Tips for a Peaceful School Year

Well, it’s getting closer to that time we teachers both dread and look forward to. The beginning of a new school year. Along with the mad rush to get everything ready, I try to also think of how I’ll promote peace this year. Here are a few things I do that you might find helpful.

1. Create a Peace Zone. Here I have a small table for both peace and discipline cards below inspirational posters.

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2. Plan your reward system. What rewards will you use?  Personally I have two reward systems: cooperative and individual. My students sit in cooperative groups and get points for on-task behavior. That group with the most points receives a prize at the end of the day. For individual behaviors, each student has the opportunity to get two tickets weekly: one for completing all homework and another if they did pull their card. They can use these ticket to purchase toys from the treasure box.

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3. Think about your rules and your assertive discipline plan. I find that a few  general rules are easier to manage than a long list of specific ones. Examples include: Treat others, property, and self with respect. Follow directions. Wait to be called upon to speak.

For discipline, my students make their own cards. On one side, they color their name and a positive scene doing something they like. This affirms their uniqueness and what privileges can be lost when rules are broken.On the opposite side are three columns: Date, Problem, Next Time. These are filled in when students get to the “pulled card” level of misbehavior. I believe writing the problem down and then writing what would have been a good choice helps children reflect on their behavior. I do have this caveat: Next time must be stated as a POSITIVE. If the problem is pushing in line, then he/she should write, “Keep hands to self.”

Copy of card back

4. Write Discipline into your lesson plans for the first weeks of school. Give yourself plenty of time to train students. This is not the time to rush into the standards but to establish procedures.Believe me, it’ll pay off. Whenever I’ve rushed because I’ve felt under the gun, discipline got a heck of a lot tougher. And you don’t want to start the year like that.

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5. Plan an art project that will make every child  feel successful. Need ideas? Pinterest has tons.

Laurie Woodward is the author of The Pharaoh’s Cry,  Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky from the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles,  as well as the middle-grade Forest Secrets. She co-wrote Dean and JoJoThe Dolphin Legacy and was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet,  and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net

Literature and Conflict Resolution

61Hq5TQ8UpL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_Source: Literature and Conflict Resolution

Many books can inspire peace in children. Silver People by Margarita Engle, which tells the story of the Panama Canal, is just one.The Jane Adams Peace Association honored this book in its annual awards. For more books that promote peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races go to http://www.janeaddamspeace.org/jacba/

Avoiding Bullies in One Quick Lesson

downloadHOW TO AVOID BULLIES

If children do not understand  how to recognize bullying behavior, how can they stop it? Here is a quick lesson you can use to help your students avoid bullies.

Materials: Graphic of web worksheet for each child. Chart paper, white board or electronic whiteboard.

Procedure:

  1. Create a web on chart paper, white board or electronic whiteboard with “HOW TO AVOID BULLIES” in the center and  the outer circles empty.download
  1. Ask the students to come up with ways characters in film or literature were able to defeat/avoid bullies peacefully. Write ideas in two bubbles.
  2. Instruct students to share more ideas with partners or in small groups. They should agree that all ideas are peaceful, win-win, solutions.
  3. Once partners or groups agree that solutions are non-violent they fill in the rest of the bubbles.
  4. After a few minutes share the responses. Groups present their webs to the class while the teacher leads the class in a discussion of which ones  were the most appropriate. For example, if one group wrote, “Tell the bully she’s ugly,” the class could then debate about whether that would be a good choice.
  5. As an extension, students could sketch a cartoon, poster, or painting of positive ways to avoid bullies.

Compassion Circle

circleHave you ever had a day that rocks you to the core? A day that makes you believe in humanity? Have you ever witnessed such powerful love you can’t help but cry? I have and it was in my fifth grade classroom. During a class meeting my students opened up and supported each other in ways that would soften the most hardened heart.

Now I work in a community with gangs, poverty, and drug abuse. And like many teachers I don’t want to know every sad story. Some are so heartbreaking it makes it hard to teach. But this one year I had students facing extreme challenges that were affecting everyone. One little girl had gone from Student of the Month to a taunting bully. Another kept stirring up girl drama while ignoring her schoolwork. Soon she was two years behind.

I wondered why?

The school counselor and their parents soon told me. The bully had recently walked in and found a cousin hanging from a rope, the victim of suicide. That, compounded with a single parent household and relatives in gangs, made her so angry she lashed out at whoever was nearby.

The second girl had a father who’d been arrested for gang activity in a loud raid on her home. His arrest was in the papers and she was so ashamed that she could barely focus in school. She often started to cry in the middle of class and asked to be excused. I tried my best to comfort her or distract her with a joke or interesting work. But when a child is missing her Daddy there is little a teacher can do.

Neither of these girls shared their pain with their classmates. Both were too ashamed.

One day the tension felt so high I called a class meeting. I cautioned the kids about the rules saying that this was private, not something to gossip about. We could share with our parents but not on the playground. Then like I often do, I started it off with acknowledging how proud I was to be their teacher, how honored I was to be part of their lives, and how much they meant to me.

I smiled at the girl whose father had been arrested and passed her the talking stick. She whispered in my ear, “I want to share about my dad. What do you think?” I told her it was her choice.

She turned the talking stick over in her hands as she spoke. “I know I’ve been fighting with some of you guys. I’m sorry. But it’s because I’ve had hard stuff to deal with. My dad got arrested. And I don’t know when he’s coming home.”

As she started to cry in the arms of the child next to her, we all chanted, “Thank you for sharing.”

I acknowledged her for being so brave and once again cautioned the students about the rules.

Next was the bully’s turn. She looked at her sobbing friend with wide eyes and shared. “I haven’t been acting great either. But it’s because I had a loss. Of my cousin.”

