Skip to content
ascd logo

October 1, 1997

Down with Put-Downs!

Open classroom meetings encourage children to solve problems of name-calling, teasing, and other conflicts that arise in everyday life.
Alex was an overweight 4th grade boy who was frequently teased by his peers. Alex asked his teacher to have an open meeting to address this name-calling problem. After listening to his explanation of the problem, his teacher agreed to hold the meeting.
Many teachers are concerned about put-downs. One way to deal with this issue or other school climate problems is by having an open classroom meeting, sometimes called the Glasser Circle (Charles 1992).

What Is an Open Meeting?

Open meetings are regularly scheduled times when all class members and the teacher sit together in a closed circle to discuss important topics (Glasser 1992). The purpose is to encourage the students to seek solutions to problems, never to find fault or assign blame.
  • Open-ended meeting: The topic is anything of interest or relevance to the group, such as pets, hobbies, special occasions.
  • Problem-solving meeting: The topic is a problematic situation or behavior of concern to the class, such as name calling, graffiti, blurting out.
  • Educational-diagnostic meeting: The purpose is to discover the extent to which students understand and have personalized curricular topics (for example, in discussing literature) or to assess background knowledge (Glasser 1969).
Ground rules are necessary to ensure that everyone has the right to speak (but doesn't have to), that no names will be used, that matters discussed will remain within the group, and that there will be no put-downs.

An Open Meeting on Name-Calling

  • The warm-up question gives everyone a chance to briefly speak up. This should be a safe question that every student can answer, such as "I feel big when . . . ."
  • Defining questions produce a starting point where all agree on the topic and the limits of the topic, such as "What is name-calling?"
  • Personalized questions create involvement, relevance, and eagerness to share information, ideas, and experiences, such as "When have you been called a name or had someone call you a name? I'll give you some time to think about this. Remember our rule on confidentiality, so don't tell who." Other questions ask students about their feelings, what they did when someone called them a name, and whether name-calling is a problem at their school.
  • Challenge questions help students think about alternatives and apply what they learned in the meeting. A sample question: "Try to make name-calling go away for everyone in this room. Think about what you can do to get your feelings out without using name-calling."
In Alex's name-calling meeting, he had a chance to openly state the problem:
Alex: Name-calling is a problem here, at our school. I've been teased since kindergarten or 1st grade.
Teacher: How are you doing with that?
Alex: Starting to cool off, starting to take it easy, been called so many names . . . [He gives examples of names he's been called]. I guess it's getting easier.
Teacher: Why do we name-call? (Other students chime in and contribute their perspectives and feelings.)
Fredrico: To get people's attention.
Teacher: Whose? Friends? Enemies?
Diane: They want to be better than someone else, so they think that by teasing they can be better than someone else.
Teacher: If you are called a name, what do you do? What's a good way to handle it? Let's go around the circle . . .
Ron: Walk away.
Stacy: Laugh with them.
Tony: I've done that before . . . .
Teacher: Did it work? What happens? It's not so much fun for them if you laugh, too.
Angela: I walk away or yell at the person.
Teacher: Which works better?
Brian: I punch on a punching bag.
Teacher: Does that work?
Here are other students' responses about the extent to which name-calling was a problem at their school. Note that they felt safe to agree or disagree.
Angie: Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not.
Tyler: When people call names, they don't win. This is different from the school motto, "Everybody wins at [name of his school]."
Teacher: Who wins? Is the person who calls names a winner?
Tyler: Sometimes the person who is called a name says, "Why do you say that?" and they can be a winner.
Heather: The person calling names is a loser. They're breaking the school rules—the person getting the name is a winner.
Tyler and Josh: I agree.
Tyler: The person calling you names is making you feel bad so he's winning.
Russ: If you're name-calling, you're not a winner because you are breaking the rules.
Teacher: Think about ways to get your feelings out without name-calling.
In an interview six months after Alex's meeting, he said: Before that meeting on name-calling, people didn't listen much to how I felt. Others got called a lot of names, too. In that meeting people started to listen to how I felt about being called names, and since then I haven't had much name-calling.

How Open Meetings Build Community

Open classroom meetings, because of their structure, are one way of meeting teachers' and students' needs for belonging, power, freedom, and fun (Glasser 1969). Open meetings are meant to be safe. Because what is shared in open meetings are experiences, ideas, beliefs, and feelings, all have something to contribute; therefore, all have some power. Our study showed that students sometimes request open meetings to deal with issues of immediate concern, seeing the process as one that gives them power to deal with school situations. Open meetings may deal with serious topics, but they often contain humorous moments and are occasions of much fun.
Open meetings enhance learning communities by building trust and care, group cohesiveness and productivity, respectful interactions, and relevance of school to everyday life. They promote a positive classroom climate by building children's self-esteem and providing opportunities to experience success. In the process, children also improve listening skills and verbal fluency (Russo et al. 1996).
Open classroom meetings allow students to solve class problems as a group, view a situation from other students' perspectives, and respectfully agree and disagree with one another. This exchange increases critical thinking skills and allows students to share feelings related to their thinking. Hearing about how feelings are related to situations can influence students positively (Lundeberg et al. 1997).

Why Encourage Children to Discuss Problems?

Last year, in a nearby urban school district, one teenager shot another teenager after school because he'd been called a name. Would this violence have been prevented if these teens had learned skills to discuss name-calling? We do not know. However, the open classroom meeting has the potential to decrease school violence through teaching children the skills to express their own thoughts and feelings, to listen to others, and to think about their behavior. Thinking critically about their own past actions, as well as the actions of their peers, seems to enable children to construct positive scenarios for solving problems.
Open meetings increase children's understanding of and empathy for one another. This leads to increased respect and appreciation for the differences and contributions of all class members. Members of the school community begin to care for each other (Emmett et al. 1996). In such a climate, students feel competent to take responsibility for solving classroom problems.

Charles, C.M. (1992). Building Classroom Discipline. White Plains, N.Y.: Longman.

Emmett, J., F. Monsour, M. Lundeberg, T. Russo, K. Secrist, N. Lindquist, S. Moriarity, and P. Uhren. (1996). "Open Classroom Meetings: Promoting Peaceful Schools." Elementary School Guidance & Counseling 31, 1: 3-10.

Glasser, W. (1969). Schools Without Failure. New York: Harper & Row.

Glasser, W. (1992). The Quality School, 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins.

Lundeberg, M.A., J. Emmett, T. Russo, F. Monsour, N. Lindquist, S. Moriarity, P. Uhren, and K. Secrist. (1997). "Listening to Each Other's Voices: Collaborative Research About Open Meetings in Classrooms." Teaching and Teacher Education 13, 3: 311-324.

Russo, T., M.A. Lundeberg, J. Emmett, F. Monsour, K. Secrist, N. Lindquist, S. Moriarity, and P. Uhren. (1996). "Open Class Meetings in the Elementary School." Journal of Reality Therapy 15, 2: 82-89.

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.