Teaching Children in Schools an Alternative to Fighting

by Jayne Connors, Sojourner with the Clinton Franciscans

The sixth in a series on active nonviolence from the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa (www.ClintonFranciscans.com)

I am a fourth grade teacher at a school where 99.9 % of the population receives free or reduced lunch. In over twenty years of teaching, I have found that one of the biggest deterrents to learning is a negative classroom environment where needless time is spent on redirecting behavior.   My students seemed to respond to negativity with negativity, often resulting in physical confrontation. When corrected, they often explained, “My parents told me if someone hits you…. You hit them back!” If they didn’t hit back, they were sometimes picked on and bullied. I realized it wasn’t enough for me to simply stop the behavior; I needed to offer an alternative way for them to respond.

Sometime later, I attended a weekend with the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa, about Francis and Clare and ways to pursue a nonviolent life. So much of the information was inspiring, but the talk on alternatives to violence was especially moving for me. It seemed like I had found a way to promote non-violent actions to replace “Flight or Fight” techniques.

The next fall when school resumed, I decided to teach my students to use the “two hands of nonviolence” approach if another student insulted or hurt them. I printed a hand signaling “Stop!” on construction paper and also an open hand signaling an offer of friendship. I put these around the room along with sayings such as Nonviolence Begins Here, Peace to All Who Enter, and Safety Room. When my students arrived, we immediately began an open discussion about how we like to feel at school, how we react when someone says or does something violent to us, and how we could deal with hurtful actions besides fighting back. We followed up with role playing activities using the two hands of nonviolence. Students were then asked to practice the technique with each other and to create artifacts to put around the room to remind them of their new “learned behavior.”

That year was a pilot year for the program, and it went incredibly well. Other teachers and administrators began to notice how it promoted a more peaceful and respectful environment. Colleagues often ask my students to model the technique for their own students.

I often remind my students that the only behavior they can change is their own, but that has the power to change the whole world!

Jayne Connors, Clinton Franciscan Sojourner, 4th grade teacher

Published in: on August 24, 2015 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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