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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Essential Elements of Democratic Schools

This is a picture of students, a community member, and administrator from the school where I teach. Thanks to the
perseverance of the school students and staff, particularly the school's administrative assistant, the PTO, and student council
mentors, they were able to team together to collect receipts that translated into extra money for our school. I am fortunate that I work in a school where there are already many examples of democracy in action. (Image Link)
I learn from long valued and esteemed educator, Deborah Meier daily via her regular Facebook posts about schools. Recently she prompted me to think about the term democratic schools. Then yesterday as I posed a distributive leadership model for elementary school I realized that it is a model for democratic schools. 

I've quoted Lehmann and Chase often with regard to democratic schools too. In their wonderful book, Building School 2.0, they write, ". . the fundamental purpose of public school--physical spaces dedicated to and people committed to educating a nation--is a good one." "In an age when segmentation of society keeps people apart from those who think, look, and live differently from how they do, schools bring us together to learn from and with one another." "As a nation, we can imagine many different models for school, but the fundamental idea that we build places where all children can come together to learn remains one of the best ideas we've ever had as a society. We shouldn't lose it. We just have to make sure our schools reflect the time in which we live." 

As I reread my notes from Lehmann and Chase's book, I realize that they have a lot of promising encouragement, suggestions, and direction in their book--information, I want to review prior to the school year as I continue to consider the democratic school models of distributive leadership. 

What are the essential elements of a democratic school and why does that matter when it comes to educating students well?

Voice and Choice
In a democratic school, all members of the school community have voice and choice. The school is structured and run to give voice and choice to all members in meaningful, positive ways. These structures and processes are not done in name only, but are truly valued and utilized to develop a school community in ways that matter.

Protocols, Policies, and Rules
The protocols, policies, and rules in these schools are created in inclusive ways that serve the entire community. These protocols, policies, and rules are accessible to and understood by the community. These guidelines are revisited regularly and updated as needed by the community to better serve all.

Everyone in the school community has a responsibility to contribute in ways that they can. Contribution is welcome and encouraged from all community members including students, family members, educators, paraeducators, staff members, administrators, and citizens.

Communication connects all in these schools. Information is transparent, inclusive, and forthcoming. Everyone knows what's going on and everyone understands how they are able to share their point of view and contribute to growth and change. Voice is welcome; ideas are shared, and open communication is valued.

Principles and Priorities
The entire community contributes to the creation of principles and priorities. These principles and priorities are the backbone of the organization since they tell what the teaching/learning community values and does.

Teamwork and Collaboration
These communities thrive with optimal teamwork and collaboration. Lehmann and Chase's quote about this leads the way in this regard when they write, "Teaching is not an individual affair. . .Teachers are better when they work collaboratively, but even more than that, teachers teach better and students learn more when the school has a vision that actually means something and a plan to make that vision a reality." "We need to figure out how to build systems and structures that allow good people of honest intent to do great things together." "People work best in service of something that they can believe in, when there is a pathway toward excellence and they can collaborate."

Effective Process
Democratic schools continue to refine and then utilize the best, modern age processes as they work toward wise action. Processes similar to "Hosting Conversations" can serve democratic schools well by deepening the work we do to better serve all members of the community.

As I think about distributive leadership and democratic schools, I am wondering about my role as a contributing member. What can I do to foster this approach with greater strength. In this regard, I've thought of the following ideas:
  • Allow students to work in teams and then together to craft a grade-level constitution.
  • Build and support teamwork throughout the year to teach students about the democratic practice by partaking in this process.
  • Look for ways to deepen process with students and colleagues in order to reach good decisions and elevate the ways we work together.
  • Step back and honor the work in place to build this effort. 
  • Communicate transparently with the entire learning/teaching community as the audience. Welcome feedback and response. 
  • Ask questions and advocate on my own and with others for betterment when needed. 
As schools move towards greater distributive leadership and democracy, we will also provide a fine model for our students--a model that will teach them how to be effective members of our country's democracy and contributing planetary/universal citizens as well.

Thank you to @DeborahMeier, @ChrisLehman, @ZacChase, and so many more mentors that I confer with in real time and online to develop my practice and perspective with regard to teaching well. It is with their share, questioning, and example that I am able to grow and develop my practice. This is truly one side of the Internet and our school communities that is ever so powerful and promising.