How to Set up Democratic Classroom Jobs

When you set up your classroom, is democracy a mindful priority?

Background

I’ve never forgotten the story of how one of my favorite college professors was begged out of retirement to teach 2nd grade–the evening before school started. When she walked into her classroom on the first day of school, it was to bare walls, stacked desks, and puzzled students.

They sat down on the floor together. Eventually, a 7 year-old timidly shared that things felt a little off, to which the others agreed.  When my professor asked them what a classroom should consist of, one girl raised her hand and said, “Well, last year, we had chairs.” They set to work arranging the furniture, and then regrouped. Then, another boy offered, “We also normally have pencils.” Together, they procured a supply.  And so it went for the first part of the school year.

I’ve always remembered the ending to her story: that those students owned that classroom as none of her students had before or since. And with a wink, she added that she didn’t necessarily recommend having zero preparation before the school year started–at least for the sake of school administrators’ sanity.

The Set Up

The idea of incorporating classroom jobs centers around ownership. This is more than about classroom management or clean-up–it’s about empowering students with the understanding that the feel of their learning environment is in their hands.

Hold a class meeting early in the school year to discuss the shared nature of your classroom’s physical, emotional, and academic space.  Brainstorm tasks you all feel are necessary for smooth maintenance, safety, and support.  You may opt to show students your list from the previous year, and then allow them to help you modify it based on their unique needs.  Or you may choose to go the way of my professor, and allow your students to start from scratch!

Pass out a job application so students can list their top choices and reasons they believe they would qualify for the job.

Additional options to consider:
  • Interview each student before assigning jobs.  I’ve had groups that enjoyed dressing up for a more formal and “official” experience.
  • Set aside “job time” at the end or beginning of the day for those students whose jobs require some time; you may choose to have the other students read, journal, etc., during that time.

List of Job Ideas

Whatever your approach, below are jobs that have all been tried by my fifth graders (with the exception of a “social media manager,” which I plan on trying out as soon as I resume teaching)!  The number to the side is how many students I’ve typically had doing the job, but be sure to base things on your class needs and size!  Also note that some are combos based on how much time some jobs took. Feel free to share these with your students to help them get inspired!

