Creating the Peaceable School: A Comprehensive
Program for Teaching Conflict Resolution
by Peggy Patten
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An increasing number of schools are implementing conflict
resolution programs to teach youth the skills needed to
resolve differences without violence. The authors of the
"Creating a Peaceable School" program envision a peaceable
school where the following five qualities identified by
Kreidler (1984) are present: cooperation, communication,
tolerance, positive emotional expression, and conflict
resolution. The "Creating a Peaceable School" program is
organized around six skill areas. The program contains a
number of activities and strategies to be used in whole class
discussions, learning center work, and class meetings to help
students develop a knowledge base and acquire the skills
critical to peaceful conflict resolution.
While the classroom teacher is the key player in providing the
learning opportunities required to create a peaceable
environment in the school and in modeling the behaviors
expected of a peacemaker, every adult in the school
environment-principal, subject specialist, counselor, social
worker, psychologist, secretary, supervisor, and so on-is a
potential teacher of the concepts and behaviors of peace. The
authors contend that the broadest goals of the "Creating a
Peaceable School" program are realized when the program is
applied consistently on a school-wide basis, building on
knowledge and skills each year as students progress from grade
level to grade level.
The six fundamental skill areas to "Creating a Peaceable
School" are described below. The term teacher refers both to
the classroom teacher and to others in the school environment
who are in a position to teach by their example.
1. Building a peaceable climate.
A first step is for teachers to develop a classroom
environment conducive to constructive conflict management. To
reach this goal teachers learn to establish a cooperative
context for the classroom and to manage student behavior
without coercion. A cooperative context-in contrast to a
competitive context-involves goals that all students and
teachers are committed to achieving. The teacher implements
cooperative learning activities that require collaboration and
promote interdependence among class members, in order to
foster a community-of-learners atmosphere. This kind of
atmosphere is in contrast to classrooms in which the primary
reward system is assigning grades, which leads to a
competitive context where achievement of one is at the expense
of others. In competitive classrooms, an environment of
winners and losers is created.
Secondly, the teacher in the peaceable school transfers the
responsibility for acceptable behavior to the students-not
through force or domination, but through reason and support.
Behavioral expectations can be stated in terms of rights and
responsibilities that apply to all members of the school
environment. The teacher in the peaceable school uses
discipline, not punishment, to encourage appropriate behavior.
Where punishment expresses power of an authority and is
imposed by an authority, discipline is based on logical or
natural consequences and comes from within the individual,
with responsibility assumed by the individual.
2. Understanding conflict.
The authors of "Creating a Peaceable School" explain conflict
as a natural, vital part of life which arises when one or more
of the following basic needs identified by William Glasser
(1984) go unmet:
· The need for belonging - fulfilled by loving, sharing, and
cooperating with others
· The need for power - fulfilled by achieving, accomplishing,
and being recognized and respected
· The need for freedom - fulfilled by making choices in our
· The need for fun - fulfilled by laughing and playing
The "Creating a Peaceable School" program encourages
principled responses to conflict which focus on interests
instead of positions. This response to conflict works toward a
gradual consensus on a joint resolution without the costs of
digging into positions or destroying relationships.
3. Understanding peace and peacemaking.
In the peaceable school, peace is viewed as a behavior rather
than an outcome or goal. Adults and children can incorporate
peacemaking into their daily lives by learning and practicing
the principles of conflict resolution. The authors credit the
Harvard Negotiation Project, founded by Roger Fisher and
William Ury, for the principles of conflict resolution
suggested in "Creating a Peaceable School." These basic
principles are intended to separate the people from the
problem, focus on interests and not positions, invent options
for mutual gain, and foster the use of objective criteria.
Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party-a
mediator-helps disputants resolve their conflicts peaceably.
In the peaceable school, mediation is presented as both a
strategy for use within the classroom and as a school-wide
vehicle for resolving conflicts. Training activities introduce
a six-step mediation process designed to allow students to
gain the skills to act as neutral third parties in
facilitating conflicts between disputants. With the support of
the classroom teacher, very young students can help classmates
mediate conflicts in a classroom-based program.
Negotiation is a process in which disputing parties
communicate directly with each other to resolve the conflict
peaceably. In the peaceable school, students learn the skills
necessary to communicate their thoughts and feelings about a
conflict and to follow a step-by-step negotiation procedure
designed to ensure a balanced exchange. The more students
become empowered to resolve their differences peacefully, the
authors believe, the more responsibly they behave.
6. Group problem solving.
This strategy is used in "Creating a Peaceable School" when a
conflict affects many or all members of a group, such as a
class of students. Two basic principles govern the group
· The discussion is always directed toward solving the
· The solution never includes punishment or fault finding.
Richard Bodine (RB), one of the authors of the "Creating a
Peaceable School" (CPS) program and a trainer for the National
Center for Conflict Resolution Education, talked to Parent
News (PN) staff about his experience training others to use
the CPS approach.
PN: Approximately how many schools have you provided training
on the CPS program?
RB: That's a hard question to answer for two reasons. First,
we've been involved in training since 1993 even before the CPS
materials were published. Secondly, many of the training
events we conduct are intended to teach school personnel who
will train teams within school districts or within schools. I
estimate that I have done over 500 training events, and I am
one of four trainers. Most recently we have formed
partnerships with states who then sponsor the CPS training
PN: Are the majority of schools you work with elementary,
middle, or secondary level schools?
RB: There is much more interest in CPS at the elementary
school level. At the middle and secondary level, peer
mediation programs are more popular. Peer mediation is a good
way to start. But peer mediation programs are limited in their
effect, and primarily benefit the peer mediators themselves. A
school-wide approach to conflict resolution, such as CPS, is
much more far-reaching and provides life skills to the whole
PN: What are some of the conditions that lead to optimum
outcomes? In other words, when does CPS realize its fullest
goal of creating a peaceable school?
RB: To be successful in creating a peaceable school there
needs to be a critical mass of adults and children trained so
that they use these skills every day. Other essential
components include staff buy-in to the program and staff
training, and developing or changing the school climate in
ways that support the program. We talk often in the training
program about the need for building a peaceable school and
PN: What conditions typically predict failure to achieve the
goal of a peaceable school? Are there situations where the CPS
approach doesn't work?
RB: The program does not work if staff see it as a way to "fix
kids" or view it only as a way to address problems that kids
have. Often people get involved in conflict resolution
programs as a way to solve their school's problems rather than
as a method to provide life skills. Schools will never
eliminate conflict. What we hope to help them do is