My son’s class has a new teacher from Switzerland.
During the first parent-teacher symposium after the start of third grade, aside from introducing the teacher and discussing key study points, what impressed me the most was a copy of a “work contract.”
This “job contract” is a set of class rules that the students in the class collectively discussed and agreed upon. Each student signs it as a way to express their agreement and take responsibility.
Traditionally, we are accustomed to having class rules set by the school or teachers for students to follow. However, it was the first time I had heard about rules being established by the students themselves. So, I asked the class guide, Mr. S, why he had such an idea. The young teacher shyly smiled and said, “Because these are the rules they created themselves. By signing the contract, they feel a sense of responsibility and are more likely to adhere to the rules. I also hope that the children don’t feel like passive participants but rather take an active role in making demands and expressing themselves in this classroom.”
Work Contract (Our Class Contract)
1.We speak german
2.We don’t shout
3.We don’t hit people
4.We don’t run in the classroom corridors
5.We don’t laugh at others
6.We listen carefully
7.We do not instruct others
8.We work hard (referring to study, homework)
I was amazed and pleasantly surprised when I saw this contract on the wall!
I never expected such a concept to exist in an elementary school classroom.
I’m thrilled that my son has such an interesting teacher.
However, building a sense of responsibility in children takes time.
Behind this “contract,” I can see that German education is not only accountable but also cultivates a democratic consciousness.
Many German elementary schools have a tradition of weekly classroom meetings called “Der Klassenrat” (The Class Council).
During these meetings, which last for about 30 to 40 minutes, children take the main role.
The chairperson/moderator (Moderator) and the meeting minutes recorder (Protokollant) are elected by the students on a rotating basis.
There are also positions like the order maintainer (Regelwächter) and the timekeeper (Zeitwächter) who ensure that all discussions and actions proceed in an orderly manner.
During class, everyone gathers in a circle for discussions. These circles hold their own significance. With this seating arrangement, everyone can see each other, and when a speaker addresses the group, they can capture everyone’s attention and feel valued. Such an arrangement helps create a harmonious and reassuring atmosphere.
The content of the meetings mainly revolves around what happened in class or among classmates during the week. It also includes expressing opinions about the class, teacher, or school. Since school is a collective experience, there are bound to be conflicts and disputes, which are raised and resolved during the class meetings held every Friday.
Teachers usually provide small notepads in the corner of the classroom. These notepads come in various formats but typically contain sentence starters beginning with “I.” For example:
I feel troubled, (because) __________________________
I like/dislike, (because) _____________________________
I hope, ___________________________________________
Children are encouraged to take notes at any time and write down whatever they want on them. They can then drop the notes into a small mailbox or record them in a book. During the opening of the class meeting every Friday, the meeting chairperson will open the mailbox, and either the chairperson or the child who wrote the note will read out the problems listed and everyone will discuss potential solutions. All issues, big or small, are included in the official meeting minutes.
The emphasis is on expressing feelings from an individual perspective using “I” statements, inviting understanding rather than blaming others. Through this process, children learn to express their feelings, ask questions, seek help, understand the needs of others, put themselves in others’ shoes, engage in rational discussions, and find solutions. They also gain practical experience in democratic consultation, meeting procedures, and meeting minutes.
During my observation of a class meeting with the help of several teachers in the school, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: everyone spoke in low voices. Whether it was the teacher or the students, the volume remained low even during arguments. When I asked the second-grade teacher, Ms. R, about this, she explained that it was intentional. Because different opinions can easily lead to friction, they want everyone to become accustomed to not shouting and instead communicate calmly and calmly. This reminded me of my experiences with Germans in parent-teacher meetings, where most Germans also speak in low voices. It seems that German culture values sensitivity to sound compared to Taiwan, where ambient noise can be quite loud.
At the beginning of the class meeting, each child picked up a beanie and placed it on a disc representing their current mood. This activity serves the purpose of teaching children about emotions. In addition to basic emotions, human emotions are multi-dimensional and complex, including more nuanced feelings such as excitement, embarrassment, and irritability. This provides an opportunity to help children understand a wider range of emotions. Additionally, the larger stone in the upper right corner represents the “voice” of the teacher. Since the students are the main participants in the class meeting, the teacher should minimize intervention and only speak when necessary. If intervention is required, the teacher will take out a small stone for each statement, with a total of five opportunities to speak. This aligns with the class rules in my son’s class, where the teacher also “hands over the power,” and the classroom also incorporates emotional cards.
Overall, this approach to class meetings and the emphasis on individual responsibility, democratic consultation, and emotional awareness contribute to a positive and inclusive classroom environment.
During the class meeting, I had the opportunity to witness the “boys’ football problem” mentioned by Mr. H. It turned out that most of the boys’ issues were related to football. When two parties had a dispute, Ms. R would ask them to communicate outside the classroom and find a solution together before returning.
There was a symbolic ritual called “Flip it up” that was practiced during these meetings. When a problem was resolved, the person who wrote the note would tear it up and throw it into the trash, symbolizing that the negative issue had been resolved and no longer existed. For example, a note might read: “I am very troubled because xx student often doesn’t clean up their things. I feel very angry. I hope they can tidy up.” After a discussion with the whole class, a solution was found during the class meeting (Klassenrat), addressing the issue at hand.
