IMPLEMENTING DEMOCRATIC EDUCATION  in conventional schools - 50 Practices

The below list summarises a series of practices inspired by democratic education that can be applied in any school context, even in the more traditional/conventional educational settings. The extent and depth of which each of these practices can be implemented depends on the national setting (legal and bureaucratic constraints) and the readiness/willingness itself of the adult school actors (teachers and management). The list has been produced as result of the DESC project and divided according to the major subjects that correspond to the modules of the free online training on democratic education. 


Brain Development and Learning 

1. Be mindful and accommodate the different physiological needs of individuals


  • allow every student to have small breaks, rests, eat, drink when they need it
  • allow students to move and stretch in class

2. Create a safe environment for expression 


  • use positive/constructive feedback, not judgement or criticisms
  • be aware of the fight and flight system activation and help students (and yourself) to overcome it by implementing practices that can help students feeling safe, heard and welcome. Some practices could be: resting, painting, playing, dancing, breathing deeply, focusing on the environment, hugging, writing poetry, touching or holding onto an object tightly, listening to natural sounds, relaxing music, thinking about your happy place and relaxing there, laughing, listening to stories.


Multiple Intelligence 

3. Allow students choosing how to learn


  • Discuss with students about their preferred way to learn and co-construct with    them lesson plans involving different intelligences/ their preferred learning methods.  (e.g.whether they prefer to revise materials using Kahoot or crosswords, or to watch a documentary on a subject instead of reading about it). Here is an example of 7 steps for creating lesson plans involving multiple intelligences. This is an example of a lesson plan declined into multiple intelligences.
  • Talk with students about multiple intelligences. You can hang a poster of the multiple intelligence theory in the classroom to have a visual instrument that shows different ways on how we (can) learn. (an example of a poster here: )


Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation 

4. Trust children in their inner curiosity and motivation to learn and improve


  • Don’t focus on short term results, rather focus on children long term development
  • Avoid any method persuasion, in particular fear
  • Show your own passion and desire to learn
  • Help students looking for their unique talents

5. Avoid assessment/evaluations if not requested by the learner

6. Whenever an assessment is requested (by the learner or imposed by the educational system) use self-evaluation/self-assessment


  • You can use the “Individual Work Plans” developed by Celestin Freinet, a self-assessment instrument made up of forms completed by the students, as a way of recording their own learning. You can find examples here.

7. Explore everyone’s areas of interest 


  • Ask students to write a list about what they would like to spend their time on at school, if they would not have any compulsory activity. The list can include curricular and extracurricular activities. It is important that the teacher participates as well in this activity so as to explore her area of interest. The lists can be hung on the wall and updated.
  • Discover everyone’s area of interest is also useful to promote peer-learning and help (ie. students that need help on a subject can ask for help to those students who indicated that subject as areas of interest).
  • Invite students to write an imaginary curriculum or a biography to help them find their deep aspirations and connect with inner passion and intrinsic motivation. They can choose their age, name, attitude and skills. This can be an exercise for history lessons too, imagining yourself as a historical character. (What kind of education would you have loved to have gone through? What would you like to have learned? Which job would you have done?) Letting imagination travel to a different age can be very useful to let go of the conditioning coming from our age and the fears that can be associated with it. For younger children it can be organised in a more playful way and with adults’ support (ie. theatre play or creating a story where students can invent their characters).

8. Raise awareness that we are all different and all passions/talent are equally important


  • Support all students’ areas of interest, and don’t praise more cognitive over practical skills. Do so by dedicate some time for students that wants to promote a different activity in class.
  • Be aware that, if one child doesn’t have strong interest in a particular subject, we cannot expect excellent results to be achieved at any price.



9. Allow as much time as possible for activities chosen by students


  • Self-directed activities can take as much time as it is possible, but for schools that have constraints, Derry Hannam proposes a 20% of time dedicated to self-chosen activities.
  • When organising travels, let them, as far as possible, organise the travel.

10. Help reflecting on personal goals and class goals 


  • Dedicate some time to let students share between each other what they would like to achieve. It could be done in couples or in groups, or individually. Invite everyone to share their dreams, without interrupting each other, and then setting a practical goal for the future.
  • At the beginning of the year, dedicate some time to have an individual reflection from every student about what they want to achieve in terms of soft or hard competences during the year and how they think they can reach this goal.
  • With the whole class group, set goals that you want to achieve together by the end of the year, month or week.
  • Everyone (students and teacher(s)) can write/describe their own dream life

11. Encourage students to periodically give feedback and reflect on their learning experience


  • Students can be invited regularly to share how they feel about every subject they learn – what is interesting for them, what is not, what would they like more and what would they like less.
  • Feedback can also be given on the teacher as mentor and guide (see module
  • On the role of adults)  or to the general class culture and atmosphere

12. Refrain from giving homework, unless students ask for it.

13. Involve  students in curriculum design and planning


  • Create a box, where every student can drop a written message describing what they would like to learn about
  • Promote time for independent learning and responsibility

