In this short post I describe how you could set up a democratic meeting that works

on the Summerhill model

  1. Who is going to be involved in your meeting and why? Decide on who is going to be included BEFORE you call the first meeting. (My ideas below)
  2. Prepare your case before calling the first meeting. Someone has to lead the meeting to the point where it makes its first decisions or you will just wobble along in confusion. Since you are reading this, it looks like that’s going to be you.
  3. Set out the basics;
  • We need a chairman. Elect a chairman. The chairman cannot comment on meeting cases without standing down as chairman. The chairman’s role is to take hands, take proposals, call for order and guide the discussion.
  • We need a secretary. Elect a secretary. The secretary controls the Meeting book. This is a record of the discussion, the proposals and the voting in the meeting. The secretary needs to be able to makes these notes quickly and succinctly.
  • Set periods of office for chairman and secretary. At Summerhill it is normally one week. I prefer this to other schools where being chairman is a “position of distinction” that a student can hold for a whole term or year.

4. Agree on procedures. Here are some Summerhill ideas, but once you have a chairman and secretary, you can discuss your own procedures in your own meeting.

  • If you want to bring a case to the meeting you have to see the secretary BEFORE the meeting.
  • When your case is called you must state the matter simply and succinctly.
  • The chairman can limit the discussion of a case if she feels that it is getting repetitive.
  • You have to ask the chairman to leave.
  • You have to raise your hand to speak.
  • There is no cross-talking. This means that you are not allowed to respond to someone else’s point without raising your hand again.
  • The chairman can call for proposals, which are voted on by the whole community. Everyone has an equal vote.
  • Voting is by simple majority vote.
  • You can appeal a case that goes against you, but that does not mean you do not have to abide by the decision taken in the meeting.
  • The meeting can elect committees to deal with frequently-recurring business. The election does not have to take place in the Meeting (see previous posts about the Book).
  • Have a law book. This is where you record the laws or rules decided by your community. It does not have to be a fancy book. It has to be displayed in a public place.

I said at the start that you should decide who is going to be invited to the meeting. This is just my opinion and you are welcome to disagree. The Summerhill meeting, for example, does not include parents, visitors or day-staff. You can argue that it should be otherwise but you would end up with a different school.

I think the other points in my list are techniques that make sense, but the initial decision on who is going to be included in the democratic meeting is an emotional issue. Many democratic projects can be capsized by being overly inclusive. There are very good reasons why the postman, the local doctor and Auntie Flo’s brother who visits every summer should not be included in democratic decision-making in my village, for example.  There are very good reasons why a democratic school would resist having too many adult voices.


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