Monday, March 26, 2007

This Day in Peace and Justice History

This website lists historical peace and justice events that occurred. There is an entry for each day of the year! This calender is a great supplement to the peacemaking you might already be doing in you classroom as well as an opportunity for students to see peace and justice events that happened on their birthday. The website also lists additional classroom activities you can do. The link is below:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cross Cultural Connections: Peace Games and Seeds of Peace

Peace Games has the opportunity to collaborate with Seeds of Peace, a non-governmental organization that brings young people from conflict areas together for dialogue and trust-building activities each summer. In addition to working with young people Seeds of Peace also strives to provide education and support to the adults in their lives.

As we continue to design Peacemaker Projects, Seeds of Peace staff expressed an interest in helping to set up one-to-one partnerships between elementary, middle, or high school teachers in either Israel or the West Bank and teachers in the Peace Games Network. Together, you can decide how best to learn from and support each other; we'd just make the introductions. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, contact us. To learn more about Seeds of Peace, visit their website or watch this trailer of a documentary about the camp ("Seeds"), made by an internationally diverse team of filmmakers in 2003.

Monday, March 19, 2007

That Time of Year

A few years ago, I stood in my regular spot to say good morning - at the top of the first flight of stairs, prime real estate for watching students come up from breakfast - and made sure to wish a good luck to the fourth and fifth graders on the first day of MCAS. As he walked by, Brendon, a fourth grader, said, "We're gonna need it!" Then, pulling a prayer card out of his pocket, he added, "That's why I got my Jesus!"

It's Testing Season, again.

During Testing Season, the air inside a school gets noticeably thicker and the anticipation gradually builds. Personally, I am not all that opposed to the idea of setting high standards, but I find that sometimes hard to reconcile with the anxiety - real or vicarious - that some students are saddled with.

It can be easy to think that games or "extras" have no place during Testing Season, but I disagree. I think that a well-placed cooperative game can do a lot to ease anxiety, build community, and strengthen the peacemaking skills of our students. Tests can help us assess students' strengths and areas for growth and may even help teachers improve their teaching, but they also measure students against one another, elevating some at the expense of others, which can be toxic to a classroom community. It is critical, therefore, to make space for community (re-)building.


After having Peace Games pre-empted by MCAS one week, a fourth grade teacher and I are eager to get back to it. We spend time on our Peacemaker Project, but as always leave time for a game at the end. "After all," the teacher reminds me. "It's Peace Games. We have to have a game every week."

This week, we choose Count Up. There are 22 students, and I challenge them to count from one to twenty-two. Everyone must count exactly once, and they must keep their eyes closed. If two of them call out the same number at the same time, then the entire group must start again. To make it easier, I randomly assign Byron to be number one. They go through several failed attempts, enduring some aggressive finger-pointing and blaming and occasionally helpful suggestions drowned out by a half-dozen voices all competing for dominance. The teacher and I are wathcing, with a mix of amusement and concern, when he says to me with mock-seriousness, "You know, I really don't think they can do it."

I play along. "I don't know. They're having a hard time, but I think they can."

"Well," he says. "I'm willing to bet extra recess that they can't." This is unexpected. The students immediately refocus, understanding exactly what this means: if they succeed, extra recess. It is a clear challenge, but the urgency (and aggressiveness) increase. This could unify them or tear them apart, and I am unsure of which will prevail.

Acutely tuned into the in-fighting all around him, Byron is steadfast. Each time two people call out the same number, he no longer waits for me to say, "Start over." Instead, with his eyes shut tightly and his usually soft-spoken voice taking on a powerfully confident cadence, he yells out, "One!" After which, as if falling in line, Keon says "two." And Brendon, "three." And with less than a minute left until dismissal, it clicks. By the time Leona says eighteen, both Brendon and William are clenching their teeth and fists, as if willing the class to finish. And when Maia squeaks out, "Twenty-two," the class erupts. They leap from the rug, screaming and hugging each other and chanting, over and over and over, "We did it! We did it! We did it!" Several push their way through the crowd to wag their fingers in the teacher's face.

And through the chaos, he and I look at each other with enormous smiles. I am quite certain that the noise is disturbing the fifth graders next door and the third graders downstairs, but neither the teacher nor I stop the celebration. When we finally have a chance to talk about it at dismissal, we are ecstatic. "That was pure joy," we agree.

And the perfect antidote to Testing Season.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Fragile Evolution

Shaun, a fifth grader, stops me in the hall one morning and tells that he almost got in a fight.

"Almost?" I ask.