This approach not only allows students to express their concerns but also encourages them to actively participate in finding solutions. It promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility for maintaining a harmonious and respectful classroom environment. By involving the entire class in discussions, conflicts are addressed collectively, fostering a sense of unity and cooperation among the students.
In addition to addressing issues that need to be resolved, the class meeting also provides an opportunity for expressing gratitude or giving praise.
Big thanks to ____________, because _________________
I would like to commend ________________ because _________________
When I was in first grade, my son often received love notes from his classmates.
The notes would say things like, “Dear Marcus, thank you for playing football with me often.
You are my good friend!” Receiving such warm notes would undoubtedly bring much joy to any child.
However, the world of children can sometimes be cruel because
they are honest and don’t hide their feelings. Unfortunately, there may be some children who have a hard time accepting or integrating into the group.
During my interview, I asked the primary school director if this was the case and if there were children who never received a positive note.
With a smile, the director shared their experience of teaching and acknowledged that there are indeed some children who struggle to fit in. However, the director emphasized that even the most unpopular individuals have their own strengths, and the other children in the class are able to recognize and appreciate those strengths.
Hearing this response filled me with warmth.
It’s true that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and the practice of exchanging positive notes encourages children to discover and appreciate the strengths of others, fostering kindness and creating a positive cycle.
The flipping exercise, where problems are torn out or solved, can lead to even more unexpected and positive results.
This class observation also revealed a heartwarming aspect. Towards the end of the activity, I noticed a note being torn into many small pieces. Each student took a small part, and some even put it directly into their pencil cases. Intrigued, I approached the teacher afterwards and asked what it was all about. I had seen notes being thrown into the trash before, so I understood that it meant the issue was resolved. But why was this particular note being kept?
With a smile, the teacher explained that it was her thank you note. Usually, teachers don’t directly participate in the note-sharing process, but the previous week, the children did something that deeply touched her. As a result, she wanted to take this opportunity to express her gratitude to them. Multiple children expressed their desire to keep the thank you note, so they decided to tear it into several pieces for everyone to share.
I was taken aback. I had never heard of teachers expressing gratitude to students in such a way before, even from my own childhood experiences. This gesture deeply moved me, and my mother was equally touched by it. It exemplified the caring and nurturing environment created by the teacher, where gratitude and appreciation were valued and openly expressed. It reminded us of the profound impact teachers can have on their students’ lives and the importance of recognizing and acknowledging their efforts.
The core of the class meeting (Der Klassenrat):
Facilitating Group Life
Children spend a significant amount of time in school each day, and the ability to integrate into the school community is essential. Class meetings provide a platform for active and encouraged participation, where individuals can raise their problems for collective consultation and discuss group activities. This promotes harmony, solidarity, and creates a positive learning atmosphere within the group.
Development of Social Skills
During class meetings, children have the opportunity to practice expressing their feelings, listening to others, and developing communication skills. They learn to courageously voice their opinions while also accepting the ideas of others. Through discussions and deliberations, they learn to evaluate arguments, engage in fair debates, and work together to reach equitable solutions. This focus on social competency is highly valued in German education, as evidenced by its inclusion as the first key competency on the transcripts of grades one and two. Social competency encompasses considerations for others in the group, taking responsibility, adhering to group rules, and resolving conflicts fairly.
Fostering a Sense of Democracy
Class meetings provide a platform for practicing civic behavior from an early age. Children discuss their own problems and find ways to solve them, considering the opinions of the majority while respecting the views of the minority. This is no easy task, even for adults. Learning to prioritize the essence of issues over emotions, accepting diverse ideas, and embracing the spirit of democracy are essential skills that children learn from an early age. These skills help them become informed and engaged citizens.
Historical Perspective and Educational Innovation
Célestin Freinet, a French education reformer, shifted the focus of education to children after the industrial revolution. He developed educational methods based on a people-oriented approach, which included the class council system (Class Council / Der Klassenrat). The core idea behind this system is to prepare future citizens through democratic practices within schools. Educating children with dignity and respect is a prerequisite for fostering their respect towards teachers and is a fundamental condition for modern educational innovation.
Based on my interviews with the three teachers, along with real feedback from the children and observations of actual class dynamics, I have concluded that the implementation and outcomes of this class align with the ideal design. In my own learning environment, class meetings have been a part of the education system since elementary school. However, they often feel more standardized, with reports from squad leaders to individual section leaders. The content revolves around “work-flow accounts,” such as reminders for hygiene or art supplies. The discussion of motions is often limited to a show of hands for voting, without emphasizing the process of meaningful deliberation. In senior high school, particularly close to exams, weekly class meeting time is used for review or exams, completely losing the essence of a class meeting itself. As a result, my personal impression of class meetings is not deeply ingrained, often associated with writing exam papers. However, I sincerely hope that class meetings can transcend this limited perception and focus on the genuine needs of children, aiming to cultivate independent thinking, communication, and coordination skills. Such a “true class meeting” can mark the end of an era and pave the way for building a city of students empowered with critical skills.
That’s wonderful! Encouraging children to embrace their individuality and creativity is a great way to foster their self-confidence and imagination. By allowing them to draw their own superhero costumes and imagine unique superpowers, you’re providing them with a platform to express themselves and celebrate their own uniqueness. Displaying this photo in your son’s classroom can serve as a constant reminder that every child has their own strengths and abilities, just like superheroes. It’s a beautiful way to inspire and uplift the students in the class.