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Responding to children in the 21st century; rights, voices and a sense of belonging

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child gives children a right to have a say in decisions that affect them, and research internationally describes the benefits to children of shared decision-making, particularly those from disadvantaged homes. Despite this, it is still relatively rare to find teachers who share classroom decision-making with pupils on a regular basis.

Rather than ask ‘why isn’t this happening?’ I used my doctoral research to seek out and study the experience of three year five teachers who were already using SDM with their pupils. My participants’ perceptions were in line with previous research, finding that democratic classroom approaches promoted community, communication and cooperation within the classroom and also built on pupils’ natural motivation for learning. In addition, my research found that that there were similar benefits for teachers. Participants claimed that shared decision-making enabled them to be their authentic selves in the classroom, and ultimately reduced workload and stress. The research identified some factors which could make it more or less likely that teachers would involve pupils in shared decision-making in the future.

Involving pupils in decision-making at a school and classroom level won’t solve all motivation and behaviour problems, but without it, the possibilities for success are greatly limited.