Teaching About Conflict & Understanding

Parent Math Meeting
Standards of Mathematical Practice: How They Apply to School & Home
Wednesday, January 28, 2014
8:00-9:00 am – Library

Please join our Math Specialists (Anu Advani, Katy McGraw & Malia Scott) to learn about how you can use daily activities to guide your child to become a strong problem solver.

Teaching About Conflict & Understanding

As we celebrate the Martin Luther King Day holiday, I’d like to highlight just a few of the ways we teach students to resolve conflict and develop an understanding of different perspectives.

In a proactive approach to social emotional learning, we build around the Responsive Classroom program (K-5), Developmental Designs (Gr. 6-8) and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.  In a key component of this work, classroom and advisory teachers devote regular time to class meetings that teach social skills and address common issues.  Once a month, we hold “shared” Olweus meetings in which every adult in the school is assigned to a classroom and participates in these meetings.  In this way, children come to see every adult as involved in keeping our community safe, just and caring.

During these meetings, a variety of activities are conducted.  In Kindergarten, these meetings are called “Kindness Circle.”  In one recent example, Guidance Counselor Holly Zito read a story called “The Recess Queen” about a girl who tried to control what everyone else played. In the story, a girl stands up to the recess queen and later invites her to join a new game to help her feel included.  In a follow-up lesson, children brainstormed ways to make others feel included when playing on the playground.   In a second grade classroom, students discuss and practice how to be flexible when faced with challenging situations. In third grade, students learn about and practice “listening with the heart” (i.e. with empathy and understanding).   During seventh grade advisory, students gain new insight into the perspective of peers while doing an exercise on courage.  Students are given a variety of scenarios and asked to stand in a different location based on whether they thought the situation required “a lot of courage,” “a little bit of courage,” or “no courage at all.” As students discussed the reasons for their choices, they begin to appreciate that a situation that might not feel challenging for one person could require a great deal of courage for someone else.

A second important aspect is how we respond to conflict.  In a recent parent newsletter, Kindergarten teacher Liz Exton said it beautifully:  “Conflicts in Kindergarten are inevitable as children explore the power of their words, the power of their bodies, and their role in the classroom and school community.”   One way that teachers try to work with young children is what Liz describes as having children “check in” with someone if they have hurt them in some way. “Checking in builds empathy by having the child ask, ‘Are you ok?’ and then, ‘What will make you feel better?’ (In other words, ‘How can I fix the problem?’)… Once the repair has been made, the teacher will ask both children if they feel that the problem has been solved.”  If children feel the problem isn’t fixed, then the teacher continues to work with them to come to a resolution.  As is true for most things, what works in Kindergarten can be applied in older grades.

For older students and more significant conflicts, our staff works to follow a six-step “On the Spot Intervention” (also from the Olweus program) when they observe a conflict or potential bullying situation:

  1. Stop the behavior.
  2. Support the student who has been hurt or targeted.
  3. Name the bullying-like behavior and refer to school rules.
  4. Engage the bystanders.
  5. Impose appropriate consequences.
  6. Document the incident and follow-up with students involved.

Maintaining a safe, just and caring community involves both an intentional, proactive approach, as well as a crisp response to conflict.  We strive to use issues that arise as “teachable moments” in order to help student learn to resolve conflicts and develop an understanding of perspectives different than their own.

Rick Rogers
rick_rogers@brookline.k12.ma.us

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