In an effort to reduce the number of arguments and incidents on the playground and in class, we were looking for a way to give students the skills to talk with their peers in a productive manner that would help resolve their issues. As a PBIS school, we focus on the positive and recognize students for exhibiting the appropriate behaviors. We felt we needed to take it to the next level and provide time once a week for students to learn skills to help talk with one another and build relationships so they are able to share their perspective.
In this day and age with academic accountability at an all-time high we were hesitant to embark on something that might be ‘just one more thing’. To our relief, Peacekeeper Circles have helped build relationships and classroom communities that provide an opportunity to share appreciation as well as grievances in a safe, productive manner. These efforts up front have given us all a common language and expectation which in turn has increased instruction time because teachers are able to focus on teaching and learning, and students aren’t being pulled as often to resolve issues.
Having the opportunity to sit in several classroom Peacekeeper Circles, I was amazed at the level the students have participated. To hear a student state a grievance to another student and how that act made them feel…and then that student genuinely apologize and state what they will do different was amazing. As a principal, working on behavioral incidents many times occurs after the fact. I work through with the students what went wrong, what to do different, etc. With Peacekeeper circles, students are empowered to speak up, share what they appreciate about their classmates as well as what might have hurt them. This approach is more proactive and our hope is it will lead to students having the skills to talk with peers and adults to communicate how they feel when something might occur.
Feedback from teachers has been amazing! It has given them the skills to effectively run a class meeting in a manner that is beneficial to everyone. The students have responded positively as well. They have thanked me and their teachers for allowing them to speak and genuinely share how they are feeling about someone’s behavior or how some incident made them feel. Communication is one of the most important skills we can give our students. Our hope is that starting them with this process in elementary school will prepare them to talk with peers and adults in middle school, high school and beyond in a manner that is respectful and productive. Students are able to communicate how they feel before an interaction reaches a bullying level. Often times students dwell on what is not working and having them recognize what is positive and expressing that appreciation builds a relationship with that peer that they might not have had before. Once this trust and relationship is built they are more comfortable sharing a grievance or hurt, working it out, and moving on.
It is hard to put into words how successful Peacekeeper Circles have been so far. As we move to incorporate this practice school wide, I am excited to see how it will improve our community and interactions overall and empower students to develop respectful relationships. I am so proud of them for being able to acknowledge appreciation for others and respectfully air small grievances and hurts before they become full-blown conflicts.