The Talking Stick

“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.” I read when my students one day when I was frustrated by all of the complaints my students had.

Among 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.

Just what my class needed.

The next day, I told my students to get in a circle and then showed them a wooden mallet I use for a singing bowl.

“Today we are going to have a class meeting. This is the talking stick,” I said, holding it up. “It is for taking turns. As we pass it around, each person will have a chance to share, but only the person holding it speaks; everyone is quiet and listening.”

The kids started to giggle. A few poked each other in the ribs. I expected this.

“I’ve noticed that lately some of you have had some issues with other kids in our class,” I said in quiet voice. “Many of you have come to me with problems and I set aside this time to work them out. But remember we are talking about feelings, not tattle or name call. If someone shares a concern with you, you have two choices. You either say, ‘Thank you for sharing,’ or apologize. No arguing is allowed.”

I looked around the circle and waited for focus. Many kids nodded and sat up straight, seeming to understand the solemnity of what was about to happen.

I then explained that wanted to create a better class community.  We would get to to know each other better, share joys and gratitude, and work out conflicts. “I’ll start with an example,” I said, I turning to one boy in my class, whose name is changed to ‘Cole’ for privacy.

“Cole, I feel upset about the choices you have made lately. You have thrown things,  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 congratulated him on his bravery  before passing the talking stick to the child on my left.  She could either share an “I feel” messages or pass. She chose to pass but I was surprised to find that many children were very open to sharing.

Over the next twenty minutes, students found their voice. Some faced those who had bullied them and said how much it hurt. Bullies apologized and thanked the speaker for sharing. Two girls, who had been arguing and talking behind each other’s backs, shared about how much they missed each other. A few acknowledged friends and thanked them for being there. 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.

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.”


A teacher, Laurie Woodward is the author of  several novels including Forest Secrets, and the fantasy series The Artania ChroniclesShe also cowrote 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 and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes her novels on the Central Coast of California.

Making Peace Cards

“Ms. Woodward! She’s being mean to me!” “Mom, he went in my room again!” “Mr. Garcia, Sam won’t play with me.”  If  these outbursts sound familiar, you’ve probably found that every fix was temporary. And frustrating.  But don’t worry, most teachers and parents feel the same way.

So what to do? If you can’t fix these problems, who will?

The children.

For years, I tried solving problems for my students only to have them come back with the same exact issue a week later. Then I started to research conflict resolution, reading everything I could find on bullying and peace. I then took a course from Teachers Without Borders on peace in the classroom and began to experiment with tools for solving conflicts.

That’s when I hit on the idea of Peace Cards. Once I  started using them, I was amazed at the results.  They really work.
They empower children to come up with solutions themselves.

Here are the steps I go through with my students:

First,  you’ll need to teach them the three types of conflict resolution.

Materials:  Index cards, markers or crayons, whiteboard.

Step 1) Write the following on the board, chart paper or electronic whiteboard:
a) Passive = Giving in to another. (lose, win)
b) Aggressive = Attacking another. (lose, lose)
c) Assertive = Be firm with desired outcome. (win, win)
Step 2) Explain to children that these are the three ways that conflicts or problems can be resolved.
Step 3) Give examples of each. a) Passive might be when one child says, “Give me your lunch money,” and the other gives it freely. In this case the victim loses but the bully wins.( lose, win)  b) Aggressive might be when one child says, “Give me your lunch money,” and the other responds by punching him in the nose. In this case both get hurt and in trouble. (lose, lose) c)Assertive vocabulary is when one child says, “Give me your lunch money,” and the other responds with a strong no without resorting to name calling. (win,win)

I usually invite a student to role play these choices with me, overacting in a silly way with overly exaggerated gestures to get them to laugh about how ridiculous it is to punch a kid (for aggressive behavior) or to shrink away with a Charlie Brown voice (for passive behavior.) Then we role play the assertive no demonstrating the effectiveness of standing up for yourself peacefully.

Step 4) Write three headings on the board

Passive                  Aggressive                      Assertive


Ask students to give examples of when they’ve experienced each and record their responses.

Step 5) Show students examples of Peace Cards. Go over good choice examples written on the back. Then Pass out index cards and invite children to make their own positive choice for conflict resolution. They draw and write a caption for a good choice.


Step 6) Collect. Place inside a basket or a box in a easily visible place. This will remind the       class of positive choices for the future. Tell students that if they ever have a conflict with another child in the future they can make a new card or share an existing one with him/her.

