My kids go to kind of a magical school where they are taught as early as Kindergarten specific skills for conflict resolution. The school is top rated academically, but the most important thing they are learning is to be better, kinder and more fair human beings. Wonderland Elementary (yes, really) was recently recognized as a National Blue Ribbon award winning public elementary school. It is a cozy, supportive environment but stands out for their unique approach to conflict resolution through kindness. The kids learn a communication technique called Way of Council where they sit in a circle and pass a talking stick to share their thoughts and feelings every week in Native American fashion. This gives them a chance to not only practice public speaking, but to give voice to their opinions and share their beliefs. They are also taught something called Peace Talks where they can sit one on one with another student with whom they have a conflict or grievance and peacefully and constructively work it out.
The children are taught the rules of Peace Talks from the very beginning of Elementary school and are given specific guidelines to follow so that both sides are equally heard and a conflict resolution can be reached. Often, two other students who are the class’s Way of Council representatives will accompany them as they sit outside the classroom to help them resolve the problem.
There are very specific rules for the peace talks:
1. Sit face to face
2. Share; This is what happened, This is what I wanted to happen, This is how I can make things better
3. Speak and listen from the heart.
4. Use a talking piece so there is no cross talk and everyone is heard.
My ten year old daughter came home last week with a story of a very successful Peace Talk between she and another classmate, Sarah. She said that they were in a big disagreement during a Ferger ball game at recess and they were sent outside the classroom to work it out. She felt proud that she was accurately able to share her feelings and what she would like from Sarah instead of what happened. Sharing how it made her feel to Sarah, allowed her to have a realization about her own behavior and vice versa. She said the talk ended with happy tears and a hug and there were no hard feelings.
I listened to her story on our way home from school immediately following a rather heated political debate on Facebook with an old high school boyfriend (I know…) Needless to say, our conflict did not end with happy tears and a virtual hug. I felt awed by the skills these kids are learning and employing at school. If human beings were taught collectively, peaceful conflict resolution as part of education at an early age, imagine how different things could be. I might not have had to defriend that old high school beau. Or at least I could unfollow him and just move on peacefully.
I had a Peace Talk with my husband this past weekend. I suggested that we use the same structure, rules and goals as the children do in school, as my daughter taught me. I have to say, it gave a far more balanced and constructive way to figuring out our Christmas Cards and gave us each a chance to be heard and feel respected. Speaking from the heart, symbolically passing the Talking Piece (ours was the Starbucks cup) and stating an intent on how to make things better made a huge difference in how and what we were able to communicate.
If only these kids could take this practice to our world leaders and give way to a new revolution of kind, fair and honest communication. That is my wish for the new year.