Sunday, September 12, 2010

Towards a More Democratic Classroom

School has started and I have been getting to know my students. We have been teaching 2 weeks and I have done a few things that have let my students know that it is “our class” and not “my class.” They have responded well to their new freedoms. I want to share a few of the things I have tried so far. My objective is, indeed, to make the classroom experience more of a democratic one, as opposed to the usual “teacher dictates the rules.”

I began the school year by asking the students to vote on a few rules for the class: Is wearing hates allowed? Is food allowed? What about Ipods? Chewing gum? The students voted on each proposal and, to no one’s surprise, they approved each. I told them, however, with more freedom come a few responsibilities. For example, put all trash in the garbage can, only listen to your Ipod when doing an individual activity, etc.

On Friday, I told them something that would give them the feeling that, indeed, it was our class and not just mine: I told them they could rearrange the classroom as they saw fit. After I said this, a few of the boys rearranged their tables to form an L shape. (I only have tables in my class.) The others were happy the way they were situated but have the right to change when they see fit.

Those are just a few things I have tried thus far. My goal towards a democratic classroom continues. Indeed, my goal towards a better learning environment also continues.


  1. Some good points - providing them an ownership role will definitely help in the classroom environment.
    Teaching middle school I don't have the luxury of allowing gum, hats, or ipods since they it is mandated school policy that these are not in the classroom.
    I do, however, allow them to eat in class, provided they clean up and give them ownership over their seating plan, allowing them to sit where they want but with me reserving the right to move them if problems arise. I do like the idea of them being able to move the tables around though.

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  3. Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. I agree with you regarding when problems arise action has to be taken. We can't have some students interfering with the learning of others. I think it is common that Middle Schools do not allow such things. At least it is like that in the Middle Schools that I am familiar with. I would like to know if there are any Middle schools that allow such things and how the students react.

  4. I look forward to hearing the impact. Will they try and take advantage? Or will they be more responsible because they are part of the decision making process? Keep us informed!

  5. Hi Brian,

    What a great blog post. What I think is most interesting about this journey is that you are truly undertaking it with your students and giving them a voice. When there are roadblocks, they will see the pros and cons of their decisions. It would be interesting to have them do a PMI (plus, minus, interesting) re: these topics after they have lived with their choices for a while.

    What I like the most about your whole approach is that it is so respectful of your students. They are not victims of an experiment but co-participants in building their community.

    I look forward to hearing how it goes!!! Ingrid (@mmeveilleux)

  6. Hi Ingrid,
    Thanks for your kind words. As the year goes on I will be adding more things to make my class more of a democratic community. Indeed, I will follow up.

  7. Hi Brian,

    I loved your initiative. IMHO students become more responsible when they feel part of it, when they are made part of the decision process. My students usually respond pretty well to being respected by their opinions regarding the classroom and the classes. The very few exceptions usually regret being exceptions, and are questioned about their actions by their own peers. Good luck - I think you'll have a great semester, and a class full of students who will enjoy your classes :-) Keep us posted!

  8. Hi Brian,
    This is a great idea. I have to admit it gets me upset when people assume that if you are kind/respectful to students they are going to "take advantage"as one of your commentors said. Why do we assume the worst? Oh, I think you just spurred another Blog! lol

  9. Hi Brian,
    I have enjoyed reading your blog, and agree with you wholeheartedly about the democratic classroom. We have two types of curriculum: the explicit (ie/ you are learning about a democratic society in Social Studies), and the implicit curriculum (ie/ you are learning about democracy by participating in a democratic classroom). Which lesson is more powerful? I think we can surmise...

    Thank you for sharing your experiences in your blog; it's heartening to hear practices and beliefs that align with teaching respectful citizenship.

  10. Hi T,

    Thanks for your comment and kind words. It is always nice to find teachers that are of like mind regarding the education and human relationships.