Way back in 1969, William Glasser recommended conducting class meetings as part of his program titled "Reality Therapy".  Reality therapy was designed to help students with behavior problems learn to function in a more responsible manner.  Glasser also believes that if students are going to become actively involved in learning and develop a connection with their school, they should be allowed to share responsibility in the management of the classroom.  In order to allow for an opportunity for teachers and students to discuss mutual concerns (and their solutions), he recommends the implementation of classroom meetings.

    Three different types of meetings are advocated: open ended, in which the students discuss various topics; diagnostic curriculum, in which the teacher evaluates the knowledge possessed by the students previous to teaching a new unit, and problem solving.  In a problem solving meeting, students deal with behaviors, emotions, and troubling situations.  Possible discussion topics in a problem solving meeting might include seating plans, class rules, home problems, and recent classroom incidents.

    In the problem solving meeting (the type of meeting that we will cover on this page), students (with the guidance of the teacher) attempt to resolve either individual or group problems that are important to class members.   These meetings are held on a regular basis, from once-a-week to daily in frequency.  The purpose is to expose students to the values and opinions of others while providing an opportunity for them to practice thinking and brainstorming in a group.  Peer support and pressures also evolve to promote the improvement of behavior.

    The students help to set the conditions regarding meeting conduct (e.g., turn-taking, proper language, etc.).  The tone of the meeting is always positive in nature.  Fault finding and criticism are downplayed.   The teacher is never judgmental as this might stifle interaction and communication.   The teacher may, however, express an opinion on a topic under consideration.  In addition, oral gammar and wording are not corrected unless a group rule pertains to this matter.

    Students are encouraged to constructively challenge one another in a non-demeaning, respectful manner ("Respect" may need to be taught as a social skill.  For more information, see the home page link on teaching social skills).  While it may initially be difficult to direct the meeting and prevent the voicing of negative comments, with time and practice, meetings become more productive as students seek socially acceptable solutions to problems. These solutions should not blame or punish anyone however.  Students should seek solutions, not blame (the same goes for us).

      Lastly, one subject should not be the topic of concern at numerous meetings.   Repeatedly discussing the same topic is viewed by Glasser as being non-productive.

Steps for Conducting a Problem Solving Meeting

1.   Seat the students in a circle to promote participation and allow for all group members to see and hear each other (Vary your position in the circle from meeting to meeting).   Students may be seated in a manner/pattern that is most productive.

2.   Designate a time period of 10 to 20 minutes for younger pupils, and 30 to 45 minutes for older students.    Do not allow the discussion to exceed the designated time limit.  This time restriction will prevent the students from avoiding other daily responsibilities.

3.   Open the meeting by allowing students to discuss a topic involving behavior, emotions or situations of concern.  Rules regarding foul language, degrading comments, or other concerns should be set with the help of the students.  Rules for the taking of turns may also be necessary.  If a student monopolizes the conversation, goes off on a tangent, or lapses into fantasy or lying, the teacher may call on another student to speak or ask the other students if they believe that the student is monopolizing the discussion or telling the truth.   Guide the students toward a resolution of the problem.

Activities and Discussion Questions

    With a group of teachers or other adults, take the role of teacher in a mock problem solving meeting.   You may wish to assign the following personalities and use the following situations.

Student #1:   This student is larger than the others and often uses his or her size to intimidate others.    This student is known to resort to force to make other students comply with his or her wishes.

Student #2:    This student is a group leader.   He or she is humorous, intelligent, very talkative, and somewhat of a "wise guy".

Student #3:    This student is rather quiet, has a poor self-concept, and will present an opinion if asked, but will back down and withdraw if confronted by other students.

Student #4:  This student is extremely bright, but often says and does things which point to his or her immaturity.  This student often plays pranks and makes fun of others.

Student #5:    This student is belligerent , foul mouthed, and has difficulty controlling his or her verbal outbursts.

Other Students: The other students are generally cooperative and mild mannered.

Situation #1:     Students #1 and #2 have been mean to Student #3 who has attempted daily to sit next to them at lunch.   The first two students have destroyed the lunch of Student #3, dropped food on him or her and threatened him or her with harm.  They consider it to be embarrassing to be near Student #3.  He or she has a few friends, but they eat lunch at other times.  Student #3 continues to sit near Students #l and #2 despite the abuse received.

Situation #2:   The students enjoy having the option of working in their carrells/cubicles if they desire.  You're also rather pleased because the portable bookshelves which you have extended from the side wall have prevented interaction among the students during work periods and helped them to concentrate on their assignments.  During homeroom period the next day, you are conversing in the hall with another teacher.  Upon entering the room you see that Students #2, #4, and #5 have redesigned their carrells.  Two have taken the removable shelves from the bookcases and placed them over the tops of the cases to form roofs.  You are concerned about the lighting in the carrels and the possibility of the boards falling and hurting the students.  You are also concerned about the music star posters brought in by Student #2 and #4, and the foldouts of nude bodies decorating the carrel of Student #5.  You ask that that carrell construction and decoration be the topic at today's daily problem solving meeting.

2.   How can you promote taking turns in conversation and prevent interruptions or multiple students talking at once?

3.   With a group of youth other than your students, lead a problem solving meeting.

4.  For more information on managing the behavior of groups of kids, see the home page link titled "Managing the behavior of groups"

For More Information: Glasser, W. (1969). Schools without failure. New York: Harper & Row.

"OK, here's the problem.  When we all try to fetch the home page, there's lots of pushing and shoving.  What can we do to stop that behavior and assure that everyone gets a chance to fetch the home page?"
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