Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Classroom Meetings: Encouraging a Climate of Cooperation

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Classroom Meetings: Encouraging a Climate of Cooperation

Article excerpt

Educators must find ways to create a climate of cooperation in order to teach students the academic, social, and emotional skills they must possess to function successfully at home, at school, and in the community. Classroom meetings serve as an excellent vehicle for teaching this type of cooperation. Research on the effectiveness of classroom meetings, the important components of these meetings, and how to effectively lead classroom meetings are explored.

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   In many ways, the classroom is a curious setting.
   Assigned to classes that may contain
   strangers, perhaps even adversaries, students
   are expected to interact harmoniously.
   Crowded together, they are required to ignore
   the presence of others. Urged to cooperate,
   they usually work in competition. Pressed to
   take responsibility for their learning, they must
   follow the dictates of a dominant individual--the
   teacher. (Weinstein, 1991, p.1).

As the above quote indicates, educators expect a great deal from students yet often fail to model or structure a classroom or school climate in which these expectations can be realized easily. Instead, schools often promote an atmosphere of alienation and competition and fail to teach life skills that will enable students to live and work successfully in a diverse and complex world (Bronfenbrenner, 1976).

Every day the media and our personal experiences remind us that many children in our own schools do not have the skills to handle life's problems in a competent and confident manner. Because our societies, neighborhoods, schools, and even homes have become more violent and complex, it is critical that we undertake the responsibility of teaching peaceful problem-solving skills to all children. Learning nonviolent ways to resolve conflict is critical in today's world.

A substantial body of research implies that explicit instruction in social problem solving, especially those that teach empathy skills, averts subsequent problem behavior (Shaffer, 2000). Although many programs designed to teach social skills (e.g., Second Step, I Can Problem Solve) often are effective in teaching students new techniques for problem solving, what is even more critical is actual experience in peaceful problem solving. Children may be able to recite peaceful problem-solving strategies, but they may not use them because they do not believe they will work for them. School counselors expend a great deal of time teaching skills to effectively manage conflicts, and children are able to recite major points from the lesson; yet that same day they hit another student because of a problem on the playground, in the cafeteria, or in the parking lot. This is a source of considerable frustration for school counselors and other educators. To help students generalize conflict resolution instruction to real life, sufficient practice in a safe environment is needed. Classroom meetings can help students make this generalization (Dreikurs, 1968).

Resolving conflict in nonviolent and effective ways encompasses numerous skills that also are useful in other aspects of life. The 1991 report from the U. S. Department of Labor Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), although not aimed at preventing violence, enumerates many skills that are components of effective problem solving (Nelsen, Duffy, Escobar, Ortolano, & Owen-Sohocki, 1996; Wittmer, 1993). The members of the Commission (after discussions with public and private sector employers, managers, and supervisors) identified competencies, skills, and personal qualities essential to the future of children and recommended that these identified qualities be taught in the nation's classrooms. The competencies identified as being essential for job success clustered around identifying and effectively using resources, working effectively with others (interpersonal), acquiring and using information, understanding complex interrelationships (systems), and working with a variety of technologies. …

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