Most everyone talks about having peace in the world. From philosophers to politicians to rock stars and religious folks, a longing for peace is expressed in a variety of ways and through a variety of mediums. It is a daunting subject for adults resulting into discussions and even arguments over the role of politics, the cause and results of warfare, the rights and wrongs of countries and more. But for young children, the topic is limited in scope. It involves every day conflicts with their peers in the school yard, the classroom, and the cafeteria – all part of the daily life of a school day!
Thus, here in Saint John’s Elementary School, we have started a training program to help young children be peacemakers. Coordinated by the Elementary School Counselor, the 18 members of the Student Council (grades 3, 4 and 5) participated in several sessions of a very simple strategy to help resolve conflicts. With the hope to spread the training to other groups of students, the essence of this program is that the ‘peacemaker’ does NOT solve the problem. Instead, the ‘peacemaker’ assists the people in conflict to solve the problem themselves by leading them through a simple process using Active Listening and I Messages!
Can you imagine how many conflicts could be resolved if people really listened to one another? Through some simple exercises, the students involved in the training, practice putting themselves in the other person’s place to listen and understand what the person is saying and how he/she feels. Non verbal behaviors (facial expressions, gestures, eye contact and posture) are encouraged to show understanding and acceptance rather than the opposite. Students learn to restate the other person’s most important thoughts and check to make sure that they understand them clearly leaving out any personal feelings or similar experiences. The students practice remaining neutral throughout the conversation.
In addition, the peacemakers help the students in conflict to use I –messages to communicate feelings without blaming the other person. Through a scripted approach and using good eye contact, the students are trained to tell how and why they feel the way that they do.
So what is the impact of such a program? Obviously not world peace and yet, for young children in our international school, it is a step forward in believing that peace can take root in their own playground and that they have a hand in making it a possibility.
As Maria Montessori said, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education: all politics can do is keep us out of war.”
Johanna Bambridge – Elementary School principal