Follow up: Now whenever students have conflicts that do not need serious intervention by an adult, tell them to use these tools. Have the disagreeing children discuss how to come up with a win-win situation and then invite them to make Peace Cards about how they could handle the situation better.

You’ll be surprised at their solutions.
Good luck!


A teacher, Laurie Woodward is the author of  several novels including Forest Secrets, and the fantasy series The Artania ChroniclesShe also cowrote 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 and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes her novels on the Central Coast of California.


Seeing Through Another’s eyes

drama-mask-3If your children or students are having trouble with bullying, assertiveness, or empathy here is a lesson you might want to try.

Objective: The learner will increase their understanding of what other children feel through making either a bully or victim mask then pretending to be that person while wearing it.

Materials: Pencils, construction paper or paper plates, thin paper or tissue paper, craft glue, craft sticks. crayons, markers, scissors. Chart paper, white board or electronic whiteboard.  If you’d like a premade mask click on the words “Mask template”  following for a link to a reproducible:  mask template

Procedure: 1. List the four kinds of bullies on the board.

Verbal                  Physical                 Social                 Cyber         

Cruel words       Hurting bodies    Excluding          Text

Name calling      Pushing                Gossip           Social Media

Intimidation      Touching              Cliques                Email

2. Ask the children to imagine what the face of the bully looked like when he/she was bullying. Ask the children to imagine what the victim’s face looked like when he/she was being harassed.

3. Tell them that they are going to make a mask either of a bully or a victim. Encourage about half of children to be each.

4. Pass out art supplies.

5. Go over steps for masks:

Step 1: Sketch an outline of the shape you want to make, using the inside edge of the rim of a paper plate as a guide for the bottom of the face. Cut along sketch lines. Step 2: To make hair, cut paper into a rectangle about 2 or 3 inches wide and 2 to 18 inches long. Put this shape through a paper crimper if you want to make the hair even wilder. Fringe the rectangle to within 1/2 inch of the long edge. Cut the fringed rectangle into smaller pieces, and glue pieces around the top of the plate. Glue craft stick to bottom as holder. Let dry.

6. Once the masks are complete have students look through them and pretend to be the bully or the victim.

7. Keep the masks for role play. Or as an extension the children could write scripts and act them out.

Seeing the Good

Students Seeing their Wonder by Volunteering to Create Peace

Even though news events have been beyond heartbreaking recently I still believe with every cell of my being that people are essentially good. It’s everywhere: you only have to look… Just in the past 24 hours a hulking bear of an African-American man who was grinning ear to ear in Home Depot while he chatted up every one, offered to help me carry my leaf blower to my car. He didn’t look at the color of my skin, just that the box was almost as big as me. Yesterday while I was admiring a little girl’s sand castle on the beach she gifted her treasured shell to me. When our family pup, Magnum got out yesterday morning a homeless man who naps under the trees helped me look for him. (He was returned unharmed by another kind neighbor.) I’ve seen news casts of good people taking to the streets in peace, showing solidarity with others who work for peace.
Love abounds!

Christmas Compliments


Looking for an easy Christmas project that also promotes a peaceful community? Try Christmas Compliments!

Objective: The learner will practice sentence writing by creating a paper stocking and writing compliments about four other students.

Materials: Class set of Stocking reproducible, markers, crayons, pencils, lined paper, scissors, board, chart paper or electronic whiteboard


  • Explain to students that they will be decorating a paper stocking. Hold up and show blank stocking to students. Ask for suggestions of colors, ways to decorate etc.
  • Allow students time to decorate and cut out their stockings.
  • When complete, tell the students that one of the best gifts they can give to another is the gift of being a friend. Ask them what friends do. Write responses on board.
  • Once there has been a response like, “a friend says nice things,” tell them that they are going to do just that. They are going to think of nice things to say, then write about each other.
  • Assemble the students into groups of four or five. Instruct them to think of nice things about the people in their group.
  • Review what a sentence is, that it must have a subject and a predicate or who and what they do. Also remind them about capitals and periods. If cursive is an area of focus review correct formation of some troublesome letters.
  • Instruct students to first give oral compliments to the members of their group before writing them down. Invite them to be creative and focus on the uniqueness of each person.
  • Allow time for students to write sentences.
  • Once sentences are complete the students cut them out in strips and paste them onto each other’s stocking as if a gift were spilling out.

