Creating a Peaceful School

Remember that as a teacher you have the ability to shape lives.

Let's go on a journey into a domain of education that will enhance all of your teaching and positively impact the lives of your students for years to come. Enjoy the trip, and don't forget to appreciate the process of getting there as much as you enjoy the destination.

The Skills of Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution

The skills include:

  • acceptance of self and others
  • the ability to communicate with others, including the use of "I Messages"
  • acceptance of feelings (one's own and others')
  • the willingness to compromise and seek "Win/Win" solutions
  • the process of affirming (acknowledging positive qualities in others)

How do I start teaching these skills?

Start by making yourself the model. In other words, don't just teach the skills, use them yourself in your personal life and with your students. Remember that as a teacher you have the ability to shape lives. The impact you make may last forever with many of your students. By introducing the skills of peacemaking to young children, you are giving your students the opportunity to find new ways to respond to conflict, better ways to communicate, and the potential for healthier relationships. Modeling the behaviors you want to say in your students is the most important thing you can do.

Once you have started using these principles in your own life, you will probably be very pleased with the results. One teacher reported after doing so, "My relationships with my family and friends are improving. I’m communicating with them in more effective ways and it's become a lot easier to work out differences.' Remember, though, that this will take some time. At first it may feel awkward and unnatural, but like riding a bike, the more you do it the easier it gets.

What are the skills and behaviour I need to model?

The first thing you will need to model is a sense of self-acceptance, a sense that "I'm okay and I accept who I am, my needs, my feelings and my flaws." This, of course, is the same feeling we want to give to each child about himself or herself. We're also modeling the concept, "You're whole and perfect exactly as you are."

The next behavior is one that models, "I am on your side." It's crucial for children to feel accepted by the important adults in their lives. When problems come up its not necessary to become adversaries, but sometimes we fall into adversarial positions strictly out of habit and from not knowing we have other choices of action. Children need to know we will not betray or abandon them when they've done something wrong. They need to know that we are their partners, and that we are committed to their well-being, no matter what. Beyond all this, children need to know that there are solutions to problems and that together we can find them.

"We can work it out" comes next. An outgrowth of self-acceptance and partnership is the belief that there are solutions to problems. Conflict is a normal and natural part of the process of life. The problem with conflict is the way people choose to work through it. Conflict is not synonymous with aggression. Children need to see' this and they need to see that conflict resolution is a dynamic, creative process that can be fun, given the right circumstances.

Children need to see us working out our own conflicts and helping them work out theirs. As teachers we’re all aware of how many conflicts come up between ourselves and our students.

A prime example:

Teacher: "Johnny, why didn't you do your homework again?" [angrily]

Johnny: "I don't know." [Looks to the floor]

Teacher: "This is the third time this week I've had to speak to you about this. [yelling] You're lazy, Johnny, and I'm going to have to contact your parents."

Johnny: [sad, sullen, and angry ] "Go ahead. See if I care!"

Another approach:

Teacher: "Johnny, I'm concerned about the fact that your homework isn't complete. [in a concerned, caring voice] Is there a problem I need to know about?" [hand on Johnny's shoulder]

Johnny: [Looks at teacher and doesn't say anything but makes full eye contact]

Teacher: "If there is some way I can help. I'd like to know. I care about you, Johnny, and I really want to see you do well this year."

Johnny: "I didn't understand the chapter. In fact I have trouble with words in this book every time I try to read it."

Teacher: "Perhaps there is some way we can work on the problem together. Have you talked to your morn and dad about the difficulty you've had with this book?"

Johnny: "No."

Teacher: "Maybe we can all sit down together and find a way to help you." [reassuringly]

In these contrasting examples, each teacher cares about the student, but their behavior is motivated by a different attitude. The first teacher's motivation is a sense of her own frustration. She lets this stand in the way of any effective interaction she might have with her student. The second teacher's motivation is a commitment to working it out and having her student feel whole and supported. She accomplishes this, just as you can when you're focused on reconciliation as a priority.

Research proves that daily affirmation builds self-esteem.

Affirmation is our final example of modeling. How does one affirm? It's easy. Simply look the recipient in the eyes and give him or her a sincere, positive comment about himself or herself.

Example to a student:

"Jeff, l'm so pleased about the quality of the work you've been doing. It's creative, carefully completed, and always finished on time. Keep up the good work."

To a colleague:

"Mary, I really appreciate all of the great ideas you give me. You're so generous with them. It helps me and my students. Thanks so much. It means a lot."

