When you think of the decision maker in the classroom, who do you think of? The teacher of course! The teacher should decide things such as what activities the students will do, when they will do them, who they will work with, what consequences will be put in place when there is a discipline issue, what the rules in the classroom will be, and everything else, right? Yet, when students walk out into that great big society one day and are expected to be productive democratic citizens, are they supposed to just “sit and get” everything with no expression of their own thoughts and opinions, as in many classrooms?
Of course not. That is one of the pieces of our democratic society… the citizens are encouraged to express how they feel about issues and act on them through processes such as voting, attending council meetings, contacting government representatives, etc. So, why are schools not encouraging students to use their voice and contribute more to their education?
When we include students’ ideas in classroom practices, we are not only showing that we value and respect our students, but we are also setting up an environment where students will take more ownership of the decisions that are made. For example, our class had a community meeting to decide what we needed to do when students didn’t complete their nightly reading homework. During this discussion, the students came up with consequences that we should put in place to deal with this concern. So, whenever students didn’t do their homework, rarely would they complain about the consequence, as they had discussed and agreed to the consequences when they were established by our community!
We have had students help us make decisions about discipline, our daily schedule, instructional activities, fundraisers, recess protocols and expectations, as well as many other practices in our classroom. The power of students’ ideas is truly amazing when we give them the opportunity to be a true contributing member in our classrooms. Many, many times the students come up with fantastic ideas that we never even considered!
Valuing and respecting students’ opinions and ideas is an invaluable teaching strategy to integrate into the classroom, as it not only increases students’ ownership of classroom practices, but it increases engagement, makes students feel valued, empowers students to verbalize their ideas/beliefs, and teaches them how to respectfully listen to others ideas, even if they disagree with those ideas.