It’s a typical afternoon in my classroom. We’ve just finished our last recess and students are coming in excitedly. As part of our routine, students begin to seat themselves around the outside of the rug, during this time they are chatty and high energy–a normal first grade class. We all get seated and the breathing leader tells students that today we will do 10 deep breathes. He rings the bell and then slowly begins to lead students in 10 deep breathes. At the end of the breathing, all students are quiet and have placed their hands palms up on their knees, ready to begin our compliment circle. As a stuffed puffin (our class talking stick) begins to make it’s way around the class, students compliment each other for a variety of things that happened throughout the day. One student thanks a classmate for walking her to the office when she skinned her knee. Another student thanks a friend for including everyone in soccer and playing fairly at recess. After receiving a compliment, students fold their hands together as a silent signal they no longer need a compliment. Our compliment circle finishes in about five minutes and then we move onto our class meeting agenda for the day. We have one problem to solve as a class today–lately our transitions have been noisy and taking a lot longer than normal. We bring the transition problem to the class and brainstorm possible solutions. During our brainstorm time, students bring up various solutions and raise concerns that may accompany the solution. As a class students vote and hone in on the idea of timing our transitions on one of the iPads. One student raises the concern that students might get too wild in the rush to beat the timer so we also develop a guideline of “When we transition, we will transition quickly, quietly and safely”. The solution is put into place that afternoon during pack up. We will continue to try this solution for a week or so before revisiting at a class meeting to see how it is working.
When I came to Queen Anne Elementary, I had never had formal Positive Disciple in the Classroom training and was only vaguely familiar with it. My first year at Queen Anne, I was able to take a training very early in the school year. At first, I struggled with implementation in my classroom. I have never been a teacher who yelled or was punitive to students but turning classroom problems over to students to solve was challenging. I was used to fixing class problems quickly and making the rules for the class. I was a kind dictator in my own classroom. Giving students ownership in daily classroom decisions means that I am not the only one making the class rules. It also means that sometimes a student driven solution is complicated and does not solve the problem. In this case, we revisit the proposed solution and adapt as needed. What I observed and began to realize about the power of class meetings was that each of my students realized they had a voice in the decision making process, and not only could they come up with solutions but they could help solve problems for the class as a whole.
Our class meetings follow the same format every time. Using the same format means students know what to expect and this leads to an efficiency in our class meetings. We begin with deep breathing to calm down and get ready to focus. Our class meetings take place at the end of the day after the last recess, not a time first graders are normally very focused. We do deep breathing to regain focus and this sets the calm tone for our meeting. We then open with a compliment circle. We focus on giving “inside” compliments vs. “outside” compliments. Inside compliments are compliments that are focused on actions, behavior and character traits. After our compliment circle, we move onto class problems that need to be solved. Sometimes there aren’t any problems, in that case we close with a fun game or high five and move on with our afternoon. If there is a problem, we brainstorm possible solutions and then vote on these solutions. Most of the time I am merely the scribe during this time, however, if a student comes up with a solution that is punitive or not practical, I step in and say “As a member of the classroom, I can’t live with that solution” and we strike the possible solution. This does not happen regularly. After students are done brainstorming, they vote. As a wrap up to the class meeting with end with a fun game or high five. We do class meetings 3-5 times weekly and they usually last 10-15 minutes. By implementing class meetings, my classroom now runs more smoothly, there are less behavior problems and all students feel like important members of the classroom community.