Innovative Democratic Practices in Schools

In 2004, the Woodring College of Education and the Whatcom Day Academy entered a partnership to explore the role of schooling in promoting and sustaining a democratic society. Our work is affiliated with the League of Democratic Schools, a project initiated by John Goodlad. On this page, we will share ideas and innovative practices for democratic schooling.

Whatcom Day Academy

Kids Looking at the Sky

At Whatcom Day Academy, we believe that children learn as part of a community, and that the nature of that community has a profound effect on their future actions as citizens in a democracy. Therefore, we pay careful attention to the ways in which our community functions - in the classrooms and among the adults in the hallways, in committee meetings and faculty meetings.

Three important ingredients in our community processes are respectful public discourse, informed decision-making, and fostering new ideas. It is important to give our students many opportunities to practice these skills, beginning with the three year olds. We spend time at the beginning of each year involving students in laying the ground rules for their classroom communities. Through this process, and ongoing class discussions throughout the year, students recognize that their contributions are valuable and begin to think about the nature of group discourse. They learn how to listen to and learn from others' perspectives, and how to make group decisions that are in the best interests of the community. This sometimes means that they have to put aside their personal preferences in the interest of the group.

The school also engages in a variety of activities that help promote community awareness including recycling, composting, sustainability efforts, and service learning projects.

As a school, we continue to think about our role in preparing tomorrow’s citizens and to modify our practices as we learn from others and generate new ideas. We share what we are doing here, not as a model of what everyone else should do, but as an example of a school community conscientiously working toward fulfilling its responsibility to a democratic society.

Whatcom Day Academy’s Educational Philosophy: Nurturing the Brilliance in Every Child.

The Whatcom Day Community

Highlights from Vale Hartley's presentation at the 2008 Educational Law and Social Justice Forum, "Schooling as if Democracy Matters."

View the full video from the 10th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum, featuring Whatcom Day instructor Vale Hartley.


Democratic Practices in the Classroom

League of Democratic Schools

In 2004, John I. Goodlad initiated the League of Small Democratic Schools (LSDS). In August of 2007, the name was changed to the League of Democratic Schools (LODS). The purpose of the League is:

  • To promote professional development focused on the growth of students as individuals who are successful members of a democratic society: and
  • to help preserve schools which successfully advance the Agenda for Education in a Democracy (AED).

Common Characteristics of LODS Schools

  • Democratic Purpose: LODS schools believe the primary purpose of schooling is to develop in young people the knowledge, skills, and attitudes students require for successful participation in our nation’s social and political democracy.
  • Student Achievement: Students in such schools are successful academically and socially.
  • Ongoing Professional Development: All members of the school community engage in continuous learning.
  • Approaches to Learning: These are schools that use a wide variety of approaches to learning including engaging students with parents and other adults within the community.
  • Personalization: These schools deliberately personalize the relationships among students, teachers, parents, and administrators either by being small enough that faculty members can gather as a group for dialogue or, if larger, by making other arrangements to facilitate communications among the members of the school community.

For more information, please see the Institute for Educational Inquiry.