First things first
In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, I spent hours every day brainstorming on my own and with friends and colleagues trying to come up with the right way to fully implement democracy in the public school classroom. According to friends who teach at democratic schools, running a democratic classroom is hard on its own accord. So considering that I am attempting to do this for the first time in my life, with students who have no experience with it, on a school campus where nothing like this exists, I have my have my hands full. A breakthrough in the planning came when I more clearly defined what some of the keys to a good democracy were.
Above all, it seems to me that the idea that every member of the class has a voice that carries weight among peers is paramount. This has two implications. Firstly, it means that everyone in the class needs to be able to have the courage to speak and share their thoughts and opinions. Secondly, it means that the class must value the thoughts and opinions of each of their classmates. The prevailing understanding is that each person has the best opportunity to reach their potential only when the class environment is at its best, and furthermore that the class environment can only reach its potential for greatness when each member is contributing at their fullest. It is with this mindset that I determined that establishing the classroom community would be task number one.
I have seen each of my classes four times so far this year. That time has been spent doing a variety of activities and exercises designed to break down some of the natural social walls that exist between most high schoolers (and most people in general it seems). Author of The Social Animal, David Brooks said in an NPR interview earlier this year that “The reality of education is that we learn from people we love.” So while I’m sure that this sort of thinking induces eye rolls and cynical remarks, the ultimate goal is to create a classroom where love is at the core of everything we do. A classroom community founded on love gives respect, encourages emotional and intellectual risk-taking, is more creative, maintains dignity, and feels amazing. In this environment, students are going to want to show up every day, want to give their all, and want to learn.
While we have not scratched the surface of content learning yet in the school year, I can tell you this: the classroom feels incredible. There has been more smiling and laughing than I ever remember happening in the first weeks of school. Students are sharing their stories and connecting with fellow community members on a level greater than I hoped. We are a work in progress, and each day will be an opportunity to grow in love and community, but I love where we have gotten in just four short classes, and I am excited to see where we go from here.