So often we think positive thoughts about other people but we don't express them. By affirming, we continuously acknowledge the positive things we see in others. What a huge difference we make in their lives when we do this. It's as if the sun comes out each time we affirm. More significantly, research proves that daily affirmation builds self-esteem. Try it and see the wonderful impact.

By now you're probably asking, "What about discipline? This is all very nice but what happens when the kids act up?" We have some suggestions for you in this regard.

Dealing with discipline

Know your bottom line standards as a school.

Be sure the children know these standards and that they adhere to them consistently. For example, one bottom-line standard is, "Children don't hurt each other in our school." Students know this, and the minute anyone attempts to deviate from this standard they need to know that their behavior is unacceptable. When necessary, a punishment, such as sitting in a time-out area, missing recess, or having a note sent home to their parents, may be levied.

Be unyielding in the area of standards, and be flexible in almost all other areas.

Children have enormous freedom this way. They know there are certain non-negotiable rules for which they must be 100% responsible always. Beyond this they know there is plenty of choice and freedom. This kind of structure gives them an enormous sense of security and of fairness.

Make the parent your partners.

When you draw up your "Guidelines for a Peaceful Classroom" with your students, copy it for the parents and send it home. Lot them know what you're doing with this program. Send home the Win/Win Guidelines for them to post and use at home. Invite them into class to observe conflict resolution lessons. Engage them; they will feel a sense of partnership and know that you are on their side as well as their child's.

Using the Win/Win Guidelines

The Win/Win Guidelines for conflict resolution are critical to learning the skills of peacemaking I present them here as well as in several lessons in this book. The Win/Win Guidelines are the basis for teaching the essential process of conflict resolution.

The Win/Win Guidelines

1. Take time for cooling off, if needed. Find alternative ways to express anger.

2. Using "I messages," each person states their feelings and the problem as they see it. No blaming, no name-calling, no interrupting.

3. Each person states the problem as the other person sees it.*

4. Each person states how they are responsible for the problem. *

5. Brainstorm solutions together and choose a solution that satisfies both—a Win/Win solution.

6. Affirm, forgive, or thank.

"Optional steps

Abbreviated Win/Win Guidelines

1. Cool off

2. "I message"

3. Say back

4. Take responsibility

5. Brainstorm solutions

6. Affirm, forgive, or thank

When you teach the Win/Win Guidelines, be sure to first go over the following:

Rules for using Win/Win Guidelines

  • Be respectful toward one another.
  • Listen while the other person speaks.
  • Be honest.
  • No blaming, name-calling, or interruptions.
  • Work toward a solution both people are comfortable with.


Showcasing is especially helpful when teaching conflict resolution. Showcasing simply means that from time to time you work out individual conflicts with the participation of the entire class. The following is a condensed example of a sixth grade teacher's application of showcasing the Win/Win Guidelines during a social studies lesson. In this case, the class is already familiar with the process.

Mandy and Sara are whispering to one another. Suddenly Sara tears up a piece of paper and throws it at Mandy. The teacher stops the lesson.

Teacher: What's going on, girls?

Sara: She wrote something nasty on that paper about me.

Mandy: It wasn't nasty. I was just making a joke.

Sara: Some joke. It wasn't funny, and I think you're a creep.

Other students start whispering and calling out, "What did she say about you, Sara?"

Sara: Just shut up and leave me alone.

Teacher: Enough. Sara, I know you're upset right now, and I'd like to help you and Mandy work this problem out the way we discussed, using the Win/Win Guidelines.

Sara: I don't want to work anything out with her. I hate her.

Teacher: I know you're angry at Mandy, but you're also friends. If you're willing, I can help you work out this difference so you can continue to be friends. Remember, the alternative is that you'll both miss recess tomorrow. Which would you rather do?

Mandy: I guess the Win/Win Guidelines

Sara: All right, [pouting]

Teacher: Are you able to do it now, or do you need time to cool off? [They both agree to do it now. ] I'd like to allow the class to be part of the process so we can all learn how to work out our differences. Is that okay with the two of you?

Mandy: Yes.

Sara: As long as no one makes fun of me.

Teacher: Class, do you agree not to make any put-downs of any kind?

Class: Yes.

Teacher: Good. Let's begin. But I must stress something else first: There's no interrupting. If anyone interrupts, the process stops. [Note: This is vital, or the process can take all day and you will be drained.] Do you all agree? [Everyone nods.] So we'll start by stating the problem. Let me also remind you that whatever you say has to come from a commitment to resolving the conflict. Okay?

