Program Standard 5
5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.
5.1 Element – Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
5.1 Example of Proficient – Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.
Democratic education aims to help students broaden their worldview and create more caring, empathetic citizens who are able to relate to their peers across socioeconomic and cultural differences. It is based on the idea that in order to maintain a flourishing society people must learn to respectfully interact with their fellow citizens despite differing ideologies. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2012) argue, “Any view of how people should develop has to refer to the inescapable fact that life is social. A social being cannot act without reference to his or her companions on earth; otherwise in the quest for self-maintenance and autonomy each person may conflict with other people making similar efforts” (p. 249). Getting students to explore issues from a perspective other than their own can have profound affects on how they learn to relate to other people. In a society where privileged groups often enact laws that affect everyone it is crucial for citizens to be able to take into account the needs and desires of people outside of their own experience. This quest is important to many educators but it is difficult to engender this kind of environment in a classroom in an authentic way.
One method for encouraging empathy and exploring issues within classrooms is role playing. This technique allows students to explore uncomfortable or tense issues in a safe and non-threatening way that can help them resolve issues and learn how to more successfully communicate with their peers. Joyce et al. (2012) postures that “Role playing provides us with an opportunity to model the behaviors that begin and maintain interactions and build integrative interactions and, thus, relations” (p. 261). Implementing this skill in classrooms takes extra planning and effort from teachers but has the potential to breed a more respectful and thoughtful environment. In the long term students will learn to communicate with each other more effectively and solve their own problems in a mutually respectful manner. Joyce et al. (2012) states, “This basic social model generates the positive feelings that encourage us to manage conflict politely and seek civil solutions in a civil, democracy-encouraging fashion” (p. 261). Democratic education is centered around the idea that schools should help encourage students to become better citizens and role playing can help achieve that goal. This practice has the potential to not only help students succeed in school but also develop skills necessary to succeed later in life.