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Peace education in action with kindness and caring as goals.

As you prepare for the first days of school, you may have some anxious thoughts about your new classroom. Will it be a place of peace where conflicts can be resolved? Will you recall some sad memories from the past? Perhaps you will remember a small group of children who could not settle their conflicts peacefully and responded with mean taunts and hateful language. Anyone who has taught can recall such painful memories.

For the first day of classes this upcoming year, consider several suggestions that could be used from day one. These can set the stage for a peaceful classroom, with children from the first day learning how to treat each other with kindness within an environment of care and concern. Peace education and kindness can be twin goals for this new school year.

In a previous Peace Education column (Spring 2010: 168-D & M), co-author Edyth Wheeler outlined several suggestions for encouraging children to become peaceful and caring members of a class "family." In addition, Emilie Rodger contributed some excellent ideas for "building community" in a classroom. Caring and kindness are at the heart of a peace-building curriculum and plan of action. Nel Noddings, noted educator and philosopher, summed it up best: "To teach for caring relations is to teach for peace in communities, in individual lives and in the world" (Noddings, 2008).

All of these suggestions complement each other and add up to comprehensive peaceful, caring, and kind classrooms that can launch your year in a peaceful mode.

The Tragedy of Unkind Classrooms

One of the saddest examples of an unpeaceful and unkind classroom occurred in a Florida kindergarten last year. This incident escalated onto the national stage of television. A 5-year-old was labeled as a "problem child" in the first days of school and became the object of a teacher-initiated activity based on the "Survivor" television series. Each child was instructed to face the "problem child" with a reason why "they hated him." One girl reported: "He eats crayons!" Another stated: "We ALL hate you." The child was quickly removed from the class by his parents and home-schooled for the rest of the year. Later, he was assessed as having Asperger's syndrome (Reed, 2009).

This real world example of cruelty and unkind behavior is an extreme, rare occurrence, and certainly not a typical one in Florida's kindergartens. Nevertheless, it provided a grim reminder of how easily the lack of kindness and caring behavior can escalate into an unmanageable situation for any child or teacher. Hopefully, all teachers will choose kindness and consideration for the child as a first step in launching a new school year.

Kindness, Caring, and Peace Education Go Hand-in-Hand

Below are some ways a Kindness, Caring, and Peace Education Plan can set the stage for your peaceful classroom. Such a plan can be integrated into your daily routines, along with teaching the curriculum. A Kindness Plan can define your classroom as a place of peace where kindness is a deliberate way of treating each other. As the teacher responsible for the educational, physical, and emotional well-being of children in your care, your first goal should include beginning to gently steer unkind behaviors into kinder, more considerate ones. All of these daunting challenges can be met right from the first day of school. Here are some activities and goals to consider:

For Primary/Elementary Children: Classroom Rules and Parent Involvement. This is a usual, typical activity for the first days of school. You may anticipate this event by preparing a brochure for parents that includes the rules for classroom management that children will be required to follow. Alert parents and children to your goals for a kind, caring classroom. Be sure to include such statements as: "Children will be encouraged to use kind, caring language at all times. Hurtful, insulting comments will not be tolerated. A chart for acceptable classroom practices will be posted, discussed with the children, and put into action."

Invite the children to join you in creating a set of classroom rules for the peaceful and kind classroom that you all envision. Post them on the bulletin board for all to see. Re-read them and ask if children wish to add one more. Their involvement in creating these rules will usually ensure, from the first day, a commitment to following them.

Continue to review the rules for a peaceful and kind classroom during the first hour of class the next day. Establish a class meeting routine to review and add to the concept for living peacefully in a kind classroom. Involving the children in contributing ideas will give you a chance to comment about what examples of kindness you have seen and the kind language you have heard.

Your Class Bulletin Board: Classroom Acceptable Practices.

1. During the first days of school, dedicate a bulletin board to "Classroom Rules for a Peaceful Classroom." Put "Kind and caring language" as the first line. Encourage children to add their own ideas for learning to live peacefully together.

2. Have children take part in activities to strengthen their use of kind words and phrases. A whole-group class meeting can start off with children contributing to a Chart of Kind Words and Expressions they could use in different situations, depending on their age level.

3. Use index cards to collect and organize simple phrases, such as "I think your drawing is really neat!" or "You read your story to us nicely." Children may at first giggle and act silly, but soon will become used to the routines. Eventually, all will become comfortable hearing compliments.

The teacher could model using some common phrases for compliments and also acknowledging them with a simple "Thank you!," thus completing the Circle of Kindness.

For the Entire School. Emphasize that your classroom is just one of many in the school, very much like being in a family. Brainstorm something you could do that would benefit the whole school. One classroom raised money to buy several flats of flowers to brighten the edges of evergreen shrubs on the school grounds. When the weather was favorable, the teacher borrowed several hand trowels and the children took turns planting the flowers. The flowers were visible tokens of their caring and kindness that the whole school could enjoy. The principal featured their kind acts in the school's online newsletter and they received many compliments from parents, teachers, and other children.

Art Rhymes With Heart. Start out on the first day of school with an art project. Have your bin of crayons and stack of paper ready. Talk about what it means to be a peaceful person. What would this person say and do? What would a peaceful person be like? Follow up with a group meeting to talk about ways to have a peaceful classroom; mount the children's pictures and statements on a bulletin board. Return to this bulletin board each day to review some of the statements and drawings about being a peaceful person.

Your goal of living with peace, kindness, and caring is a worthwhile objective, especially during difficult times. Children and families may be living under daily stress. Your classroom can be that place of peace, caring, and kindness that all children should experience.

References

Noddings, N. (2007). Philosophy of education (2nd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Noddings, N. (2008). Caring and peace education. Article in the Online Encyclopedia of Peace Education. Available at: www.tc.edu/centers/epe/

Reed, T. (2009, Aug. 28). Lawsuit says boy voted out of school: His mother claims it was a "Survivor"-like decision by students. Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), p. B-4.

Websites

Family Conservancy: Instilling Kindness and Compassion in Children www.thefamilyconservancy.org/index. php?otions=com.content

Moozie Teaches Kindness: Includes Story of Moozie's Kind Adventure www.moozie.com

Peace Education Project: Home & School Curriculum for children (1-6 yrs.) www.chilpeacebooksorgcpbproject/ouProjec.php

School and Kindness: Linking Schools in a World Kindness Movement http://kindness.com.au/cms/content/cms/content/ view/21-33/

--Aline M. Stomfay-Stitz, Jacksonville University, astomfa@ju.edu

Edyth Wheeler, Towson University, ejwheeler@towson.edu
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Title Annotation:Peace Education
Author:Stomfay-Stitz, Aline M.; Wheeler, Edyth
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Words:1343
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