14. Allow as much as possible free play, being aware of the essential part that it has  for children’s development


Democratic Education History, Models and Practices 

15. Try as much as possible to involve students in decisions affecting their own life/learning


  • Whenever a small or big decision has to be taken, call for a circle to decide on something (can be only for those interested in the decision or for all the class). You can start with brainstorming, then if a proposal arises, call for a vote on that proposal
  • Explain clearly what is the area of decision that students have (their domain)

16. Encourage students to engage in school life through the organisation of committees


  • Different committees can be created bearing the responsibility for different spheres of school’s life (ie. decoration of the school, organisation of events, organisation of sport day, leading a project, fundraising…) 
  • Students can volunteer in one or more committees that can work across classes

17. Encourage the creation of a school assembly, where all the different committees can report on their actions. 

18. Talk with students about children and youth rights 


  • Read and discuss together in class the Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child about children right to participation You can hang the article on the classroom wall

19. Find occasions to exchange with older and younger students, mixing ages and classes


  • The school committees are the perfect occasion to exchange among different ages
  • Create project among different classes


The Role of the Adult

20. Invest in training for teachers 


  • Suggest your school staff to enrol in the DESC training
  • Other relevant training could be a Nonviolent communication training and restorative justice

21. Explore with the students the reasons for their difficulties


  • Individually or in group, if a difficulty arises, use compassion and try to explore the reason behind. You might want to use the following generating questions:

   – What are you struggling to understand at the moment?

   – What would you want me to explain differently in order for you to understand better? 

    – What did you find complicated about this task?

    – In what ways did today’s activity challenge you?”

22. Explore the feelings and needs behind students’ actions and help them naming their feelings and needs, and to turn them into requests.


  • Non violent communication can help you in this process (see Module 8 on violence and aggression). 
  • Here you can find the full list of human needs and feelings:, it is good to explore them with students, print them out and/or hang in the classroom.
  • Explore the 4 step model of expressing observations, feelings, needs and requests (NVC). You can hang it in the classroom to have a visual instrument that shows what a personal and safe expression (without judgement, blame or criticism) looks like. Here is a useful link: The 4 Steps Model – Connecting2Life – The Art of Dialogue.
  • Bring in the class the puppets of the giraffe and a jackal as symbols of positive communication (giraffe) and violent communication (jackall). Those puppets can be also used to help in conflict  mediation . 

23. Give every student individual mentoring time to create one-to-one connection 


Dedicate to one to one mentoring as much time as possible, but also five minutes can make the difference. 

If possible, allow students to choose their own mentors among teachers.

These chosen mentors/teachers could use the following guiding questions to start the conversation: 

  • Is there something about you that I (your teacher) don’t know and you would like to share? 
  • What is one thing you want to know about your teacher/me?
  • What is a problem that you would like to change?
  • What is your biggest dream or goal at the moment?
  • What is one thing your teacher can do to get to know you better?
  • How can your teacher help you if you are feeling down?
  • What do you think is the most important quality for a teacher to have?
  • Who is an adult at school that you know you can count on?
  • Who is a friend at school that you know you can count on?
  • What makes you feel the most appreciated and understood?
  • What are your favourite hobbies?
  • What is something you like to do outside of school?
  • What was the hardest part of the past week for you? And the best part?

24. Whenever as teacher you request something from students, always explain the reasons behind your request, avoiding any authoritarian imposition


Sociocracy in Schools

25. Agree on which kind of decision making method you want to use (majority vote or consent?) 


  • Explain to students the differences between the two, make simulations about the two different methods and allow them to choose (with both methods?) the one they prefer.
  • If your students opt for majority vote, always teach them to be mindful of the minority and to allow for their request to be considered in another moment

26. Give the opportunity to have class circles, discussing class rules and new proposals arising from students

27. Use open elections method to appoint any role 



Violence, Aggression & Conflicts

28. When a conflict arises, use mediation


  • This is a three steps process you can follow:
  1. Gather together with the persons involved in the conflict.
  2. Actively listen to the facts and seek to recognise needs and feelings behind any actions. Everyone involved should have space for expression without being interrupted. If it is a custom to interrupt, you can request the listeners not to react.
  3. Discuss together what can be done to make the situation better
  • Have a mediator appointed in the school, someone that is trained in mediation/restorative justice. The mediator should be someone students can trust and connect with
  • Having peer mediation and training students in mediation skills
  • An alternative to mediation is the  possibility of creating a School court. It is a body of elected students and staff who dispense justice to those who have broken school rules. Any school member may bring any case before the court. The frequency of court sessions is determined by the court.