The kids stared at her with wide eyes. And compassion.

What happened next gave me chills. Along with the usual please-be-quieter-so-I-can- work, a couple of kids tearfully shared their parents’ divorce and how lonely it made them feel. Then two more children said they had a parent in jail and how that loss haunted them.  But between each difficult sharing was such empathy! Time and again I heard both boys and girls say, “I’m sorry for your loss and I’m here for you.”

We passed the talking stick around the circle multiple times that day and each time we did a new child revealed loss or pain. Yet every heartrending story was tempered with classmates speaking up with loving affirmations.

And when we were finally done I held the talking stick and said, “We’ve discovered something very special today. That we all have sad things to deal with. Things that are out of our control. But we also have this amazing community of support to help us. I am so proud of how brave and kind all of you were. When you’re sad, remember this and it will comfort you. We are so lucky to have each other.”

36 children. A talking stick. And a room vibrating in love.

I couldn’t help but cry.

Out of the Mouths of Babes: A Peaceful Playground

SAM_0873Who are you?  Why are you here?  The answers to these questions can be as profound as the depth in each child’s eyes. Since I believe that it’s never too soon to begin this inquiry, I use my role as Student Council advisor to get  children to look inside themselves. Our introductory meeting includes each student telling the group why they volunteered to be leaders.

This year their answers moved me to tears.

Many of the 5th and 6th graders were former students, previous peace ambassadors, or had seen the impact our  peace program had on campus. Oh sure a few had the typical response of  just wanting  to make posters or pass them out on spirit days but I was surprised at how many kids wanted to stop bullying at school. As we went around the room and each said, “My name is___. I am in ___grade and joined Student Council to ____” several shared their dreams of a more peaceful campus.

“I want to stop bullying so kids don’t feel sad, and maybe won’t do suicide later.  I want my friends to be happy,” Daisy said.

“I joined Student Council because I imagine a peaceful playground where kids feel safe. I want to stop mean kids from getting in fights,” Andrew added.

I was already getting choked up when Joseph spoke. “I joined because I want to be a friend mediator. But not just that, I want to expand our program, go deeper so we get at the cause of  problems. Because if we figure out what’s making kids do this maybe we can truly help them.”

Now I’m a real gush who gets teary just hearing a whimpering puppy, but this struck a deep cord. Ten and eleven-year-olds aware that the future was  in their hands?  And wanting to make a difference? I was blown away and so very proud.  These kids knew that if they didn’t do something to help their classmates, horrible things could happen.

My students come from all walks of life: from the most stable loving homes to severe abuse. But even those whose lives are easy see their peers’ pain.  They hear the stories of gangs, homelessness, and neglect. And they wanted to change that.  By becoming Student Council leaders they felt empowered. You could see in their hopeful faces that they truly believed  they could inspire others to kindness.

We kept going around the room until each child had a turn to share how the school should change.  Not a one asked for more cookies at lunch or to ban  homework. Instead each child shared how he or she would serve.

5th and 6th graders in service.  Kids are friggin’ beautiful.

Class Meetings

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“The two main purposes of class meetings are to help each other and to solve problems,” Jane Nelson says. According to William Glasser, the American psychiatrist who developed Choice Theory, class meetings are a time when “the teacher leads the whole class in a non-judgmental discussion.”

Amongst the guidelines were a list of dos and don’ts. For example, blame or put-downs were not allowed. These meetings were a place to solve problems, listen to the person speaking, and give each child a voice.

The next day, I told my students to get in a circle then pulled out a wooden mallet.

“This is the talking stick,” I said, holding it up. “Only the person holding it is allowed to speak. While he or she is sharing, everyone is quiet and listening. Remember we are talking about feelings, not tattling or name calling. When someone is finished sharing a concern with you, either say, ‘Thank you for sharing,’ or apologize. No arguing back and forth.”

Seeming to savor the solemnity of a grown-up meeting, the kids nodded, sat up straight, and waited with folded hands.

I then explained that I had concerns about rule breaking and wanted to create a better class community. I turned to one boy in my class, whose name is changed to ‘Cole’ below for privacy.

“Cole, I feel upset about the choices you have made lately. You have thrown things, chewed gum, and disturbed kids trying to work.”

Cole’s face blanched at first but then he lifted his gaze to meet mine and mumbled a sincere apology. Recognizing how difficult that was for him, I gave Cole a congratulatory nod before passing the stick to the next child. I said that he/she could either share with “I feel” messages or pass. Many chose to pass but what surprised me was that the children from the most troubled homes were very open to sharing. Students faced those who had bullied them and said how much it hurt. The bullies apologized and thanked the speaker for sharing. Two girls, who had been arguing and talking behind each other’s backs, spoke about how much they missed each other. Even a couple of my shyest students spoke up to say how they felt about name calling.

On the second pass around the circle I focused on problem solving having each child say; “I know we’ve had problems in the past but I’d like to__________.”  As they filled in the blanks, I was amazed that every single child said they’d like to be friends

At the end of the meeting, I thanked them all with the reminder that this was a special time for our class, not something to gossip about. They could share it with their parents but aside from that, what was said in a class meeting was private.

At the next gathering I was thrilled to discover how much better they’d been getting along. Those who had been gossiping were now sitting next to each other with their arms draped over each other’s shoulders. There wasn’t a single report of bullying.

Fortunately, Sister Maria Elephant never did show up. Oh sure, there are still days when my students push it. But when things start to feel out of control, I gather everyone in a circle to remind them that they have a choice. They can continue letting the bullying and disruption continue, or they can use their words to effect change.

I have found that when children are given the right communication tools, they can rise to the occasion. I think one of my students put it best in a pen pal letter she wrote; “We used to have bullies in our class but now kids are being nice. We know we have the power to make peace.”