7 Ideas for a More Democratic Year at School

Cards for Democracy
Published on
September 01, 2017
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7 Ideas for a More Democratic Year at School

Charlot Cassar

The summer holidays are almost over! In the next few days, teachers all over the world will be returning to school, hopefully fully recharged for the scholastic year ahead, doing what we love, creating a safe and democratic space for pupils to grow and develop their potential as active democratic citizens.

The beginning of a new scholastic year is always exciting, often with high hopes and ambitious plans to finally implement all those ideas we looked up while on vacation. Somehow, we are sure that this year things will be different. This year we will be real teachers doing what teachers should be doing. We will be more organised, more efficient, more positive, more emphatic. Above all, we will keep the bigger picture in mind at all times and we will find time to self-reflect and work to improve our practice accordingly. We know that our daily experiences, encounters and relationships forge our identities as persons in teaching. We realise that reflecting on our identity is a fundamental step towards developing democratic competence and no matter what, this year we will set aside time for personal and professional development.

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Yet, as tough as it maybe, we can take steps to ensure that we actually put the notion of lifelong learning and professional growth in practice, modelling what we aim to nurture in our students. When the going gets tough we need a beacon that can sustain our endeavour so as not to lose sight of what we truly believe in.

In this post we present a few ideas that can support our professional development during the school year.

We also propose a series of activities that posit the Teacher’s Edition of the Cards for Democracy, recently published by Learn to Change, as that beacon. They can be taken up by individual educators, a group or even a whole school. They can be driven by the school leadership or you can decide to pursue one of these activities under your own steam. The cards will serve as a visual incentive as well as a reminder.  You can play solo or paired up with a colleague but you may even decide to involve your own students in the process. You may want to think of these activities in terms of an action research project or simply as a personal commitment to improve your professional practice.

Get your copy of the Teachers’ Edition of the Cards for Democracy and read on…

At the start of the week, randomly pick 1 Card for Democracy from the pack. Pin the card where you simply can’t miss it. During the week carefully look at how you are working toward that particular action or what you can do to improve your actions in relation to the statement on that specific card. This could be a one-off activity or you could pick up  a different card every week. Set aside some time to document your thoughts in a couple of sentences or even a picture that reflects your experience.

Work with a trusted colleague. Pick a card for each other and at the end of the week, get together over a nice cup of tea or coffee, and candidly reflect on the experience.

Embark on an action research project with a critical friend. Each one of you chooses 1 card representing something you wish to improve in your own practice. Decide on one action you can do towards improvement on the matter that the card points to. Plan the implementation of this action and ask your critical friends/colleagues for feedback. Identify questions that you will ask your students after the action (survey) to gather data on your action and its results. Document your action(s) and the survey/results in a diary and share with your critical friend/colleagues. Keep your students in the loop by sharing some of the results (and perhaps future planning) with them.

If you are a school head or subject team leader, you may randomly distribute cards to your teachers, inviting them to take on the challenge as described above. Ideally, time should be set aside for individual reflection and diary writing and/or small group discussions about the results at the end of every week.

If you want to actively support your colleagues’ ongoing professional development, set aside some time during an initial school meeting to do just that. Divide the teachers in groups of 4 and provide each group with a pack of Cards for Democracy. Invite the teachers to look at the cards and to pick one that resonate with their practice and needs. Using the place mat technique, teachers take time to reflect and write down how s/he is implementing or will implement the particular action. They discuss in a round robin, presenting their card and what steps they intend to take to apply this in practice. Invite them to set themselves a target date and to meet again to discuss progress.

This next activity is a variation of the above. Instead of each teacher picking a different card, this time the group needs to choose just 1 card.  Each teacher decides what to do and what specific steps s/he will take to be the democratic teacher described on the card. As above, getting together at the end of the week or month to reflect on the experience will further help teachers’ professional development.

Use the Cards for Democracy for a whole school initiative. Pick one card at random or choose a card that is particularly indicative of the needs of your specific school community. Ask all the teachers to reflect and work towards becoming the democratic teachers as described on the chosen card. Invite them to actively engage in projects or initiatives that support the development of the specific democratic practice. Then, organise  a fun, whole-school event to bring all the teachers together to reflect and debrief on their experience and to identify next steps.

It is very easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of daily demands. It is even easier and perfectly legitimate to claim that by the end of the working week, you are absolutely shattered. Yet, as the saying goes, if there is a will, there is a way. Engaging in professional development, even after a week of hard work, can actually be reinvigorating, refreshing, energising. It will also bring teachers closer together and support the development of a community of education professionals – just look at what teachers are doing in Hungary. Once a month, a group of dedicated professionals gets together at the end of the week to share and grow together. Read more about it here or click on the link on the side.

Make this year a different one. Choose to engage in self reflection and professional development and make a habit out of it.

Time is a luxury, but this will be time very well spent.


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