Shaun has a younger sister, Ashley, who is in third grade. He explains that Tamika, a fourth grader who more than makes up for her small stature with a larger-than-life temper, started taunting Ashely about being poor on the playground that morning. Not surprisingly, pushes were exchanged. Tamika's younger brother, Mark, is in second grade and leapt to her defense and Shaun to Ashley's. Defending family, no matter how much they bother you some days, is a no-brainer. Mark is no ordinary second grader, either. He was kept back last year, and he is already bigger than most boys three or four years older than him. He began cussing at Shaun, determined to fight, but Shaun refused. He tells me that the lunch monitor told him he did the right thing by not fighting, and I tell him I agree. He seems to want the affirmation.

That Shaun did not fight could by turns seem like an easy decision or a courageous one. After all, his sister - and by extension, his whole family - had been insulted. On the other hand, it seems like it would be easier to walk away from an instigator who is smaller than you, even if just barely. The more I think about it, the more complex a decision it is and the more impressed I am that he made it so effortlessly.

A few minutes later, I pass Tamika and Ashley outside the office, waiting to be reprimanded, when I overhear Tamika. "You just made me so mad," she says to Ashley. "I didn't mean to start a fight."

Without knowing the full story - and accepting that everyone involved probably felt both hurt and vindicated - I am astonished by her words. Two years ago, her temper and defensiveness would just absorb her to the point of paralysis. It alienated friends and in fact made her a lot of enemies. I acknowledge that she still made some bad choices this morning, but hearing her now it is apparent that she wants so much to do the right thing, to be accepted for trying and encouraged for each baby step she makes. I remind myself to tell her so.

The whole episode is a reminder that conflict is not just something that happens between people - using words or fists - but something that happens inside people, too. We need allies to tell us that we're making the right choices - or that they are proud of us for trying, even when we struggle.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Standing On The Shoulders

Ask the question "Have you ever had a teacher who inspired you?" - especially to a roomful of teachers - and the response is largely predictable: immediate and unmistakably wide grins of nostalgic recognition.

Chris Hobson, my fourth grade teacher, was the first male teacher I had and one of of only three at my elementary school. It is hard to pinpoint what makes him so memorable in a way that does not sound ambiguous or clich├ęd, but I think what stands out most is his enthusiasm. He would bounce around the classroom in a way that made me believe that there was something truly compelling - almost magical - about diagramming sentences. In truth, there is nothing at all compelling about diagramming sentences (at least, not to me), but he approached it like a mystery to be solved. And we all signed on without reservation.

I am not a science guy, not even remotely, but our science unit that year centered around meteorology, of all things. We learned the different names of the clouds - and what they signified. We set up weather-predicting instruments in the schoolyard. And we filmed "weather reports" that were taped and played on a loop on the public access channel. It's one of those units that you remember for years, and it isn't until I sit down now to think about Mr. Hobson that I realize that there is no reason I'd know what cumulus, stratus, or cirrus clouds mean if it weren't for him. Would it matter, if I didn't know these things? Probably not, but I'm grateful for it. Learning something I did not need to know makes me a better learner now.

After a mediocre third grade experience - and during some trying times at home - Mr. Hobson was a steadying influence in my life. He was someone who I knew I could count on, who was steadfastly optimistic and unconditionally encouraging. I have not diagrammed a sentence or checked an altimeter in more than 20 years, but since I started working in schools I think about Chris Hobson a lot.

So, as we think about how to develop a network of educators across the country, it is perhaps useful to consider those who came before us, on whose shoulders we stand every morning.

Which teachers have inspired you?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Debriefing Peace Games

A game is successful when players make the connection between the game and their own life experience. Playing games is a fun way to laugh together and build community, but the larger connections are equally--if not more--important.

Engaging particiants in a discussion about the game itself invites a self-awareness that extends beyond the game and into everyday interactions. How to process a game depends on the context; however, it is always a good idea to take a few minutes between games to ask some questions.

To debrief a game ask these three simple questions:

WHAT? Questions that help players think about what they learned.

Examples: What happened during the game? How did it make you feel? What was hard about this game? What was easy? What did you like or dislike about the game?

SO WHAT? Questions that help participants to think about why they played the game.

Examples: So what does this teach us? Why would be play this game? Why is it important to practice teambuilding, communication, or inclusion?

NOW WHAT? Questions that help players to think about how the game applies to the real world.

Examples: How can you use what you learned in real life? What did you learn about yourself and your fellow players? How can we use these skills in other situations?

Have you had success in debriefing games? What has worked in your classroom? What are the challenges that you have faced in debriefing games?

Share your ideas and get feedback from others on our Peace Games Network Message Board here