This semester my son has a new class teacher Mr.S, who comes from Switzerland. During the first parents meeting, we were introduced his background and as well as the study plan of semester. However, what caught my eyes most , was a “Contract” hanging on the wall back of classroom. Mr.S told me that this “contract” was discussed by the students within class, they all agreed to follow and therefore signed on it. I am very used to the class rules, as it’s part of our life ( rules everywhere….), but usually rules are set up by “authority” ( in this case, teachers or school administrations ) and “students” to obey. It’s my first time to know that “students” can make the rules themselves! So i asked Mr.S, how come he got such idea? The young teacher gave me a bashful smile and said : “well..i think as they made the rules and signed on it, which means they’ll be responsible for it! I prefer pupils are also the active side instead of alway being the passive side in my classroom. “
At the moment, I felt that we’re so lucky to have such an interesting teacher! being creative in elementary school, not in a traditional way. Rome wasn’t built up in one day, and “being responsible” is also not just come up from no where. Through this “Contract”, I saw not only the responsibility, but also the “Democratic Concept” in german education.
“Klassenrat” ( Class Council ) is a weekly activity in many german elementary school. In our school is 30-40mins every Friday . The main body is the kids, they decide who will be the Moderator ( who leads the meeting process ) and Protokollant ( who keeps the minutes ) Sometimes there’re also Regelwächter ( who keeps the order ) and Zeitwächter ( who controls the time )
During the Klassenrat, everyone sits in a circle. I think this circle form means something. As everyone can see each other, and whoever is speaking can get more attention, it takes the speaker feel more respected. Such circle form gives more harmony and safe feeling. Pupils will discuss about what happened during the week or express their opinion to others about class, teachers or school. As school life is a group life, it’s normal to have some issues toward each other. So that’s the function of this Klassenrat – to solve the problems!
Pupils can take the Notes and write down whatever they are concerned, then put the Note into a mailbox. There’re various form of the Notes, but mostly start with “I” sentence :
- I’m bothered, (because…) …
- I like / I don’t like…..(because)
- I wish………
Every Friday the Moderator will open the mailbox, everyone reads her/his own Notes. Sometimes a Notebook is used instead of Mailbox, that depends on each class. I asked Mr.H, Head of our Primary school, what are the most concerned issues? He laughed and said, most of the cases are boys having problems on football playings then girls come up with solutions for them! 😉 Regardless of the problems’ type, all issues are recorded into Minutes. Mr.H pointed out that, every sentence should be started by “I” , instead of accusing what “YOU” did, it’s very important that pupils learn how to express “MY” feeling for the opponent to understand. With this approach, kids learn:
- how to express their own feelings, speak out their problems and seek for help
- Empathy, feel what others feel
- rational discussion, seek for solutions.
- practice of Democracy, learn the process of a meeting.
In order to write this article more accurate, I’ve interview some teachers, and thanks for the help, our 2nd Class teacher – Ms.R invited me to join one time Klassenrat, for a better observation. During the activity, I’ve noticed one thing – everyone talks so quietly even when arguing! I can’t help to ask Ms. R, is it intentionally created such “low volume” environment? Ms.R said, yes. pupils need to learn to express their feeling in a calm way, even when it’s negative. It’s unneccessary to shout out loud to express one’s disagreement or anger, which could lead to a worse situation. Instead, when pupils are used to speak in a calm but firm way to express themselves, then the process will be more smooth. Which reminds me about my parents council meeting with german parents, most of them are speaking in such low volume way ( of coz…could be some exceptions though…XD ) Compare to Taiwan, it seems that german people are more sensitive to sounds. I kind of like it! ( btw…the environmental noise in Taiwan is simply terrible….==” )
At the beginning of our Klassenrat, every pupils puts a small dot onto a a certain column on the plate, according to their current emotional status. Ms. R told me that it’s very important for kids to learn about all kind of emotions, not just happy, angry or sad. There’re also excited, exhausted, tiresome, moody, thrill….and so on, accurate description is important for them to know. And there’re 5 blue stones on the right top side of my picture above. I wonder what was that for? Ms. R smiled and said: “oh, that’s my talk-permission stone! as Klassenrat is a pupil’s-oriented activity, as a teacher, we should do the least intervention. So during whole process, I’m only allowed to talk for 5 times, and each time when I use my right, I have to give out a stone.” Doesn’t it sound familiar? it’s the same idea of my son’s “class rules”! when the “authority” release the power, sometimes it leads to a better and surprising result!!
Exactly I witnessed the “football issue” from boys this time! When it doesn’t work out easily in a circle, teacher asks both parties to discuss outside of the classroom. They came in when comes up a solution!
When a solution is found, the party who wrote the complain will tear the Note down and throw it into a bucket, which symbolizes the problem is solved.