Mandy & Sara: Okay.

Teacher: Would you each describe the problem as you see it? Sara, you go first.

Sara: It's what I said before. She wrote something nasty about me.

Mandy. That's because she said my new shirt is ugly.

Sara: It is ugly.

Teacher: Sara, let me remind you of your commitment to working this out. Otherwise, I won't waste the class time.

Sara: Sorry.

Mandy: I think the problem is that Sara put down what I was wearing. So I put her down to get even.

Teacher: It sounds like you both insulted each other. How did you feel, Mandy, when Sara insulted you?

Mandy: Real angry.

Teacher: How about you, Sara?

Sara: I wanted to hit her.

Teacher: I'm glad you didn't, because problems aren't usually worked out by hitting. Sara, can you pretend you're Mandy just for a moment and state the problem as she sees it?

Sara: Okay. Mandy felt put down by what I said about her shirt. She probably felt embarrassed, too, because I said it in front of the other kids.

Teacher: Thanks, Sara. How about you, Mandy? Can you pretend you're Sara for a moment, and state the problem as she sees it?

Mandy: Okay. Sara got angry because I wrote her a nasty note after she made fun of what I was wearing. Sometimes Sara does that when I ignore her and talk to Melissa.

Teacher: Sara, how are you responsible for the problem?

Sara: I made fun of Mandy's shirt.

Teacher: How are you responsible Mandy.

Mandy: I wrote her a nasty note.

Teacher: What can the two of you do to avoid having this kind of confrontation again? I'd like you to come up with a lot of different ideas, and the class can make suggestions, too. In the end, you two can decide what would be the best solution.

Sara: She can stop calling me names.

Mandy: Sara can stop making fun of the clothes I wear. I can't help it if she has nicer clothes.

Student: Mandy and Sara can trade clothes sometimes.

Student: Mandy and Sara can go shopping together.

Student. Mandy can include Sara when Melissa's around so she doesn't feel ignored.

Sara: Mandy and I can be more considerate of each other's feelings and stop using put-downs.

Mandy: I can tell Sara when I'm angry with her instead of calling her a name.

Student: You can write each other notes to explain why you're mad at each other instead of using them to insult each other.

Teacher: Sounds like we've got lots of good ideas. Girls, what solution do you want to choose?

Sara: How about if we're more considerate of each other's feelings?

Mandy: Yeah. And we can also just tell each other when we're angry instead of calling names.

Teacher: Thanks, girls. I'm pleased with the way you worked this out. Could you affirm each other?

Sara: Thanks, Mandy and I'm sorry I got so mad.

Mandy: It's okay. I'm sorry too and I'm glad we're still friends.

This process takes about ten minutes and is a valuable group exercise in conflict resolution. Showcasing doesn't need to be done very often, but it's particularly helpful when the class is just beginning to learn the Win/Win Guidelines. The class gets to participate in the process and sees the outcome, it also serves as a model for future cooperative behavior arid problem-solving.

As your students integrate and apply the conflict resolution process, they will need you less and less as mediator. Eventually, they will be able to apply the guidelines without you. They do not have to do every step every time, either. Remember that the ten minutes you take out of your lessons to occasionally showcase conflict resolution skills will pay off over and over again as your students become more cooperative and are able to work out their differences. Once that happens, you can send the "adversaries" off to an area of the room where they can work out their problem.

Integrating Win/Win

Here are some tips that will help you and your students integrate Win/Win strategies into your daily interactions. You need not use every step every time. The following steps are sufficient in most conflicts:

• Each person states their feelings and the problem as they see it, using "I Messages." No blaming, no name-calling, no interrupting.

• Brainstorm solutions together and choose a solution that satisfies both parties.

• Affirm your partner

Reserve the other steps of the guidelines for times you think they would be most useful.

For example, if you find that one or both children are not taking responsibility for their role in the conflict, have them do the step, "Each person states how they are responsible for the problem."

You will soon recognize when you need to implement the various steps. After a while the children will begin to do this on their own, without your help

Invest time at the beginning of the year

Taking the time to help your students resolve their conflicts early on really pays off. The students will begin to internalize the principles and strategies of conflict resolution.


"Showcasing " conflicts, or mediating in front of the whole class from time to time, allows the other children to observe and participate in the process. It is important to ask permission of the students having the conflict before proceeding.

