At the first meeting of our school’s Continental Congress*, students expanded
our discussion about school-wide guidelines to include why certain
guidelines are needed. The values-centered discussions about equity, control,
independence, community, and management that followed enabled teachers and
students to explore how and why communities establish guidelines in the first

More democratic governance
During the Continental
Congress, student representatives reported that kids throughout the building
were interested in examining how they interact. This process was a first step
towards improving the social fabric of the school and led to many team-based
discussions among students regarding social skills, respect, and individual
responsibility. Also, the Congress stimulated many conversations at the adult

The Continental Congress and the community that has been built
upon it demonstrate the healthy outcomes collaborative rule-making can have on a
school. As we moved through the Congress, there were many, many positive
interactions and responses, and I see the effect it has had in the building:

  • dismissal times are more orderly and peaceful;
  • the cafeteria is cleaner because students clean up after themselves better
    and with less adult prompting;
  • discipline referrals for common-area issues dropped dramatically (2 instead
    of 34 by end of November)
  • and hallway behavior during passing times has vastly

Because they were invited to the rule-making table,
students were willing to accept responsibility for their behavior. I had not
anticipated this, and was happy to find that throughout the year, students
wanted a larger role in addressing school-wide issues. Also, having the Congress
has changed the structure of discipline/behavior management practice, which had
always been an administrative function that was “top down.”

* A meeting
of school representatives to consolidate individual homeroom rules into
school-wide guidelines

Mark Carbone is Principal at Camels Hump Middle
School in Richmond VT.

Published September 2007