. He grinned and said they were helping him. Later I asked the teacher if he saw any improvement in Phillip. He admitted, "Not much, but a huge improvement in the other children." They used to see Phillip ask the scapegoat and blame him for everything. Now they really try to help him. Phillip gives them lots of opportunities to practice their skills.
Keep doing the wonderful things you are doing and focus on improvement instead of expecting perfection.
I would love to hear some examples of other problems that children have solved.