Paper Passers/Absentee Buddies:
  • Description: Passes out any appropriate papers daily and picks up papers from groups. During job time, they get materials gathered for any students that are absent, write down assignments for the day, and leaves them neatly on their desks.  (2)
  • Qualities:  FAST, excellent attendance, organized, hand-writing
Folder Filer
  • Description: Files all graded papers and handouts into each student’s file of papers that are to go home. (2)
  • Qualities: Memory skills, FAST
Lunch/Classroom Maintenance
  • Description: Carries lunch basket daily. Also gets the room ready for projector use when needed by quickly pulling down the projector screen, turning off the lights, closing the blinds, and turning on the projector. During job time, they check all the walls for repairs & remind tables to clean up desks/floors. Takes care of all other classroom maintenance as called upon.  (2)
  • Qualities:  Strong, lines up quickly at beginning of line, tall, takes initiative
Homework Checker
  • Description: Checks all planners at the end of the day during job time.  They also check for completion of the homework journal/project each Friday morning, and reports and missing work to the teacher in the morning.
  • Qualities: Responsible, thorough, organized. (1)
Birthday Coordinator
  • Description: Makes birthday cards for each student on their birthday/half birthday, and then get signatures from everyone in the class.
  • Qualities:  Good handwriting, artistic, thoughtful, AMAZING memory! (1)
Question of the Week Keeper
  • Description: Comes up with brainteaser questions and answers for the Question of the Week and lets the payroll know who gets bonuses for getting it right. (1)
  • Qualities:  Good handwriting, likes puzzles, organized. (1)
Event Manager
  • Description: Updates the daily schedule and keeps the monthly calendar correct.
  • Qualities:  Tall, memory skills, VERY neat handwriting (1)
Assistant Event Manager
  • Description: Assists the event manager with anything he/she needs help with.
  • Qualities: Neat handwriting, tall, organized, memory skills
Board Eraser
  • Description: This person will need to erase the board after each recess and whenever else it is needed. Thoroughly cleans the board during job time. (1)
  • Qualities:  Tall, strong, pays attention, neat
Payroll
  • Description:  Reminds all students to add their paychecks to their check registers every payday.  They also check with students who have bonuses each day during job time to make sure they’ve recorded in their check registers.  (1)
  • Qualities:  listener, math money skills, honest
Debt Collector
  • Description: During job time each day, they check with any students who have fines to make sure they’ve recorded them in their check registers. (1)
  • Qualities:  organized, listener, math money skills
Cashier/Pledge Leader
  • Description: Handles money during the class store by helping students write checks and subtract from their check registers. Assigns prices to class store items. Also stands and leads the pledge every morning. (1)
  • Qualities: honest, math money skills, organized, memory skills
Behavior Recorder/Assistant Room Manager
  • Description: Writes down daily fines and bonuses and then records them on the board during job time. Also assists the room manager with filling in for absent students. (1)
  • Qualities: responsible, great memory, honest
Room Manager
  • Description: Makes sure that everyone is doing their job daily. Also fills in for any job if a student is absent. (Must know responsibilities of all jobs) Takes care of all other leadership/management tasks as called upon. (1)
  • Qualities:  Organized, attentive, fast Learner, leadership
Line Leader
  • Description: Leads the line daily. Learns assigned places to stop & keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file. (1)
  • Qualities:  listener, respectful
Line Ender
  • Description: Ends the line daily to all destinations and turns off the light as class leaves. If any student has to return to the classroom to retrieve a forgotten item, the line ender is required to go with them. Keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file.
  • Qualities:  Fast, good listener great memory, respectful
Class Journal Keeper
  • Description: Updates the class journal each day during job time with a description/illustration of the day’s events. (1)
  • Qualities: Artistic, neat handwriting
Class Photographer
  • Description: This person must have access to a digital camera that he/she can bring to school on a regular basis.  They are in charge to taking pictures of exciting experiments, debates, parties, and anything else; they then need to email pictures from home to me occasionally.  (1)
  • Qualities:  Takes initiative, very responsible, photography/technology skills
Messenger
  • Description: Runs any notes or errands throughout building throughout the day.  Collects Mrs. Wade’s mailbox items from the front office every job time.  (1)
  • Qualities:  Knows school and different teachers, communicator, fast walker, polite, honest
Lunch Counter
  • Description: Also, each morning makes sure all students have moved lunch magnets and then counts/writes down how many for each option. Moves the magnets back at the end of the day.  (1)
  • Qualities: organized, memory skills, fast
Sanitation Specialist
  • Description: Using disinfectant wipes, cleans all desks, tables, (and if time), chairs at the end of each day during job time. Cleans other surfaces as needed. (2)
  • Qualities: Attention to detail, helpful, respectful to others’ belongings
Organization Expert
  • Description: Helps keep the entire class organized; organizes the guided reading desk/teacher area as needed, helps other students with organizing their desks, organizes other things around the class when it gets cluttered. (1)
  • Qualities: Um, organized.  🙂 Also, takes initiative, meaning they don’t need to be asked to notice & jump in to help.
Class Medic/End of Day Caller
  • Description: Keeps band-aids in their desk and distributes to students. Also makes sure everyone takes home their lunch boxes/coats/backpacks.(1)
  • Qualities:  Fast, memory skills, reliable
Clubhouse keeper
  • Description: Straightens up the clubhouse and sorts the books during job time every day. Checks for any damages to books and fixes them or reports them to the teacher as needed. Maintains all other clubhouse materials to keep things looking nice. (1)
  • Qualities:  Organized, respectful to books
Scribe/Word Wall Attendant
  • Description:  On Monday Meetings, this person will write down all the items of business discussed and report at the end. This person also maintains the word wall chart during job time by neatly writing great words we encounter as a class. This person will also take notes whenever we go over important things, remind the teacher of things, and advance PowerPoint presentations during lessons. (1)
  • Qualities:  handwriting, organized, memory skills, strong computer skills
Supplies Station Manager
  • Description:  Sharpens pencils at the end of the day and keeps track of/replenishes all supplies that are running low.  Also cleans up/disinfects the entire supplies station area daily. (1)
  • Qualities:  Great memory, dedicated, attentive to detail, organization skills
Social Media Manager

For a printable version of my list, click here! And if you have additional jobs that your students have loved, please share in the comments!
Photo Credit (featured image): maaco

Student-Led Conferences: Practical Guide & Resources

Have you ever felt parent teacher conferences become a blur of shallow compliments and trite suggestions?  Have you ever worried about the quality of students’ involvement?  Do you want parents to gain more meaningful insight on how their children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week?  Then consider shifting to student led conferences!


