P is for Peace Place.
One of most interesting schools I worked at was a dual language school in Chicago. Besides having instruction in both Spanish and English at all grade levels, they emphasized student independence and problem resolution from an early age.
I worked there the first 12 weeks of school a couple of years ago, to cover a maternity leave for a 3rd grade teacher. So I was the one starting the year with the students, even though the classroom was not my own. I had to occupy as little space as possible because the regular teacher’s stuff was stored everywhere in the room, and wanted to minimize my expenses also.
One of the required things we were to have in our classroom was a spot called the “Peace Place.” This was to be a designated quiet, out-of-the-way spot where students who were having a problem with each other were to go to resolve their conflict. The students having a conflict would go to the teacher and ask to go to the Peace Place, or the teacher could tell students she observed having a problem to go there to resolve their differences. In the Peace Place, the students would sit together and quietly talk it out. When they were finished, they returned to their classroom activity. What a contrast from tattling, whiny kids who now constantly come up to me during lunch and complain about some small thing or tell me gossip about others!
The only problem with the Peace Place was setting it up before the school year started. The regular teacher’s stuff was everywhere. There was no extra storage space or empty spot whatsoever. I finally found a place in the coat rack area of the classroom, where I put a couple of cushions on a bench and put up a sign saying “Peace Place” which was partially hidden by backpacks and jackets. I showed the students where it was on the first or second day of school and reviewed its purpose.
The Peace Place was part of the culture of the school. The kids knew about it because they’d done it in first and second grade already, so admittedly, I didn’t even have to teach them how to use it, and unfortunately didn’t have the chance to observe how this was originally taught and reinforced.
One day two students came to me and said they had been arguing with each other at recess. They wanted to go back to being friends so they asked if they could go to the Peace Place to talk it out. I immediately sent them there. They sat down quietly and talked calmly for several minutes. When they were done, they went back to their class activities.
Another time two boys were having a really hard time getting along. One of them was writing nasty notes about the other, including the use of swear words. I found one of these notes on the floor. There was a lot of resentment between them. I demanded they go to the Peace Place and work it out, which they did reluctantly. I was very worried about those two, because there were hurt feelings that led to one of them calling the other one names and the other one crying. In the Peace Place they did talk quietly but didn’t really resolve their differences that day. I had to email one of the boys’ parents, who also talked to their son. I do know that the Peace Place was the turning point for those two, as well as the parents’ concern.
Eventually the two did resolve their problems, and just after I left, I ran into one of the parents who told me that the two boys were now the best of friends. Most or all schools have adopted some program to promote conflict resolution, which teach young students the steps they should take when they get into conflicts. About a decade ago, “I messages” were in vogue (one child telling the other “I feel sad when you do that to me”, etc.), then there were video programs that acted out possible scenarios, another was the the Seven Pillars program, and at my current school we teach them to say STOP, breathe, walk away. I have seen a variety of conflict resolution strategies both in schools where I have worked as a substitute and also on Pinterest, all of them good tools to help children know what to do when a conflict arises. However, I believe that the Peace Place is one of the most effective conflict resolution tools I have seen during my teaching career.