Teaching Children to Care

More and more I find myself talking to students about what is and is not socially acceptable. Oh I know that since the Stone Age kids have been playing cootie games. The level of nastiness, though, has been taken up quite a few notches; words and actions, put-down, all are becoming so hurtful that the behaviors need correction before any academics kick in.

Yesterday after my students returned from recess, it was clear something had boiled up to the top. So we sat on the rug to have a class meeting. The kids could hardly contain themselves given an opportunity to air their grievances. Interesting, too, was the solution to the problems — “tell the teacher”.  Kids clearly don’t know how to advocate or stand up for themselves first!

Today we will begin using Conflict Resolution, some teachers know this activity as “pretzel” or “M&M”, but with the food allergies I have always had in my classroom, we call it “Skittle”.  Here’s how it works – and I freely admit to co-opting this from other sources, particularly my good friend and former teaching colleague Paula Gendron:

Students gather in a circle and are given a stick of 10 snap cubes. We introduce the first part of Skittle by talking briefly about how we all enjoy having a kindness shown to us and then one after the other, each student takes a turn “recognizing” a classmate for something kind that happened. For me, I need the emphasis to turn to giving positive attention to polite and caring behaviors, so I do not allow students to have a “pass” – everyone needs to notice a kindness.  After talking about the positive, the “recognizer” gives the “recognized” one snap cube.

The next part of Conflict Resolution is to give students who are bothered by someone’s behavior – words or actions – to “mention” it. Students are told they need to listen without comment or argument because the “mentioner” feels what he/she feels. After listening, the person who was mentioned gives a snap cube to the mentioner as an apology of action.

At the end of the Conflict Resolution meeting, each student gets the same number of Skittles as he/she has cubes.

Does this help? In the past it sure does. I’ve seen students with 4 or 5 cubes at the end, recognize that their behavior is bothersome and increase their cube take to 8 or 9 in a couple of weeks. And, students quickly learn that an option for taking care of minor infractions is to “save it for Conflict Resolution”.

This is just the beginning of our work toward a more peaceful classroom. Because, without peace, my students really will not be ready to learn the academics.