When I attended junior high school in the late Cretaceous period, I recall 8 equal periods, each divided into 45 minute segments. Of these 8 periods, I attended 6 different classes of varying excitement levels. All of my teachers wrote their rules on the chalkboard (now extinct like the dinosaurs) and it was expected that we would abide by them, no questions asked. And for the most part, this system worked well enough.
Flash forward to today. Students are more…how do I put this? Inquisitive. “Fight the Power-ish.” And maybe they want more say in what takes place in their classroom and education. And nowadays, rebellious students are more often than not defended by their parents, while back in my day (break out the rocking chairs for this one) a teacher’s word meant a lot more! If a teacher called my parents about my rebellious streak, I had better take a liking to my bedroom, because I would be grounded there for quite some.
So what can an educator do to empower their students? For the most part, students already know what the ground rules are in their classrooms. Probably by 5th period they have heard the classroom rules (complete with the list of “don’t’s) on five separate occasions. More free-minded teachers are allowing students to come up with their own sets of rules to abide, but even this technique is becoming dull and overused. Instead, why not have students create their very own constitution? One that follows our own American Constitution, and provides for them the ability to choose what takes place when inappropriate behaviors occur in their own classroom setting. Such an idea becomes ideal in a class that covers American History, Language Arts, or Creative Writing.
To do this properly, very few guidelines need to be set. First, allow students to complete this constitution in groups of two or three. Preferably, this assignment should take place at the beginning of the school year, or the start of a fresh semester, so this will also allow students to “visit” each other and become acquainted with other children in their class. Next, provide for them a grade level appropriate copy of the American constitution and have students begin with “We the People of ‘s classroom.” At this point, students will share with each other what rules they need to abide, what the consequences are to breaking these classroom laws, and what their expectations are for the class to be a well-functioning unit.
Allowing students to think outside the box during this assignment is tantamount. For example, in an art class, having students write in a calligraphic format and add pictures will enhance the value of the assignment. But most importantly, allowing students to create their own constitution gives them ownership of their actions during a class period, and eliminates the mental image of an angry schoolmarm belching out what children are not allowed to do. Trust me, most of the rules you previously prepared for your students will be covered by their self-created constitutions.
Finally, allow students to share with each other their ideas and present them in front of the class. From each group, create on the board an agreed upon constitution from the ideas imposed by each group. No worries, educator, because you are still in control! The difference is that by facilitating instead of constantly demanding, a child’s “fight the power” mentality will vanish. Especially after he or she realizes that a “broken law” and its consequences were set in stone by a fellow classmate.