One aim of schooling is to teach children to become a part of a democratic society. When educators and schools try to enable students’ meaningful participation it usually starts with a certain mindset and their will to surrender some of their power. But even if children are allowed to make decisions quite comprehensively and in various situations – e.g. with regard to what, when, where and with whom they learn –, democratic structures often still are very much dependent on grown-ups and their individual preferences, with one teacher probably being more willing to do so than others. At least, this was what a self-evaluation process at Laborschule Bielefeld’s primary level brought to the fore some years ago.
Laborschule’s educators wanted to go beyond individual preferences and what was already guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from 1989. Therefore, they intended to create their own “Bill of Rights” – a school constitution that once and for all would institutionalise student participation at Laborschule and create transparent and binding rights for all students independent of teachers’ preferences.
In order to impart these competencies, they must permeate the entire school day. In the spirit of a genuine participation structure, the monthly assembly was therefore installed at the Praxisvolksschule Wien as one building block of a democratic school. For the assembly, all students and teachers gather together in the largest room of the school – the gym. The students inform each other about decisions and events from school life and present short lectures on topics they have chosen themselves. The principal also speaks on current topics. The assembly lasts 45 minutes. In preparation, the individual classes discuss what they will present, what issues they would like to discuss with the others. At the end of the assembly, everyone sings the school song.
The assembly has the following benefits in the long term: