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Why deep democracy is a key method in today’s classrooms

We live in a constantly changing world. In recent times, we have faced a global pandemic, the consequences of climate change and a renewed and intensified social debate on racism and decolonisation in a super-diverse society. Not only do we live in a rapidly changing, but also in a rapidly polarizing world.

At school and in the classroom, these tensions can also be felt. Young people bring their questions and uncertainties about the changing society into the classroom. In dealing with these tensions, the role of the teacher is essential. They often find themselves stuck in the middle between different cultures, backgrounds and philosophical frameworks and experience pressure from various sides – students, parents, colleagues, schoolboard and society. Many teachers experience a certain incapacity to act when it comes to friction and conflict arising from differences in a superdiverse society.

As a result, tensions often either turn into a heated conflict or remain unspoken and therefore unresolved. There is a need to listen to all the voices, to make space for all opinions and ideas – majority and minority alike – to be heard.

It looks as though we need to work with the tensions that inevitably surface in our transforming society. By doing so, we can build on the wisdom that lies in the differences of opinion, and transformation and behavioral shifts can occur.

A vision translated into tools

Deep democracy can help teachers deal with tension and conflict as part of group dynamics on the basis of very specific tools. Other methods combine well with deep democracy such as non-violent communication or restorative practices. Deep democracy closely aligns with these methods, e.g. the metaskills that are practiced and developed. However, deep democracy offers a very unique lens on group dynamics, inspired by both old wisdom and new science (e.g. process oriented psychology). The very structured tools and methods offer an added value.

Deep democracy was firstly developed for adults. Now is the time to translate these tools to the context of classrooms and to specific age groups of children and youngsters. In research and development work within the Lewis Deep Democracy community, colleagues in South Africa, Australia, Turkey, the Netherlands, Belgium, Libanon,… are on this learning journey. In her recent book ‘Rebelleren kan je leren’, Fanny Matheusen makes an attempt to encompass what deep democracy aims to develop in three images:

    • Homo empathicus, who has compassion for self and others.
    • Homo animoso, who dares to speak his/her truth, who is brave enough to stand up.
    • Homo ludens, who uses creativity and imagination to bridge and bond and overcome intercultural differences.

These developmental goals are specified in the following life skills for students:

    • to have a voice;
    • to listen deeply to different opinions;
    • to work through the tension that arises from differences of opinion and diversity;
    • and to strengthen connection with others.

On this learning journey students and teachers will discover insights into how they relate to themselves and others, value diversity, develop greater compassion for self and others, and positively impact their community and society.

Working with kids and youngsters is mostly achieved by strengthening teachers. How? By learning them tools for democratic dialogue and decision making and by further developing their metaskills: their compassion, non-judgmental attitude, clear communication and listening skills. The tools we develop for teachers should therefore be teacherproof as well as suitable for the specific age group or for the context of a classroom.


1. From our experience in schools working with the deep democracy tools we know that there exists a fear that these tools would disturb the classroom management. And indeed, in a way they do because they have an impact on existing power and rankdynamics between teacher and pupil and amongst pupils. In our perception this impact is a blessing for the wellbeing and the leadershipskills of youngsters. But we don't deny that in the short run it is a challenge, certainly in those schools where hierarchy is still very strong and managing by putting pressure or threatening with punishments is the dominant way. So when we do the training, we have to discuss this with teachers and see how they respond themselves to the tools. This will help a lot in seeing what will happen in the classroom.

2. A second factor that makes teachers nervous or anxious or insecure while learning a new method, is that it feels like an extra above their usual load of things to do. If we really want to implement these tools, we have to make sure they can be automated because when you feel not at ease, you tend to rely on what you know, old patterns. And you will not use new methods unless they are so structured you can do them in the moment. We believe the deep democracy tools are suitable, but we know when polarisation, tension of conflict come into the room, people tend to lose grip and lose their capacities.

So if we want teacherproof tools: 

    • we have to reflect and open up the debate with teachers about their classroom management;
    • we have to work with them on metaskills so that they learn to know their triggers better and can hold themselves in the midst of tension;
    • the tools should be very well structured (why/how/what);
    • the tools should be easy to learn;
    • the tools should be rapidly accessible if you have forgotten bits or pieces.

This is a challenge we want to take with HUMMUS. Various trainers in our team have themselves teaching experience or are/were active in the educational sector. We have a heart for kids and youngsters and for teachers as well! We believe that there lies a better future for all of us if we learn children from a young age to empower themselves and others through bolt and beautiful dialogues.

Do you like to work with us?