Despite of “problems”, there’re also Thank you Note & Compliment Note.
- I appreciate____________, because_________________
- I say thank you to ________________, because _________________
When Marcus was in 1st grade, he often received Thank you Notes from others, written: “Dear Marcus, thank you for playing football with me, you’re my good friend!” I believe every kid would be so happy when receives such sweet Note! However, sometimes children’s world is cruel…They’re honest and not too much “socialized”, so if there’s a single kid who “isn’t much popular among others” ( yes, we were all in school, we know that kind of things exists…) will he/she never gets such a sweet Note? I asked when interviewing with head of Primary school. Mr. H smiled and said, “with my years of teaching experiences, indeed I saw some kids not fitting well into the group, but every single person has his/her bright sight no matter what! And kids are capable to see this!” Honestly I didn’t expect to hear such answer, all of sudden I feel so warm and hopeful. Truly every has his/her own strength and weakness. And the positive Notes is for kids to discover other’s advantage, gives out an olive branch and create a positive circulation.
At the end of Klassenrat, there was a pink Note been tore down into pieces, some kids got a small part of it. Honestly I didn’t understand what was that only after the Klassenrat, I asked Ms.R. So she again smiled with a bit shy , and said, that was my Thank you Note for whole class. Usually I don’t participate as a teacher, but last week they did something really nice, so I want to take the chance to show them my appreciation! And anyone who would like to keep my Note can have a small piece of it” Wow….I think whole my life i never got any Thanks from teachers…I”m touched!
Back to my interview with Mr.H. He talked about his most impressed experience in his Klassenrat, was in a 4th Class. Pupils in his class felt wrongly treated by teacher from next door class, and refused to accept the mis-judgement. So whole class discussed about this during Klassenrat and decided that they should talk to that teacher to clarify. Two pupils were elected to represent their voice. And Mr.H accompanied his pupils. After a rational talk, the teacher accepted kids’ opinion and apologized to the class. I must say, in this case, each party was brave and made a good sample for democracy! Many people argue emotionally, loosing focus on the matter itself but how to ” win over” the opponent. At the end, nothing is solved but relationship is broken. So what’s the point?
Such “practice in Democracy” continues, with aged pupils can discuss further and deeper questions. From in-class problems to whole grade or even school scale. Our 3rd class teacher Mr.S talked about a case in Swiss. Some pupils complain about having too much homework, so they discussed and surprisingly, these kids came up with a conclusion that less homework not exactly means a better solution. They started to think, how to reduce homework but learning as much as possible, which means, they’re looking for a more sufficient way of learning! Further more, in Germany, there’re some Klassenrat representatives meet with city major and give suggestion to city developments!
In conclusion, what are the core value of Klassenrat (Class Council)?
- Better group life
School life contains a huge part of children’s life. It’d be very annoying if kids can’t fit in group well. By encouraging kids to speak out their opinion, problems or feeling, everyone can learn to listen and understand each other, and be empathic . Creating a positive learning environment.
- Social Competency
Communication should be mutual. Kids learn how to speak out and also how to listen and respect other’s opinion. To consider solid arguments with fair. This is very important in german educational principle. In the elementary school yearly report, the first evaluated item was Social competency, which includes: can she/he consider for others? can take the responsibility in a group? can obey the general rules? can deal argues fairly?
- Democracy Practice
Practicing citizen rights from young age. In the Klassenrat, children should discuss their own problems and figure out the issues by themselves. They learn how to take the majority’s decision but respect minors as well. It’s not an easy thing to do. Especially nowadays not even adults can do it right… It’s so important to practice democracy and take part in as a citizen from youth!
At the end of Industrial evolution, French pedagogue & educational reformer Célestin Freinet claimed that education should be children-oriented. He developed an edu-system, which includes this Class Council ( der Klassenrat ), that school should prepare the future citizens through the democracy in school; children should obtain the education with respect; for pupils to respect teachers, they should be respected at the first place. And this is the main condition and principle for modern educational reform.
After my interview with 3 teachers and also observed the Klassenrat myself, I’m certain that the way and actual practice of Klassenrat is according to the original design. When I look back to my own school experience, it wasn’t the same. It was much more formal. During our “taiwanese klassenrat” , we were informed things like: There’ll be an inspection of sanitary, please clean up all your desks before leaving; Please bring the scissors for art class next week; and when it comes to high school, this klassenrat time is for preparing the exam, no wonder, i didn’t remember at the beginning that I also had “klassenrat” in my school….Maybe I’m a bit naive , but i do hope that such “fake klassenrat” not longer exists in Taiwan…or, at least, soon to be ended …
At the end, share my favorite photo, which hang next to the “Contract” on my son’s classroom. Everyone is a superman/superwoman!