Use the Clipboard Technique.

Have a clipboard called the "Lot's Work It Out" clipboard at your desk. Tell the children they can sign up any time throughout the day if a conflict arises that they need help in mediating. Allow 10-15 minutes at the end of each day, if possible, at which time you can gather your entire class together to review the conflicts and collaboratively brainstorm solutions.

Practice giving "I Messages" ahead of time..

Imagine the following scenario:

The class is noisy. You want them to settle down. You're getting tense. They're not listening. The old way to respond:

"You are too noisy! In fact you are the most unruly group I've ever had. You probably couldn't stop talking if your lives depended on it."

The now way, using "I Messages":

"I'm getting really aggravated because I don't want all this noise. I want you to settle down now. I find it hard to teach when everyone's talking."

Notice that both dialogues express the teacher's feelings. But the first puts down the students, most likely making them feel defensive. The second dialogue is honest, but it focuses more on the teacher's reaction and less on negative labels and sarcasm.

You can have your students practice giving "I messages" with you and with one another. If you do this fairly often your students will find it easier to give "I Messages" when real conflicts arise, and you will too.

Reinforcement Strategies

It is extremely important for you to use reinforcement strategies. Remember, you'll keep the understandings alive by modeling peacemaking behavior and by reinforcing the positive. Here are some ways to do so:

1. Use the "Disciplining With Love" techniques daily, especially when catching your students in the act of doing what you want. Reinforce their behaviors often.

2. Do Peacemaker of the Week" alternate Fridays. Have the children affirm one another for peacemaking behaviors they have observed in one another throughout the week.

Some schools have their principal involved in this. For example, one principal has lunch with children who have been selected "Peacemaker of the Week" throughout the month. Another principal has monthly assemblies during which the "Peacemakers of the Week" are honored with a certificate. Another principal calls the parents of children who have exhibited peacemaking behaviors, giving them an acknowledgment for the positive things their children have done. What a great experience it is for those parents to hear good news, rather than bad. from the principal.

3. Logs can also be used to reinforce peacemaking

Children who are too young to write can draw and/or dictate in their logs. Some teachers use logs after lessons to allow their students to reflect upon and extend what they have just learned. You can have your children write about the following topics and any other ideas you come up with:

  • How you feel when you get angry.
  • Choices you make when you're angry at someone.
  • Ways you've worked out a conflict with someone in your family or with friends.
  • Write about an ongoing conflict you have with someone in your life and ways you can work it out. 
  • Describe someone you know who acted like a peacemaker. Detail what they did. 
  • Describe ways you have been a peacemaker recently.
  • Focus on someone we have read about (characters in stories, people in the news) and peacemaking behaviors they have exhibited.

4. Teach the children how to calm themselves with deep breathing. When the kids get "itchy" stop what you're doing and have them do some deep breathing. Say: "Let's get calm right now by taking a deep breath a1l the way to the bottom of your abdomen. Expand your stomach as though it's a balloon each time you breathe in. Deflate it each time you breathe out; in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take another breath. Take one more. Now notice how quiet this room has become. Do you feel more relaxed, too?" You can have your children think quiet thoughts as they are breathing deeply. They can recall a time they were resting quietly at home, or a time they sat in a peaceful place outdoors. This technique is invaluable in helping kids calm themselves.

5. Keep catching your students in the act of " doing it right" instead of "doing it wrong."

Ready, Set, Go

Now you're ready to go. Don 'I forget to skim through the book before you begin, and please adapt these lessons to your particular classroom or family situation. Dialogue has been included within each lesson to make your job easier, but don't be confined by it. Change the words to fit your style, and bring the richness of your own experiences into each lesson.

As you do each lesson, you might consider sharing personal anecdotes during circle discussions. For example, in Lesson I you'll be discussing the idea of a peaceful classroom. Share yours first. It will help the children open up. They'll also appreciate hearing about your filings and ideas.

Another thing to stress—good listening. As each child speaks, ask every other student in the class to focus on him or her. Ask each child to look directly at the speaker. Begin to have each child ask the rest of the class to look at them when they speak. For example, Shawna is going to share. She looks around the circle and sees other children talking. She says, "Class, could you please look at me. I'd like to share something." Don't let her begin to share until every eye is on her and every ear attuned.

Now, bring the lessons to your students with my best wishes and with deep hope that their futures and yours will be happy, loving, and peaceful.


Copyright © 2002 by Naomi Drew. All rights reserved. Site Map