My Year of Peace: Peace and Classroom Management

As I seek to be more peaceful in my personal llife, I have also tried to be very intentional about peacemaking in my professional life. Much of the impetus for my quest for peace has come from the actions of my school's Diversity Club and Solidarity Committee. This year, our focus is "Waging Peace," and I have had some really interesting discussions with colleagues and students about ways to wage peace in our school while also encouraging international peace efforts. It has been such a humbling experience. I have always considered myself a pacifist, but when I was in high school, I never gave it the kind of careful consideration that my students are giving it. They serve as such inspiring examples for the whole school community.

Over the last few weeks, a couple of interesting situations have come up in my workplace that have really given me opportunities to apply my own efforts to "wage peace." One of my classes has been challenging the last couple of weeks. My first thought was that I could just crack down and start assigning detentions to the students who were off task or causing distractions, but I paused to consider if that was going to be the most effective way to work with these students. Really the problem was minor, just three or four students were continually off task and in general seemed to have bad attitudes. Assigning detentions may have been an acceptable short term solution (even though I rarely use it), but I felt like if I assigned the detentions, it would bring short term peace, but not long term peace. I decided to observe the students who were off task much more carefully over the next week to see if I could determine the root of the problem.

What I noticed was that one student seemed to be the main "ringleader" for the others. They all took their cues from her. When one would say something distracting, she would turn to this girl to see if she approved. I thought about the best way to approach this particular student. Her grades had been dropping in recent weeks, and she seemed to be upset about something. She is a very intelligent student, so I decided that I needed to talk to her. Peacekeeping is always the easiest solution, but it does not lead to long term peace. Waging peace requires us to work diligently and patiently, and it depends on good communication. It would have been peacekeeping for me to just give her a detention and a heavy handed punishment, but deep down whatever resentment she was building for my class or school in general would have simply increased even if she modified her behavior to avoid detentions.

Instilling fear in students will keep quiet, at its best only the illusion of peace. I know as a teacher, it is easy to settle for these short term solutions because they are quick and simple and allow most of us to get quick results with minimal conflict. Still I asked myself, "Is this real peace?" Behavior and performance modification is not my goal as a teacher. I want my students to learn and grow. In fact, behavior and performance modification are hindrances to growth because they provide the illusion of growth as a substitute for real growth.

I decided to talk to the student, not in a confrontational way. I try really hard to avoid commanding students to respect me and their classmates. If I have to demand their respect through fear or guilt tactics, then I probably don't deserve it in the first place. I simply pointed out to the student that I noticed her grades had dropped and that she had seemed very distracted in my class. Then I asked her to tell me what she felt was going on and how the two of us could work together to make things better. It is important to give students ownership of their own education and conduct and to show them that you are working together, not against each other.

I did not expect this one conversation to be the be all and the end all. I hoped it would be a good first step in building a good relationship with this student so that she and the others in my class could have the best opportunity to learn. She did not point out any specific solutions we could try. She may not have even taken this conversation very seriously. She may not respect me at all at this point. Still, I believe that she knows I am not oblivious to her, that I noticed something was different, that I will not just let her hijack the class (even if I am not a heavy handed disciplinarian). I have noticed a difference. It is not a night and day difference, just a small one. I imagine that I might need to have more of these talks with her or her classmates, but this first step is so important.

Peaceful relationships begin by establishing trust. Once that foundation is in place, conflict resolution can begin in earnest. This is not a quick process because the issues that bring us into conflict rarely develop quickly even if the precipitating events for conflict seem sudden. If we only react to precipitating events and refuse to address the motivations and conditions behind those events, we are not really waging peace, just keeping quiet. I don't want a quiet classroom; I want a peaceful one even if it takes more work to get there.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS


Post a Comment