“The planet desperately needs more peacekeepers…” – Dalai Lama
At St. Anne’s School, teachers model positive relationships, inclusion, and healthy conflict resolution beginning in our Program for Young Children and continuing through Lower and Middle School. St. Anne’s School’s Equity and Wellness Practitioner Nicole Banks explains, “All grades do problem solving in the Second Step curriculum. This curriculum focuses on teaching students how to say the problem and how to think of and come to a solution together; this includes problems in friendships. We also do a unit on empathy and kindness where we learn how to recognize kind acts, do kind acts, and how kind acts help us make friends.”
Then, as students enter their Fourth Grade year, they take this work to the next level with an eight-week friendship unit. Nine- and ten-year-olds have the ability to move from being concrete thinkers to more abstract thinkers. And because they are now able to decide who they want to be friends with, it is important for students to first learn about healthy friendships.
Fourth Grade students also learn about “peacekeeping” and how to resolve interpersonal conflicts; both their own and those of others. The purpose of these peacekeeping lessons is not to prevent conflict from happening, but to give students the tools to use when conflicts arise. Teachers and students role-play as they practice responses to conflicts in the classroom. After students have completed the unit, they are sworn in as official Peacemakers for the School.
Last week, St. Anne’s School’s current Fourth Grade class was sworn in by former United Nations mediator and St. Anne’s School grandparent, Mr. Phil Reynolds. These students, who also received new Peacemaker hats, will now hone their mediation skills by performing “Peacemaker Duty” at recess. When conflicts arise, younger students know to look for the cap-wearing Peacemakers, and ask for their help with mediation. When a Peacemaker steps in to help, the student asks those in conflict to stand and face each other. Together, they brainstorm solutions and coach the students through “I feel” statements so that everyone can express how they have been affected by the conflict. Peacemakers request those seeking help to give each other a fist bump or a handshake before parting.
Head of School Connie Coker is also an integral part of Fourth Grade Peacemaker training and participates in many of the lessons. She reflects, “In planning, I thought back to my time as a Fulbright teaching scholar in Japan, listening to survivors of Hiroshima speak of the importance of peace-values education. I also considered my learnings of reconciliation in Rwanda: the Gacaca Trials, Umuganda, and rapid community and economic growth through forgiveness and restorative practices. As many cultures have faced conflict over centuries, what can students learn and enact at a young age at St. Anne’s School to make a positive impact towards collective peace for our world?”
Ultimately, through the integration of the social curriculum and the emphasis on the Peacemakers program, St. Anne’s School graduates go out into the world having learned conflict resolution techniques and relationship tools to keep in their toolbox of life skills. One recent graduate noted kindness as one of the most important lessons he learned while at St. Anne’s School, stating that it’s important to: “just be nice to everybody. You don’t have to like them or be their really close friend, but you should not be mean.”
During this Holiday Season, we at St. Anne’s School pray for Peace on Earth. And Kindness.