Friday, September 13, 2013

Peace Education by S.L. Wallace

Note by Jacquie: Thank you S.L Wallace for sharing this very useful post. Whether you are teaching in a classroom, facilitating a homeschool group, or working in the community, this post is filled with ideas you can use today.

Peace education is one of the most important skills we can teach our children today. Just turn on the news, and you’ll see what I mean. Adults face difficult situations every day. Married individuals need to get along with their spouses, or their marriage could end in divorce. Coworkers need to know how to get along because happy workers are more likely to pull their weight and be efficient. Politicians need to know how to discuss difficult situations to keep entire nations safe and out of war.

And where do adults learn these vital social skills? At school. Traditionally, schoolchildren have learned negotiating and peacekeeping skills on the playground, in the lunchroom and in the hallways. However, in more and more classrooms today, educators are recognizing the importance of teaching social skills in the classroom and letting their students practice during less structured times of the day. This is much like any other subject. Reading skills are taught in class, and students then practice while playing video games, reading notes from their friends and reading books for enjoyment. Likewise, math skills are taught in class, and students then practice while baking a cake, measuring to build a model airplane, shopping for the latest item, etc.

Just as reading and math are important, so too is peace education. In my opinion, the best time of the year to formally teach peace education is at the very beginning when classroom policies and procedures are being established. Throughout the year, follow up lessons and activities reinforce what has already been presented. Some follow up lessons include the entire class and should be brief, and small group/individual practice and reinforcement should be used when children experience problems naturally.

Teachers don’t have a lot of extra time. Administrators, politicians and parents expect a lot from us. I know from experience...there is so much to do, and teachers are often pressured to jump right in. But I assure you, if a teacher does not take the time to lay the groundwork properly, the rest of the year will be a big waste of time. It’s important to lay the groundwork to ensure the rest of the year will flow as smoothly as possible.

Here are some ideas that have worked for me and that may work for you:

Establish an inclusive and emotionally safe environment for everyone. Use the term “we.” Let the students know that the classroom is as much theirs as it is yours. Use a rotating job chart so that everyone who uses the environment is responsible for keeping it neat and clean. Encourage students to work together and help each other during work time. Give students the chance to share their strengths with each other. Have a weekly class meeting. Let the students add to the agenda and run the meeting. The teacher is there for support and has the power to veto.

At the beginning of the year, we review the school’s policy of respecting yourself, respecting others and respecting the environment. Students discuss the meaning of those statements, and together, we generate a class list of examples for each category. The students also receive a contract for responsibility. This goes home the first week and is their first assignment. They are to read it and discuss it with a parent. The contract is for three parties and therefore has been split into three sections: as a parent/guardian, I will; as a student, I will; and as a teacher, I will... If a student asks, “What if we don’t sign it?” The standard response is, “If there is something you or your parents disagree with, I’ll be happy to have a conference with you to discuss that and make changes to the policy, if necessary.”

Teach students to recognize teasing, put-downs and bullying. I do a very special read aloud that first week. It’s a book called Simon’s Hook: A Story about Teases and Put-Downs by Karen Gedig Burnett. We follow with a discussion about bullying: what it means, what it looks like and how students can respond. We also discuss the importance of standing up for others and what that may look like. A great book to reinforce this lesson later in the year is Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting. This can be tied into a history lesson or simply read for the idea behind it which is standing up for others.

Create a peace area. I have a peace area in my classroom. It is a bookcase with a number of items on it including books and activities. There are books including: A Little Peace by Barbara Kerley, Simon’s Hook by Karen Gedig Burnett, If the World Were a Village by David J. Smith and Children of the Earth...Remember by Schim Schimmel. As they tie into my curriculum, I read them aloud to the entire class, and we discuss them. These books are also available for any student to take off the shelf and read on their own or with a friend.

The No Fault Zone Game is also on the peace shelves in my classroom as well as in every elementary and middle school classroom in our building. Our elementary and middle school staff have enjoyed numerous workshops, both online and in person, led by Sura Hart. Even without the training, teachers can easily purchase the game, read the directions and find a variety of ways to help students begin expressing their feelings and needs which is the basis for clear communication and which come in especially handy when anyone is not feeling calm and alert. The No Fault Zone is not a gimmick. It’s a tool to help people communicate. In the past, I’ve used it during book groups to help students consider the feelings and motivations of characters in the books we’re reading so it’s easy enough to tie in teaching without trying to find more time in our already hectic schedules. My students have also been taught how to use the game to do a daily self check-in and many have used it with a peer when they are in the middle of a conflict. This often requires a teacher separating the students so they can complete their own check-in, using the “listen to MY feelings and needs” card before bringing them together so they can read how each other is feeling and see what their needs are. Sometimes, that is enough to resolve the conflict. Other times, it leads to enlightening discussions between the students. Occasionally, the students will walk away without having completely solved the conflict but with a better understanding of where the other person is coming from.

There are yoga mats and a deck of yoga cards on the peace shelf. Students are allowed to use these during work time as long as it does not become distracting.

The younger elementary students at our school (1st – 3rd grade) are taught the FISH! philosophy. The four steps in the FISH! philosophy are: play, make their day, be there and choose your attitude.

In my upper elementary classroom, we build upon what the younger students have learned by adding a conflict resolution process. It’s a five step laminated list that is on the peace shelves along with a peace item that students can pass back and forth. The peace item is a visual indicator of whose turn it is to speak. Here is an abbreviated form of the list: cool down if necessary, take turns explaining the problem (I felt _________ when...), take turns restating how the other person feels and why, try to figure out a win-win solution.

The most important aspect of peace education is to make peace an integral part of the environment. Teach students to recognize peaceful behavior when they see it. Teach them what to do when they see non-peaceful behavior such as bullying. Give them choices. Let them know they are important and that they have a voice. In my classroom, we end every day with a gratitude circle. Everyone has an opportunity to thank someone else in the room for something specific he or she did that day. This takes no more than five minutes. The person receiving the thanks, responds with a simple, “You’re welcome.” In the words of John Lennon, “Give peace a chance.” You might be surprised at the powerful effect your words and actions have on others.

S.L. Wallace has 14 years teaching experience. She has taught in both traditional and Montessori classrooms at the upper elementary and middle school levels. She has worked in AMS and AMI Montessori schools in both the public and private sectors. S.L. Wallace currently has four books available for adults and the older YA audience.

Visit the Author’s Page at:


The No Fault Zone Game


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Freida Bowlby said...

Excellent work.