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Last Updated: 02/23/2018

 Article of Interest - Education Reform

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 lives
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.

4. Mediation.

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.

5. Negotiation.

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 problem-solving strategy:
The discussion is always directed toward solving the problem.
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 statewide.

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 student population.

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 classroom climate.

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

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