Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Teaching Peace

What is Teaching Peace?
Teaching Peace is a unique social and emotional learning program developed by Linda Ryden especially for the students of Lafayette Elementary School.  All of the second, third, fourth and fifth graders at Lafayette take Peace Class every week.  In addition, there is a special lunch/recess program called Peace Club and a leadership program for fifth graders called Peace Team.  Ms. Ryden works closely with the counseling staff to provide one-on-one help to children with conflicts and other issues.  The Teaching Peace program is funded by a grant from the Home and School Association.

Why teach peace?
The goal of Teaching Peace is to create a culture of kindness.  Research has shown that the two most important factors in preventing bullying at school are changing the school climate and allotting class time to social emotional learning.  Peace classes, the Peace Club, the Peace Team, the student-made peace posters all over the school, and having a teacher dedicated to these issues builds a school-wide climate that will help to make bullying and other forms of unkindness unacceptable at Lafayette.  Lafayette students are encouraged to take action when they see acts of unkindness and to make teasing, excluding and bullying "uncool".   Our goal is to turn bystanders into heroes.

What happens in Peace Class?
Peace class always takes the same shape including three main components: mindfulness, kindness and the core lessons.

  • Mindfulness: We begin with ringing the ting-sha bells.  These lovely Tibetan bells set the quiet tone for Peace Class.  While we listen to the bells we close our eyes and begin our mindfulness practice.  Sometimes we focus on our breathing, sometimes we focus our minds on listening closely to the sound of the bells and raise our hands when we can no longer hear them.  We continue this quiet, peaceful mood as we transition into doing the Mindful Movements, a moving meditation created by Thich Nhat Hahn.   Mindfulness practice has many benefits.  Mindfulness training can help to enhance children’s attention and focus, improve memory, improve self-control and awareness of our own feelings and the feelings of others.  Mindfulness practice is becoming more and more popular in schools because research has proven that creating deliberate moments of quiet and focus in a school day can greatly decrease anger, violence and anxiety in school. 

  • Kindness: The next component of Peace Class could be called “kindness training”.  Each week children are assigned a Kindness Pal.  It is their job to do nice things for that child for the whole week (get his snack, stack her chair, play together at recess, etc.)  The following week we hear about what everyone did for their Pal and they get a new one. This is a very popular activity which achieves several goals.  One is to remind the children to make kindness part of their daily lives.  It has been scientifically proven that people who keep track of the kind things that they do tend to do more of them.  Doing kind things for their own “pal” will spill over into their treatment of others.  Pairing up the children also provides opportunities to get to know each other and to “find the good” in someone that you might not have gotten along with in the past or who you think you just don’t like.  We often refer to the quote “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.”  We use quotes from a large variety of sources including the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, ancient proverbs and popular song lyrics to add to our discussions.  We use these quotes each week to set the tone for the lesson.  Many of the children enjoy attempting to memorize the quote each week.

  • Core Lessons: Each week’s class features a lesson on a specific concept or skill.  Lessons in Peace Class range from learning specific conflict resolution skills, to the “three R’s” of apologizing (regret, responsibility and remedy), to learning to think before you speak, to discussions of prejudice, to learning how to calm down when you are angry, to what to do to help someone who is being bullied.  Story-telling, children’s literature, role-playing, drawing, group discussion, pair-sharing, puppets and much more bring these lessons to life.  The same basic concepts are taught each of the four years but they are adapted to be age-appropriate as the children grow.  

What is Peace Club?
Peace Club is a lunch and recess program for kids who like a smaller alternative to the cafeteria and the playground.  It is a mixed-age group of anywhere from 20-50 kids that meets in the space used by the Lafayette Afterschool Program (LAP).   Peace Club has become popular among kids who sometimes struggle with their social skills or with being in a large group.  It is also popular among kids who like to make a difference at Lafayette and who make a commitment to making everyone feel welcome and respected.  
 Everyone who comes to Peace Club makes a promise to treat everyone else with kindness and respect and to make sure that conflicts are worked out peacefully and everyone is included.   Some older children are recruited to be special Peace Club helpers.  These are kids who make an extra commitment to seek out those who have a harder time jumping in and include them in games, who help others work out conflicts peacefully and who help lead the big clean-up routine.  If you were to drop by Peace Club you would probably be surprised by how noisy it is.  It is not "peaceful" on the surface.  But there is so much going on that is contributing to making Lafayette a more peaceful place.  The children eat lunch together at small tables getting to know new people and children in other grades and classes.  After lunch they have lots of options.  All of the games and toys at Peace Club are chosen to encourage cooperation and social interactions.  Some children choose to make the wonderful, colorful peace posters that line the halls of Lafayette.  Many children choose to join together to make fantastic structures using the Magna-Tiles.  Some children play board games or guessing games or Twister and hop-scotch.  Sometimes we join together to play circle games.  The LAP room has a foosball game and so, even though foosball is really, really noisy, it gives the kids many chances to work out conflicts, to make sure that people are included and to find ways to communicate gently when someone forgets to follow the rules.  Members of the Peace Club also help others by making food for the Bethesda Cares homeless shelter once a month.  Peace Club has become a welcoming community-within-a-community at Lafayette.

What is the Peace Team?  
Peace Team is a program for a specially selected group of 5th graders who work together to write the weekly Peace Tips that are shared on the morning announcements.  They also choose a Peaceful Person of the Week.  Some Peace Team members are chosen in recognition of their efforts to make the school a better place and some are chosen because they show potential to be peaceful leaders if given a little encouragement.  

Who is the Peace Teacher?
Linda Ryden is the creator of Teaching Peace, teaches all of the Peace Classes and leads Peace Club and the Peace Team.  She is also a member of the Lafayette Student Support Team and works closely with the counseling team.  She has been teaching for 25 years and created the Teaching Peace program in 2003.  Teaching Peace has been featured on local television and radio and in the Washington Post. In 2012 the DCPS Advisory Commission on Bullying encouraged all schools in DCPS to incorporate a program modeled on the Teaching Peace program.

Thanks to Principal Lynn Main for her consistent support of the Teaching Peace program.  In this testing-focused culture it takes courage to set aside time in the school day for something that can’t be easily quantified.  Thanks to her vision and leadership on this issue, Teaching Peace has grown into an effective and engaging model program.   This program also owes a debt to the wonderful teachers of Lafayette who have welcomed and supported the Teaching Peace Program and given the very precious gift of time.  Finally, Teaching Peace would not have been possible without the support of the Lafayette Home and School Association.  Many thanks to all members, past and present, for supporting Teaching Peace over the past nine years and for making our children’s social and emotional development a priority.  

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