1-2 – Family Meeting
Family meetings are just one part of empowering children to solve their own problems. Having a comfortable class atmosphere, using the students as peacemakers and mediators are also a part of the process.
Family meetings are most effective when held on a regular basis. With first and second graders, having a family meeting once every two weeks (or once a week, if needed) is most effective. Even if there are no issues meetings are held. Announcements are made and golden shining moments are shared. This gives the kids a chance to talk and practice sitting in a circle.
During the week, we hang an agenda sheet on our bulletin board. Here the kids or the teacher can write any agenda items they want to have discussed or solved at the meeting. The items should involve the whole group. Any problems between individuals should be solved with those people outside of the meeting with or without a mediator. Only when individuals can’t solve their problems independently or with the help of peers or teachers do they bring these issues to the larger group.
Family meeting are limited to an hour or less for children of this age. All kids and teachers sit in a circle, either all on the floor or all on chairs. The chair for these meetings is the teacher. Once kids are older, they can learn to act as meeting leaders. The meetings are opened with announcements. After announcements, the agenda is prioritized. This can be done by voting or by determining which are more immediate issues.
There are no more than three agenda items per meeting. Discussion of the items proceed in this manner:
- The person who wrote the item on the agenda clearly states what the problem is.
- Open the floor for discussion. Limit comments to one per person if it looks like time will run out.
- Call for solutions to the problem. Take all solutions and write them on a blackboard or large piece of paper so everyone can see. Limit the students to solutions without comments at this point.
- Discuss the merits of each solution. This is the time to amend, combine or delete certain solutions, because they can’t work in this setting.
- Rewrite solutions that the group will vote on. Reread solutions and call for a vote. Each child and teacher will get one vote.
- Following the vote, write down the new policy in a book for this purpose or hang up a poster with new policies in the classroom.
- Golden Shining Moments – After all agenda items have been taken care of, close the meeting with golden shining moments. These are comments that each child makes about something positive that happened to them at school since the last meeting. It can be about anything – an interaction with another student or teacher, a class that they really enjoy, a special activity that was fun, etc. These GSM’s are expected from each child. This closes the meeting on an upbeat note.
When Introducing Family Meetings to a Primary Classroom
- Meetings should be limited to a half hour. Twenty minutes is probably more realistic for early meetings. Therefore, limit the agenda to one item. Keep announcements and GSM’s.
- Don’t worry if the kids vote on a solution that you don’t think will work. It may not. This is OK. Just give it a week trial and then bring it back to Family Meeting. Discuss the problems with that particular solution. Let the group come up with a more reasonable solution.
- Give Family Meeting a chance. Try it for a semester. If your kids have never sat in a circle for long periods of time or have never tried to solve problems, it will take some time to learn these skills. Once they can do this, the amount of time and frustration dealing with problems in the classroom will diminish. Family meetings do pay off!
- The teacher has the final say about what items can be voted on by the children. Don’t be afraid to trust them, though. Children are very reasonable when given the chance to solve real problems that directly affect them.