Our first stop, at Krnov School, was a real treat. The first thing we saw when we came through the front door was a ‘School Parliament’ (school council) noticeboard laying out what the Parliament is working on now and what it has done recently. As we explored later we saw there were two more noticeboards for the Parliament, one outside the headteacher’s office and the other outside the music room where they meet. The locations of the these boards makes a clear statement about the status of the Parliament in the school. They have named their school council ‘Heart of the School’, which has the same connotations in Czech as it does in English.
The school council meeting we got to see was for the upper school (students aged 11-15). The school has students from age 6-15 and they split their school council in two, one for the lower school and one for the upper school. The meeting we saw was really impressive: decisions were made, action was decided upon and fun was had. I’ll try to give you a sense of what this looked like and how it was achieved.
The council arrived and seated themselves in a circle sitting on drums/stools students had decorated. One of the older students ran through each of the classes to check that all the representatives were there.
The chair, another of the older students, checked up that the actions agreed at the last meeting had been completed and they moved on to the first discussion. This was about taking photos of the school council to display in the school and use on a Christmas card. After listening to a few points of view it was clear that there was general agreement so the chair moved to a vote. This was carried and the chair asked for a volunteer to ensure that the action was carried out.
All of the above happened in the first two minutes of the meeting. It seemed very informal, but incredibly effective. We were told by the students that the meeting was pretty typical and later by their teachers that these students are a fair cross-section of the school in terms of academic ability and interests. I’m still trying to work out what enabled them to work so well together.
After discussions about the school council website, plans for the play space outside the school the meeting came to a discussion about a new rewards system. At this point the school council co-ordinator, who had so far taken a back seat, took over. She split the meeting into mixed groups fo 4 or five and asked each group to come up with five ideas for why people should be rewarded by the school council. After a few minutes of discussion she paired up groups and asked them to get their two sets of five ideas down to five between them. The groups then announced their ideas and the chair wrote them up on the whiteboard, omitting any duplicates. Whilst this was happening the teacher handed each school councillor three stickers. They were to use these to vote between the options on the whiteboard. In this way a complex decision was taking democratically and quickly.
After this the teacher reminded the students of a game they had played at the previous few meetings. She told them they had ten minutes to plan how to complete it this time – they’d failed on their previous attempts. When the ten minutes was up – and the students had failed again – the teacher got them to reflect on their planning and the way they had worked together. They came up with some useful ideas which she helped them apply to their school council. The student’s comment that I liked the most was, “we did discuss it and made a plan, but we all just talked to our friends, we didn’t make a plan all together.”
It was clear that although they weren’t successful at completing the challenge those kinds of discussions and games had a real impact on how they were able to work together as a school council. It was a real honour to see them work.