The GenWe Classroom

                Knowing what rules the students should consider having will help you advise them. They have the choice whether to accept them or not, but if you have thought it out in advance, your arguments will be stronger. If you can explain why a rule is necessary, and give examples, the students are more likely to consider your ideas.

                If they do not go with your way of thinking, do not worry. They want to try things out for themselves. You will be prepared to help them in the future if a problem arises.

                Three things the constitution must have are the specific rights of the individual (students and teacher/faculty alike), how to resolve conflict (Judiciary Committee), and how to manage the budget. The video suggested for this module shows how the judiciary process works on a school level. The need for the Judiciary Committee, or JC, is the reason why this class will need at least two adults. Since the JC needs to meet daily, for the first fifteen minutes or so of class one teacher will be preoccupied with advising the students on the JC. The students should be able to have access to another teacher or faculty, so the JC will not have to be interrupted.

                The rights of the individual will include how the students learn. A true GenWe class will allow the students to have complete autonomy over their learning, but it should be clear there will be some sort of assessment or evaluation at the end of the term. No matter what the students do, they will have to defend learning actually occurred. Ideas for end of term assessments include dissertations, peer graded essays, inviting a panel of professionals in the field the students studied to evaluate a presentation, building something that works or functions the way it is meant to, getting a story or some sort of writing published, tests and quizzes as part of an online learning program, and more.

                It would be helpful if the students could define how much influence they want from the teachers. For example, a teacher only helps when a student asks, and only helps answer the specific question the student has. Teachers tend to want to explain everything, but the student may not want to be told how to do everything. Discovery is one of the strongest intrinsic motivators. The video made by Sudbury Valley Schools describes in detail what this means from the perspective of adults and students.

                The budget is crucial for the full development of social competence. Students should know what it is like to cooperate as a group and decide how to spend a modest budget. The suggested budget for this class is $1000 for half a year (one semester). The students can learn how to save up for something, the older students learning benevolence because they will not be around to benefit from the items purchased in the future. If an idea goes over budget and they still want to try and fund it, they will need to make a plan to raise the money. The students decide what to purchase with the budget, from learning materials, to decorations, to furniture, anything goes.

                Some students are more charismatic than others and will have a strong influence no matter whether they are right or have the best interest of the group in mind. As long as you voice your observations about certain decisions that are being made, you have done your part. Some of your observations will be after-the-fact, teaching the students how to recognize a good idea from a bad one because they just followed some bad advice from someone who seemed to know what they were talking about. There is a very delicate process here, which is addressing the issue without alienating the student who made the mistake. It is best to talk to the student who made the mistake first, and then to explain what happened to the group. Try not to blind side students by criticizing them in from of the group before talking to them in private first.

                Another big concern is students using the JC to bully other students. For example, a small group of students instigate another student to have an outburst that gets them brought up to the JC. The small group knows the odds of one of them ending up on the JC the next day are strong, and make a plan to exact a harsh punishment on the student. Let's say the plan works and the one of the students from the small group of bullies ends up on the JC. The bully now has to convince the JC to enact the harsh punishment, and you are able to provide your insight to instigation and how certain behaviors do not happen without someone else provoking them. You can try and have the case put off until the school meeting to try and find out who the instigators were. If the bully is able to sway the JC away from your sound advice, it is okay. You can still bring up what happened at the school meeting. The student who was provoked will have to accept the punishment for the good of order, but they will know you defended them. Eventually, if you keep pointing out situations like this, the other students will begin recognizing the bullying behaviors and not fall for them so easily, and the bullies will become powerless to instigate. You must be patient with this process. The students will not always get it right away. It will take a lot of side conversations, and explaining things over and over until they get it. Learning mediation techniques will also help in this process.

                There is no exact science to helping students learn social competence, and the process can be a little messy since we are all human. The most important things to remember are when students do not follow your advice it is a perfect opportunity to teach them in hindsight, you can always bring things up to the whole class, nothing needs to remain behind locked doors, transparency will make it difficult for bullying behaviors to continue, and be genuine in your observations and feedback.

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