An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live. -Maria Montessori, Education and Peace, 1949.
Paula threw up her hands in discouragement, after leaving the weekly community meeting with her students. She brought a problem to the meeting that was affecting the whole class. There had been a spirit of unkindness, or cruelty, that was permeating the community. Paula had been teaching for 7 years and was no stranger to children being cruel to one another, from time to time. But this year was different. No one seemed untouched by this behavior. Paula hoped, that by bringing the issue to the meeting that the children would share openly, and acknowledge their own hurt feelings, and the hurt feelings of others. She hoped that the discussion would elicit empathy and motivate the group to solve the problem together. But that’s not what happened. As a matter of fact, the very issue that she hoped to solve, showed up at the meeting that day. The meeting quickly became unsafe, and Paula had to end it before it spiraled out of control.
Paula’s experience is not unique. Many Montessori teachers have used some type of community meeting where the the class discusses issues facing the classroom community. However, like Paula, teachers often report that their community meetings are not as effective as they would like, and in some cases, they are even counterproductive. In Paula’s case, her motivation and intent were in the right place, but she didn’t have the understanding or training in how to facilitate effective democratic problem-solving meetings. Because her meetings were teacher led, her students were often passive or resentful. When faced with a particularly difficult problem, the meeting process didn’t support authentic communication, empathy and shared ownership of the problem.
The good news is that shortly after this experience, Paula learned from a colleague about the Positive Discipline Class Meeting process. This process is a simple and effective meeting structure that helps develop mutual respect, cooperation, empathy, and responsibility within through collaborative problem-solving. It has been used successfully by thousands of teachers for decades. In a short time, Paula found that she was finally able to create the democratic environment that had been trying to prepare for her students. She also came to learn why her previous community meeting structure was not effective.
Let’s look at a few factors that make the Class Meeting process different from some traditional community meetings.
1. Children put more problems on the agenda than adults.
This is not a rule, but an outcome of the Class Meeting process. In a classroom that uses Class Meetings, children have access to the agenda, and can add agenda items as they encounter problems in the classroom. Teachers can also add problems to the agenda. However, teachers often find that they don’t need to add a lot of problems to the agenda, because the children have already done it. Teachers find, to their delight, that the children are often concerned with the same things they are. As well, when children bring up problems in the Class Meeting, a true democratic atmosphere is created as students take ownership of the daily challenges in the classroom.
In a Primary classroom, students who cannot write yet ask their teacher to write down the problems for them. In an Elementary or Adolescent classroom, children write their problems on the agenda themselves. Problems are brought to the Class Meeting in the order that they were put on the agenda. This sends an important message to the children: all problems deserve time and attention, and no one’s problem is given more importance than another’s problem.
2. Children talk more than the teacher.
The teacher’s role in the Class Meeting process is to facilitate the meeting and maintain an environment of safety and respect. While the teacher may redirect conversations, or ask reflective questions, their role is never to moralize or lecture, but to facilitate and support the problem-solving process. They empower students learn from their own experience. Most of the talking is done by the students. To accomplish this, teachers take time at the beginning of the year to teach and practice the Class Meeting process, and the communication skills necessary to create a cooperative and productive meeting environment. When teachers facilitate rather than lead the discussion, students are empowered to take responsibility and demonstrate leadership in solving day to day problems that occur in the classroom.
3. Everyone gets a chance to talk.
In the Class Meeting students use a talking object. The person holding the talking object has the floor. When they are finished talking, they pass the object to the person next to them. Whenever the class is discussing a problem or brainstorming solutions, the talking object is passed around the whole circle. Everyone gets a chance to talk, not just the most outgoing members of the community. This gives even the quietest students an opportunity to speak. Sometimes children who have been quiet observers will share profound insights when they are given the opportunity to talk without having to raise their hands.
4. Children choose their own solution(s).
When a child comes to the class for help with a problem, their classmates will offer ideas to help that child. A teacher or student will write the ideas down on a flip chart or white board. When it is time to choose a solution, the child who brought the problem to the meeting will choose the solution that they think will work best for them. If the solution they choose doesn’t work for them when they try it, they have a list of other ideas they can try. If the class is solving a problem that affects everyone (a group problem), the class will vote on a solution that they believe will work best for the whole class.
5. Children evaluate solutions.
At the beginning of the year, students are taught the 3 R’s and an H criterion for effective solutions. The 3R’s and an H stand for: Reasonable, Related, Respectful and Helpful. After children have brainstormed solutions for a problem, the class evaluates those solutions to ensure that they meet the four criteria. During the brainstorming process, the teacher doesn’t interrupt students when they offer a solution that doesn’t meet the 3R’s and an H. The teacher simply waits until the talking object has made its way around the circle, and then asks for help evaluating the solutions. “Do all of our solutions meet the 3R’s and an H”?
By evaluating the solutions after the brainstorming process, the solutions themselves are evaluated, not the student offering the solutions. When children are involved in the process of evaluation, they learn to develop strong problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Elementary and Adolescent students actively participate in the evaluation of solutions. Primary teachers (ages 3-6) model the process for their students.
6. Class Meetings are held 3-5 times per week.
What, 3-5 times per week!? Yes, that often. Students need practice to develop respectful communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Once a week is not enough. They also need to know that their problems will be addressed in a reasonable time, so they learn to trust the effectiveness of the Class Meeting.
Don’t worry, Class Meetings don’t take long. Many traditional Elementary or Adolescent community meetings last an hour or more, and this leads to disconnection and disengagement, especially if the agenda is adult driven. Class Meetings are short, sweet and effective. In a Primary classroom, the meetings are only 10 minutes long, and in the Elementary or Adolescent classrooms they are only 20 minutes long. When Class Meetings are held frequently throughout the week, and agenda items are student driven, the meetings become productive, and children become incredibly engaged.
After starting the Class Meetings process, Paula was amazed at how the social environment had changed by the end of the year. Not too long after she started Class Meetings, one of her students noticed that a classmate, Robert, was being teased and called stupid because he was having difficulty with the math materials. She put the problem on the Class Meeting agenda.
When the child shared her problem with the class, almost every child commented on how they had been hurt by teasing and understood how Robert must have felt. Some of the children who teased Robert, took responsibility, and apologized to him. When it came time to solve the problem, the children decided that they would work on standing up for one another and continue to use the Class Meeting when teasing happened. This meeting changed the trajectory of the children’s interactions with each other for the rest of the year. At years end Paula reflected on the community meeting that led to her discouragement. She shared with the colleague who introduced her to the Class Meeting process, “Class Meetings changed the whole climate of my classroom. I was trying to teach the children about kindness and respect, but that was my agenda. Until it became the children’s agenda, nothing was going to change. I rediscovered my faith in children. The truth is, I couldn’t have solved that problem without them.” 
For more information on Class Meetings, visit https://chipdelorenzo.com/the-class-meeting/
Until next time…
 Nelsen, Jane, and Chip DeLorenzo. Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom: Preparing an Environment That Fosters Respect, Kindness and Responsibility. USA, Parent Child Press, 2021, page 235-269.