By Naomi Drew, author of The Kids’ Guide to Working Out Conflicts, and Christa Tinari
The International Day of Non-Violence, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, is celebrated each year on October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. This day affirms “the universal relevance of the principle of nonviolence” and the desire to create “a culture of peace, tolerance, and understanding.” On this day, schools and organizations worldwide focus on awareness, action, and education.
Sadly, too many kids in North America and around the world live with the daily threat of war, neighborhood violence, and domestic violence. Even for those who don’t, bullying and social cruelty can bring a more subtle form of violence into any child’s life.
The good news is that our classrooms can be havens of safety and peace. As one seasoned fifth-grade teacher said, “My classroom is always a place of great kindness and respect. It’s something I strive to create every single year. My kids thrive as a result.” As educators and youth-serving professionals, we each have this capacity—and this responsibility. It starts with an unwavering dedication to creating a peaceful classroom, and it lives in what we model for our students moment by moment, day by day.
It’s important to remember that nonviolence is not simply the absence of physical or emotional violence. Instead, it’s a commitment to respecting the dignity and human rights of all people. In practice, nonviolence requires awareness of self and others, fairness, compassion, communication, critical thinking, and conflict resolution. With today’s packed schedules, these essential character-builders are often the first things to go. That’s why we are such strong advocates of putting them back into every classroom—now!
To help you with this mission, here are some practical things you can start doing today and continue all year.
Start each day with a peace pledge.
Kids will value what we value most. By taking a moment each morning to say a simple peace pledge after the Pledge of Allegiance, we show them that we take this very seriously. Here’s a short pledge you can start using now:
“We pledge to be peacemakers at all times,
to treat others with kindness and respect,
and to live by the Golden Rule.”
You can also make up a pledge with your students. Sometimes that’s even more meaningful.
Create an awareness of the classroom as a caring community.
What we give attention to increases. Here are some questions you can pose to your students as they work and interact with each other to build the kind of community we want:
- What can we do to encourage and support each other?
- What can we do so every member of the class feels safe and accepted?
- How kind and cooperative are we being right now?
- What will help us get back on track, together?
By the way, here’s a poem you can use to set the tone.
Model and expect kindness, respect, and compassion.
Then set the expectation that these three things are the class standard. Never settle for less. As Gandhi reminded us, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Let kids know: “In our classroom, kindness counts!”
Click here for five free lessons that will help you make this happen (scroll down that page).
Introduce the concept of “basement and balcony.”
When we’re faced with conflict and anger, we often go down to the basement of ourselves and act from the lowest part. Instead, we need to choose the balcony, and act from the higher part—the part that can communicate respectfully and hear what the other person has to say.
To help your students learn to navigate conflicts respectfully, try the conflict resolution guidelines at this link.
To help them manage anger, try this activity.
Teach students about inspiring role models of nonviolence.
Sometimes it’s hard for children to understand why they should take the high road. But we know that violence begets violence, so in order to break the cycle, we need to make another choice. Amazing things can happen when we do! Help kids understand the power of nonviolence by sharing the story of Malala Yousafzai. Attacked by those who wanted to deny her right to education, Malala redoubled her efforts to help other students through peaceful means. See her story here.
For an excellent free downloadable curriculum titled “Actions of Peace” from the Rubin Museum in New York, click here. It’s filled with wonderful creative activities and can be adapted for all age groups.
For a list of recommended reading for educators on peace, nonviolence, conflict resolution, and more, click here.
And be sure to share the following words of Gandhi with your students: “If we wish to have real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children.” For more information on the International Day of Non-Violence, check out this link.
Wishing you a peaceful year! – Naomi and Christa
The authors are seeking middle school educators to administer an anonymous, brief, national student survey about conflict, bullying, and kindness. Teachers who opt in will receive a special free offer from Free Spirit Publishing. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to learn more.
Naomi Drew, M.A., is recognized around the world for her work in conflict resolution, peacemaking, and anti-bullying. She is the award-winning author of seven widely used books, including her most recent, No Kidding About Bullying. Her landmark book, Learning the Skills of Peacemaking, was one of the first to introduce peacemaking into public education. Her work has been featured in magazines and newspapers across the United States, including Time, Parents, and The New York Times. For more information, go to www.LearningPeace.com.
Christa M. Tinari, M.A., is a nationally known safe schools specialist who has worked with thousands of teachers and students to prevent bullying and implement social-emotional learning in the classroom. A former Student Assistance Counselor, she is founder of PeacePraxis Educational Services, creator of the Feel & Deal™ Activity Deck, and co-creator of the School Climate Thermometer®. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.peacepraxis.com.
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