Background

After a couple years of traditional parent teacher conferences, I began to doubt their value.  Attendance was patchy, and the bulk of meetings that did take place often felt inconsequential.  Given the vast expenditure of time and energy in preparations, conferences generally seemed to yield trivial returns–goals quickly forgotten, behavior largely unchanged, and work samples simply discarded.  All that changed when my school introduced student-led conferences.

Step-by-Step Guide

Note that this is geared toward upper-elementary.  However, it can easily be adapted for younger and older students–our entire school adopted student-led conferences. 

Stage #1: Introduce Student-Led Conferences to Students (Estimated time: 30 min)
  • Kathy Cassidy
    Kathy Cassidy

    Give a labeled folder to each student to keep conference materials organized.

  • Hand out the “During Conference Checklist” students will use.  With this, students should:
    • Write down 2 items or areas of the classroom they want to share during the first part of conferences.
    • Write down their current feelings about reading, writing, math, and behavior.
    • Choose a writing and math sample. (I had my students keep their portfolios on blogs, so I gave them the option to present digital samples as well).
  • Give students their report cards, progress reports, and/or other records that are to be shared during conferences.  Let them know they need to be familiar with everything on it, so to ask for clarification as needed.
Stage #2: Make Goals (Estimated time: 45 min.)
  • Brainstorm as a class possible areas for improvement in math, reading, writing, and behavior.
  • Teach class about writing goals according to your school or grade level standards.  Our team used SMART goals (s=specific, m=measurable, a=attainable, r=relevant, t=time-bound).  I also like Kath Murdoch’s idea of 1-word goal-making.
  • Have them write 1 goal for each subject area on the brainstorming sheet and turn them in.
  • Give back to students to write their final goals after you have reviewed them.
Stage #3: Meet with each student (est. time: 5 min. per student)
  • Make sure their conference folder has all required items in order (I gave each student this list to organize their work.  I also post it on the whiteboard, and have students sign up to meet with me once their folders are completely ready).
  • Double-check the finalized goals.
  • If your grading system has a “social skills” or behavior field, consider having the student self-grade with you.  Have a discussion on what each grade means (ie, 4 means “I rarely need reminders or help in this area,” 3 means “I sometimes need reminders and I could work on this area,” etc.).  Not only have I found that students are often harder on themselves than I am, but the increased ownership better prepares them for sometimes tough conversations with their parents.
  • Go over the “During Conference” checklist together.  Discuss any questions on how to present each area.
Stage #4: Final Preparations
  • Send letters home to parents from teacher and/or from students to prepare them for student-led conferences. If you want to provide questions in advance to help prepare parents, students, and yourself, check out our printable Student-Led Conferences Guided Questions list!
  • Have students practice going over their checklist with a classmate (tell them they can leave out sensitive items like their report cards).  Use a stopwatch to give them a realistic idea of the timeframe.
Stage #5: After Conference Tips

Student and Parent Response

After each conference, I surveyed parents and students.  Below is some of the feedback I frequently received.

Meme
Meme Binge

Students loved:

  • Removing the frightening anticipation of grown-ups discussing unknown issues during conferences (avoiding situations such as the one on the right).
  • The opportunity to “show off” some of the things they were most proud of.
  • How professional they felt as they took the lead.

Parents loved:

  • How knowledgeable students were about their own progress and responsibilities.
  • Students taking the lead with the teacher helping where needed.
  • How students explained their report cards themselves.
  • The pride and ownership students took in showing their work.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Time allocations: Make sure there’s plenty of time for parents to ask questions and have further, informative discussions as needed!
  • Inadequate student practice: Let students practice at least 2 times in class.  This will help them with both confidence and purposeful time management.
  • Inadequate student organization: Use the conference folder items list to go through every item as an entire class one more time right before conferences start.
  • Hesitation to Jump In: One parent voiced concern that problems were sugar-coated, and that she could not speak freely because of the student’s presence.  Let your students know beforehand that in order for conferences to be effective, everyone needs to be 100% on the same page, and that you will redirect the conversation if necessary.
  • Unengaging Parent Homework: At first, we assigned parents to write a letter to their children reflecting on their feelings about the conference.  However, very few parents completed the assignment.  We switched to emailing a Google Form survey for them to share feedback on conferences.  Some of the questions we asked included:
    • What made you feel proud?
    • Do you feel your student’s goals match the areas in which he/she can improve?  If not, what are additional areas in which you feel he/she can improve?
    • How can you help your student remember and succeed at his/her goals at home?

List of Resources Linked Throughout:

Photo Credit: 

Featured Image: Claire Burge

Kathy Cassidy

Meme Binge