MBAT is designed around communities. Communities work with meetings and in this post I am going to describe how meetings work in general terms. It is rather different for little kids than for older ones. Before they are nine-years-old, kids benefit from the firm guidance of adults who know what they are doing. Their meetings are run by their teachers. When the school is established this guidance could also be given by senior students.
So here I guess I am talking about Sama more than Hadiqa. Sama is the 10-13 part of the school. You might think that even here it is easier to just have the teacher making all the decisions. Adults are, after all, responsible for teaching and learning; why shouldn’t they be responsible for everything else as well? This is the way most schools work and it has the benefit of clarity.
Our aim, however, is to educate children in responsibility and self-government. We can’t do that very well if we take away from them the responsibility for making decisions they are perfectly capable of making for themselves. They won’t learn how to do things for themselves unless they have that opportunity. What are these things? Well, they fall into a categories:
- organizing events and parties
- sorting out problems among people
- deciding on rules for the administration of their space
- nominating groups or committees for special jobs
As children get used to negotiating their lives in this way, the adults can step further back. They are capable of a lot more than they are generally given credit for in conventional schools. It is not always easy. But who said learning has to be easy?
In this short post I describe how to set up a meeting that works.
Set it up
- Who is going to be involved in your meeting and why? Decide on who is going to be included BEFORE you call the first meeting.
- Prepare your case before calling the first meeting. Someone has to lead the meeting to the point where it makes its first decisions or you will just wobble along in confusion. Since you are reading this, it looks like that’s going to be you.
- Ensure that the meeting decides on its own rules BEFORE it starts talking about anything else.
Decide on the Rules
- We need a chairman. Elect a chairman. The chairman cannot comment on meeting cases without standing down as chairman. The chairman’s role is to take hands, take proposals, call for order and guide the discussion.
- We need a secretary. Elect a secretary. The secretary controls the Meeting book. This is a record of the discussion, the proposals and the voting in the meeting. The secretary needs to be able to make these notes quickly and succinctly.
- Set periods of office for chairman and secretary. At Summerhill, it is normally one week. I prefer this to other schools where being chairman is a “position of distinction” that a student can hold for a whole term or year.
Agree on procedure
Agree on procedures. Here are some Summerhill ideas, but once you have a chairman and secretary, you can discuss your own procedures in your own meeting.
- If you want to bring a case to the meeting you have to see the secretary BEFORE the meeting.
- When your case is called you must state the matter simply and succinctly.
- The chairman can limit the discussion of a case if she feels that it is getting repetitive.
- You have to ask the chairman to leave.
- You have to raise your hand to speak.
- There is no cross-talking. This means that you are not allowed to respond to someone else’s point without raising your hand again.
- The chairman can call for proposals, which are voted on by the whole community. Everyone has an equal vote.
- Voting is by simple majority vote.
- You can appeal a case that goes against you, but that does not mean you do not have to abide by the decision taken in the meeting.
- The meeting can elect committees to deal with frequently-recurring business. The election does not have to take place in the Meeting.
- Have a law book. This is where you record the laws or rules decided by your community. It does not have to be a fancy book. It has to be displayed in a public place.
I said at the start that you should decide who is going to be invited to the meeting. This is just my opinion and you are welcome to disagree. A community meeting, for example, does not include parents, visitors or day-staff except as visitors: they have to be voted in. You can argue that it should be otherwise but you would end up with a different school.
I think the points in my list are techniques that make sense, but the initial decision on who is going to be included in the meeting is an emotional issue. Many projects can be capsized by being overly inclusive. There are very good reasons why the postman, the local doctor and Auntie Flo’s brother who visits every summer should not be included in democratic decision-making in my village, for example.
Let’s go over this again. The reason for setting up meetings is that you can’t have a well-functioning community without them. As children get older, adults step back and allow them to take control of those meetings. Older students gain confidence and competence in expressing themselves, considering opinions and deciding on issues that are of importance to them.
Meetings have defined objectives and structures. They are not formless discussion groups. When meetings are poorly-designed they end up in chaos and dissatisfaction. However, we are intelligent, social animals and we have an in-built ability to make meetings work. Furthermore, as children at MBAT grow up learning the difference between freedom and license, they develop a sensitivity to living in a community that will last them for the rest of their lives.
Who wouldn’t want that?