Non democratic meetings

Helena and I have a weekly meeting, mostly on Monday mornings. They are not much fun. They are mostly for me. I am honest with her that as a homeschooling family we have to document her learning, the government requires us to teach “as well as and as often” as a regular school. We can be audited, we have to have records and she wants to be homeschooled. In our meeting we reflect on what happened the week before, the learning experiences, and what we want to do in the next week and write a list (I find it too hard when we have no structure but often the list is ignored).

Democratic schools also have meetings where the teachers are but one of the voices. I would really like to see this. From here it seems disingenuous, it is impossible to imagine the adults voice having the same weight as the children’s. Their voices can’t. We all have budgets, some kind of Master (be it the Education department, the shareholders) and we are more experienced in world… there are some mistakes we can not afford to make, mistakes that may have permanent consequences. The adults are responsible, and legally responsible, it is them who will have to reap the consequences of any accident, any losses, they can go to jail, loose their job or money they don’t have. The stakes are not the same. This is not equal or even equitable. When Helena and I argue it is often because I haven’t communicated all the impacts of what she is wanting, or all the reasons for decisions that I make. I communicate these and she often capitulates but I think it would be wrong to say that me making her fully aware makes our input into a decision equal, that we are democratic. I have power, I try to recognise this but I would be lying if I said I never censor what big picture elements I bring out. Helena does have a powerful voice in what happens – I don’t want another pet but she has successfully argued her way to getting mice (there is no convincing her about the smell and she is adamant that she will do all the work involved). But I still say a bald no to things like getting more lollies, like it’s my choice.

I have been to so many meetings, but not as many as some. I’m sure most people would agree that meetings vary but the participants are somehow the same. Kids are just people and as such reflect the same range of personalities, styles, roles as adults. You see it at “mat time”. There are kids who sit at meetings waiting for them to be over thinking about other stuff. Probably me as my reports all say “must participate more in group activities”.. the world is geared to extroverts. There will be the ones who do most of the talking, a rambler, or the one who just wants to be heard (don’t interrupt these people) but actually they have nothing to say. There are the silent kids who really listen and think and only have an input when they have something to say. I had one of them in one class I taught. I asked how we could run their literacy segment of the day better and this child (who very rarely spoke to adults or children she hadn’t known for years) came up with the genius idea of a notebook with a list, that I would sign (they chose this accountability) at the end. They wanted some weird stuff that I wouldn’t have put on their lists like spelling and handwriting but it was all theirs. Then there are the kids who get restless in any meeting, mat time anything that involves sitting and listening.. and they let you know, kids who will fake fart, pull faces, tell tales.. “act up” generally disrupt, of course adults can’t do this but they get to leave. If you’re lucky you have a person who is good at meetings, gets stuff done, moves things along, pulls the points out of what the other people say. I still haven’t heard anyone say they liked meetings, wanted to go to more meetings, sometimes they say like the catering!

At the holiday programme we have a meeting, we call it a briefing and I like it brief… I give them the rules, there are 3. People: Respect yourself and others. Things: Respect our Environment, and our equipment. And What we do: Respect people’s play. Now that there are always kids who have been before they do most of it and I just listen to check it’s all covered then I make the ones who’ve been before stand so newbies know who to ask. Then I watch the children having the real meetings all day long. Good meetings, standing up ones where they make the decisions that matter, about swords (the sticks) or whose base is who’s, or the intricate world of who is a double agent, or double double agent, who is doing what with the tea making, how many leaves a bow costs, – marketing, sales, conflict, employment… They have meetings with their team and there are inter team meetings. Rarely there is shouting, I have seen people storming out of a meeting (they are allowed to leave these meetings) only to be drawn back into the meeting. Stuff actually happens in their meetings. Kids meetings know how to compromise, how to make things fair in ways that I can’t because kid fair is different to adult fair. Helena loves to have “secret meetings” with one of her friends, (sometimes she even takes pen and paper) she confessed recently that they just talk and it is fun. No one writes minutes at kid meetings but I’d put money on the kids being able to tell you who said what, how they resolved their problems, and they probably have some ideas on how to do it better next time.

Helena and my meetings are getting easier though, at the last couple Helena has been totally involved and declared them the best meeting ever… possibly it was her catering.

I often think why do I bother but so often the meetings act as a spring board for ideas, like the act of reflecting and planning opens a door to possibilities….. like the staff meeting I went to once and we were thinking of ways to be proud of kids writing and someone suggested a regular magazine, we never did but someone else had a meeting out there and they did – Toitoi. I guess you never know.

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