Evaluation: Were students able to come up with compliments for each other? Were they able to write in complete sentences?

Follow up: Stockings could be displayed on wall and different compliments read by teacher or students.

Cyberbullying’s Silent Wounds

It’s just a text. Or a post. Only a few words. It’s not like I punched or kicked someone. No biggie.

Or is it? Just how big is cyberbullying to a victim?

  1. 25 percent of teenagers report that they have experienced repeated bullying via their cell phone or on the internet.
  2. Over half (52 percent) off young people report being cyberbullied.
  3. Embarrassing or damaging photographs taken without the knowledge or consent of the subject has been reported by 11 percent of adolescents and teens.
  4. Of the young people who reported cyberbullying incidents against them, one-third (33 percent) of them reported that their bullies issued online threats.
  5. Often, both bullies and cyberbullies turn to hate speech to victimize their target. One-tenth of all middle school and high school students have been on the receiving end of ‘hate terms’ hurled against them.
  6. Over half, (55 percent) of all teens who use social media have witnessed outright bullying via that medium.
  7. An astounding 95 percent of teens who witnessed bullying on social media report that others, like them, have ignored the behavior.
  8. Unfortunately, victims of cyber bullying sometimes, in an attempt to fight back, can shift roles, becoming the aggressor. Often, this happens as a sort of back-and-forth between victim and aggressor which tends to continue the behavior.
  9. More than half of young people surveyed say that they never confide in their parents when cyber bullying happens to them.
  10. Only one out of every six parents of adolescents and teens are even aware of the scope and intensity involved with cyber bullying.
  11. More than 80 percent of teens regularly use cell phones, making them the most popular form of technology and, therefore, a common medium for cyber bullying
  12. About half of young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying; among them, between 10 and 20 percent experience cyber bullying regularly.
  13. The most common types of cyberbullying tactics reported are mean, hurtful comments as posts.
It’s important to let children know that they can speak up against cyberbullying. If we educate them and have them stand up with assertive language the victims will become empowered. At the same time, adults need to monitor their child’s social media sites for predation and bullying.
Every child deserves to see their own wonder. Let’s not let cyberbullies rob them of that.

Teach Kindness With Cursive

“If you build it, he will come,”  a voice in a cornfield whispers to Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams.  And he does. And they do.

We all have fields of dreams. Mine is to see children create peace.

One way for them to do this is affirming it. With words. With art. With deeds.

Or with cursive. Why not teach  cursive writing while affirming peace? The book Cursive Writing Practice: Inspiring Quotes by Jane Lierman does just that.  With quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt and Gandhi, she helps children visualize a better world.


If you want to do the same, you could buy her book on Amazon or create your own quotes with the following lesson. Either way, you will be instilling character and kindness in your students.

And that is what teaching is all about.

Objective: The learner will practice proper letter formation in cursive by writing kind sentences.

Materials: Class set of cursive reproducible, pencils, lined paper, board, chart paper or electronic whiteboard.


  1. This lesson should be done after the students have already learned the alphabet and how to connect letters.
  2. Review formation of some troublesome letters such as g & q or s.
  3. images (4)
  4. Pass out worksheets. Have students read the kind sentences.
  5. Model how to write sentences.
  6. Allow students time to complete worksheets.

While the students write, watch them mumble the quotes. Knowing that they are internalizing positive sayings.

The following day, have students could invent their own kind sentences.    You’ll be amazed at what they come up with.

Avoiding Bullies in One Quick Lesson


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.


  1. Create a web on chart paper, white board or electronic whiteboard with “HOW TO AVOID BULLIES” in the center and  the outer circles
  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.

Help Incarcerated Moms Connect with their Children through the Magic of Books

So many of my students have had parents on the other side of concrete and bars. This program gives needed emotional relief for them.

Michelle Eastman Books


The number of kids with incarcerated parents has increased nearly 80% in the last 20 years, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. More than 2.7 million children have a parent who is incarcerated, and parents of another 10 million children have been incarcerated at some point.  The experience can be profoundly difficult for children, increasing their risk of living in poverty and housing instability, as well as causing emotional trauma, pain, and social stigma.

But, through programs like the Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa Storybook Project, some of that stress melt away when kids are able to visit their parent and read a special book together. Through an audio-tape reading program wherein imprisoned parents/grandparents read books to their children/grandchildren on tape, family bonds are strengthened and literacy skills improve as they encourage their children to read with them and in their absence.

The Storybook Project recruits…

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