29. Providing tools for expressing emotions


  • There are many ways in which everyday and at any moment, students can show their emotions. Some of these are for kindergarten and primary school, example: the forecast of emotions (explore feelings as weather), using legos attributing a feeling for every colour, having an interactive board on the walls, when children can stick their name on the corresponding emotions etc etc…)
  • Create with your students the wheel of emotion so to help them labelling whatever they are experiencing

30. Look for restorative actions, instead of blaming


  • Help your students seeing a conflict as an opportunity to all learn and grow together
  • Strives to be respectful to all and provides the opportunity for equitable dialogue and decision making for all
  • Always addresses harms, needs, obligations and encourages all to take responsibility
  • All involved parties should decide together on a course of action, and all parties should work together to carry out that plan.
  • The following questions can be asked in order to find a restorative solution to a harm: 
  • What can you do to fix this? 
  • How would you feel if the same thing happened to you? 
  • How did your behaviour impact your friend/peer?


Democratic Practices in big Classes 

31. Develop ground rules/ class pact/atmosphere agreement


  • Work with post-its, to allow students to write in post-its what is the class atmosphere and culture they would like to have and what are the things they would not want. They put together the post-its, negotiate conflictual point of views and come up with a class atmosphere agreement detailing the ground rules that everyone wants to have in order to respect the desired class atmosphere. Revise it every six months-year 
  • Hang in the classroom the basic/ground rules agreed

32. Make non-negotiable rules clear and explained  


  • If in your school there are non-negotiable rules, please let them know and explain the reason behind them
  • In addition to the school roles, there might be others created in the class, for those you can create an organic rule board with the students, adding new rules after the mediation of a conflict to improve the quality of the time spent together


Environment as a third teacher

33. Have school furniture and setting as modular as possible, so that they can be changed according to students’ needs and desires.


  • Arrange as much as possible the class into small groups, and have different areas where students can be in different positions (sitting corner, standing corner, reading corner etc etc..)

34. Take care of the school space together with students 


  • Create a commission about school space organisation and decoration
  • Decide in the commission about what works could be done to make the school space nicer and inspiring
  • Engage parents in this, if more work is needed!


Benefits of Nature 

35. Go outside of the school, as much as possible.


  • Favour environments with as much biodiversity as possible
  • Encourage travels and school trips, and involve students in all the phases of the trip (choice of destination, planning, fundraising etc…)

36. Bring nature/green inside the classroom and the school yard 


  • Bring plants
  • Decorate the school yard with students
  • Allow students to decide how they can bring nature inside the school, through bringing plants, implementing a vegetable garden etc… 
  • Create a commission in charge of  nature in school
  • Engage parents in this, if more work is needed (ie. to redecorate and making the school yard greener) 
  • Allow students who wish so, to take care of a vegetable garden and animals in the school 
  • Share with students sustainable practices and tips that they can implement in school (composting, recycling etc..)


Soft skills in the 21st Century 

37. Encourage students to work in groups, promoting cooperation instead of competition

38. Foster reflections about ethical/contemporary topics


  • This could be done in group discussions or individual writing

39. Organise cooperative group games

40. Cultivate appreciation


  • Organise an “Appreciation Circle” with the students. It can be structured like these: one student at the time starts appreciating him or herself in front of the group, then all the others say something they appreciate about this person. It can be useful to give everyone the same amount of time to speak and to have the opportunity for every student within the year to be appreciated by the group. It can also be a beautiful practice to say goodbye to students leaving the school.

41. Implement sharing circles (check in, check out)


  • take a few minutes at the beginning and at the end of the day to let everyone share how they feel with the rest of the class.
  • choose a funny ice breaking question to ask the entire class to help them to participate (ie. if you were an animal, which animal would you be?)


Diversity and Inclusion 

42. Encourage sharing of each other’s cultures 


  • This could be done by presentation, gift sharing, cooking together etc etc..

43. Promoting group games to create togetherness and inclusion


  • In case there are children not speaking the same language, mimic games are a good way to create connection.

44. Work in small groups to facilitate collaboration and inclusiveness of special needs and diversity


Open Schooling

45. Implement transversal, project-based learning, that departs from reality and real-life challenges

46.Talk with students about the importance of children and youth participation, and find ways to promote in class and outside school, children engagement and participation


  • This could be done by involving students in the Friday marches for future, or in cooperation exchanges, solidarity projects, community projects.

47. Build a network of external people/experts and invite them in class to share their experiences


  • According to the student’s area of interest, teachers can ask for external intervention to support them on a topic of interest for students that they don’t feel comfortable explaining.
  • This list can depart from parents expertises, as well as from their connections.

48. Connect the school assembly/council (point 16) with the local Municipality , in order to allow students bringing proposals to the local authorities and vice versa

49. Visit the neighbourhood with students and make links with    interesting realities 

50. Engage parents


  • Create a meeting with parents in which you explain what is democratic education and the changes you will implement in class.
  • explain them the importance of trusting children, listening to children and to involve them in decision making in their family as well.
  • Suggest parents to follow the  DESC training and other relevant training (Nonviolent communication training and restorative justice)
  • Ask them for support and engagement in school and after school.
  • Update them with all the relevant information and news during the application of democratic education practices.