Building a Culture of Peace
The Peaceable Classroom
At the Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School (VACDES), where I teach, we have been working for several years towards a "Peaceable School." The four main parts of this program include:
- a Student Conduct Code,
- special Class Meetings,
- Peer Mediation, and
- the Peaceable Classroom Program.
In our school, we work on bringing peace to the classroom in two main ways. First, I will detail our SHARP Points activity, which essentially is the development of the Student Conduct Code. Secondly, I will discuss some of the activities that are a part of the Peaceable Classroom. I am detailing these components of our school's culture of peace in the hope that other teachers will have an opportunity to implement similar activities to develop more peaceable classrooms.
The SHARP Points are based on a book entitled Essential 55 by Ron Clark (Hyperian Books, NY, 2003). The teachers read it over the summer, then a professional learning community of teachers and staff come up with their own school rules.
In a Title I school, many of our students come from homes in which manners are simply not taught -- or modeled by their parents. I believe this program has had a positive impact and does help foster more peaceful, mutually respective relationships between students.
SHARP Points are behaviors and manners we expect students to follow at our school. Every day one is read over the loud speakers during morning announcements. The goal is to give students the tools they need to develop respectful behavior. The name represents Students Having Awesome Respect (for) People. The SHARP Points are as follows:
- When responding to any adult, you must answer by saying "Yes ma'am" or "No sir." Just nodding your head or saying any other form of yes or no is not acceptable.
- Make eye contact. When someone is speaking, keep your eyes on him or her. If someone makes a comment, turn and face that person.
- Always say "Thank you" when someone gives you something. There is no excuse for not showing appreciation.
- Quickly learn the names of other teachers in the school, and greet them politely.
- Do and say nice things to people. Surprise others by performing random acts of kindness. Take pride in your school. Help keep it clean inside and out.
- If you win or do well at something, do not brag. If you lose, do not show anger. If someone else in the class wins a game or does something well, congratulate that person.
- When you are with a substitute teacher, you will be respectful, and you will obey the same rules followed daily.
- Never do or say anything that would hurt someone's feelings or embarrass them. Be nice and polite to everyone.
- Accept responsibility for your actions and mistakes.
- When greeting visitors or meeting new people, make them feel welcome. Repeat their names and shake their hands when appropriate.
- If you approach a door, and someone is following you, hold the door.
- If you bump into someone, even if it was not your fault, say "Excuse me."
- Do not interrupt when others are talking unless it is an emergency. If you have to interrupt, say "pardon me" or "excuse me." Note: when a group of people are talking, walk around the group, not through it.
- Do not show disrespect with gestures or comments.
- If any child in this school is bothering or bullying you, let an adult know. You have the right to be safe, protected, and not to be made to feel uncomfortable.
- If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!
- No matter the circumstances, always be honest.
- Be responsible for yourself and your actions. You are not "in charge" of the behavior of anyone but yourself.
- Smile, be positive, and be the best person you can be. Choose to make each day a good one!
I believe that this program has been instrumental in promoting peace at our school. Peaceable Classroom helps facilitate community peace by teaching students about conflict resolution, diversity, and fostering positive relationships.
We start the Peaceable Classroom (PC) activity at the beginning of the school year, and it lasts the entire year. We have a PC lesson every Monday, and every teacher teaches the same curriculum -which was developed by a guidance counselor. In the beginning of the year, we build relationships, teach students how to compliment one another, and how to discuss problems that might come up during the year. We have a meeting in the beginning of the lesson where students make comments and discuss problems. Then we teach the lesson or do an activity. It all lasts about 15-30 minutes. Some lessons include:
- "Peaceable Being"
- We draw a life-size student on poster paper and students write words that they think demonstrate a safe, peaceful classroom inside the "being" and words they think are negative and destructive outside the "being." We post it in the classroom for the year.
- "Class Compact"
- We make a compact together as a class, reflecting how we expect to treat each other.
- "Conflict Resolution"
- We talk about what conflict means to students, and we teach them how to deal with conflicts peacefully. We equip students with problem solving skills, and we teach them strategies to resolve disagreements through role playing and games.
The sources of the program activities generally come from four main sources:
- Friendly Classroom for a Small Planet,
- by Priscilla Prutzman, et. al.;
- Conflict Resolution: an Elementary School Curriculum,
- by Gail Sadalla, et. al. of the Community Board of San Francisco;
- Adventures in Peacemaking,
- by William Kreidler and Lisa Furlong of Educators for Social Responsibility in Cambridge, MA; and
- Early Childhood Adventures in Peacemaking,
- by William Kreidler of Educators for Responsibility of Cambridge, MA.
(Sonja Sneddon is in her third year at VACDES teaching the fourth grade. The principal of VACDES is Kathy Wetzel who can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)