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Build Community With Class Meetings

The class meeting is one of the most powerful tools a teacher has to ensure that a positive learning environment is created and maintained throughout the academic year. Many teachers mistakenly think that Class Meetings are only a tool for problem-solving after something has happened. While this is the perfect time to hold a Class Meeting, there are many, many other times a Class Meeting can be useful. It might make sense to view these other times as opportunities or as prevention strategies to use before something happens.

Classroom meetings can be used for a variety of purposes such as Connection, Planning, Goal-Setting, Problem Solving, Assessing/Evaluating. Classroom meetings build empathy, self esteem, cooperation, children’s involvement and ownership of classroom life. Additionally class meetings are opportunities for students to build communication skills and assume responsibilities.

Building blocks for an effective class meeting:
• a physical environment that differs from the usual classroom setup, i.e., circular seating
• an introduction that includes compliments and appreciations
• an agenda and everyone knows what it is
• a chance to provide good communication skills
• a toleration of differing perspectives and opinions
• recognition of needs-based motivation
• an opportunity to role play
• focus on non-punitive actions

Postcards to the Future

1. Provide a stack of postcards with various images. Have the students choose two cards, one that shows how they feel when faced with a tough conflict, and a second one that shows how they feel when they have solved a conflict peacefully and successfully.

2. Have a circle discussion where students share and explain the cards they picked.

3. Have students put their address on the “successfully solved a conflict” card. Have them write a short encouraging note on it or create a note yourself.

4. Mail these to the students in late August as a welcome to the new school year!

Create a Peace Tree

Each year in Ontario camps, schools, hospitals, police groups, and cities come together on June 1 to celebrate a provincial holiday they call Peace Tree Day. Peace Tree Day, inspired by the award-winning film The Peace Tree by Mitra Sen, is an annual festival for children and families of every culture and faith to celebrate peace and diversity TOGETHER!

Children around the world create Peace Trees that highlight symbols from all our cultures and faiths on one tree to reflect the beauty of “diversity in unity”.
More information and helpful materials can be found at: www.peacetreeday.com.

More on the film is available here:

Making Posters Promoting Conflict Resolution

Creating colorful posters promoting cooperation and conflict resolution can be a great activity.

Here are some peaceful slogans to work with:

Friends Stick Together Like Glue
Don’t Fight, Do What Is Right
Don’t Let Your Temper Explode
Don’t Lose Your Cool
Be Honest And Sincere
Fighting Only Brings Tears
Be A Glamorous Person Fight Fair
Be A Hero Not A Bully
Forgive And Forget
Don’t Horse Around And Make Excuses
Tackle The Problem, Not The Person
Hands Are For Helping, Not Hurting
Don’t Put Others Down
The Blame Game Won’t Get You Anywhere
Hitting Isn’t Cool
Attack The Problem, Not The Person
Be Smart, Don’t Start Fighting
Don’t Be Cruel To Others
Don’t Wreck Your Friendship
Don’t Be A Bully
Be A Friend To The End
Be Nice About Solving Problems
Keep Cool, Don’t Be A Fool
Respect People’s Property
Stop In The Name Of Peace

Exploring Conflict Continuum

Pin up two sheets of paper at opposite sides of the room, one saying ‘agree’, the other ‘disagree’. You can add one in the middle “don’t know” as well. Discuss the concept of “having an opinion” and how opinions are different than facts or universal truths. Read out the statements below and ask people to move towards agree, disagree, or somewhere in between. Ask people to explain their reasons.

• Conflict always leads to violence
• I should always stand up for what I believe in, even if it causes conflict with others
• There is more conflict in cities than in rural areas
• Conflict can be a good thing
• Young people are seen as being more violent than adults

Discuss The Butter Battle Book

Main Idea: Enemies and Friends. Have students find historical examples of countries which were enemies and are now friends.
Materials: Copies of The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss
Discuss: How do countries go about making friends? Why is it important for countries to cooperate and be friends?

Literature Link: “The Butter Battle Book” by Dr. Seuss. The Yooks and the Zooks are engaged in a long running dispute over which side to butter their bread on.

Discuss: What was the conflict about?
• What were the perceptions of each side toward the other?
• How did they deal with their fear?
• Who are the Boys in the Back Room? (Military-industrial complex.)
• How did the Boys in the Back Room deal with failure? (They came up with bigger and better weapons, more titles, more fancy uniforms.)
• How did each group escalate the conflict?
• What were some of the techniques used to maintain the peoples’ support of the war? (Marches, songs, cheers.)
• What do you think will happen next?

Have students select representatives to attend a Peace Conference. Sit in a circle. Share concerns and fears. Suggest some ways that they can learn to trust each other and end the arms race. Have remainder of class listen and add other suggestions.

Suggested format:
• What would you like to happen? (The arms race to end; be able to live in peace.)
• What are your fears or your biggest concerns? (Being attacked; the end of our way of life.)
• What are your needs? (To feel safe.)

Feelings Ball Toss

Find a soft ball. Have the class stand in a circle.
Begin by completing the sentence, “I feel angry when …”
Ask for a volunteer who is willing to restate what you just said.
Toss that student the ball.
That student restates what you said, then completes the sentence for herself.
She then tosses the ball to someone else, who repeats what she said, then completes the sentence for himself, and so on.

Giving Compliments, Acknowledgements, and Appreciations

“Giving Compliments” is the first step in having Class Meetings as described by Jane Nelsen in her book Positive Discipline. Compliments focus on what others do (rather than what they wear or how they look): accomplishments, helpfulness to others, anything someone might feel good about – such as helping to resolve a conflict peacefully. It is good to brainstorm some possible compliments before you do this the first time.

One way to do compliments is to invite one of the participants in a circle to say something they have done for which they would like a compliment.
The person next to them says, “Good Job!” __________ (the person’s name) for _______________ (what the person did.)
The participant receiving the compliment says, “Thank you.”
Then the next person tells the group something for which they want a compliment and this proceeds around the circle.

This is a great activity to use to create a more positive atmosphere in a class.

The Singing Tree

A Story and Art Project
Share the following true story with your students:

One night in World War I, soldiers in Hungary crawl on their bellies through the dead landscape of war, trying to avoid the enemy. Because of the fighting, there are no standing trees, no rabbits, no birds, no houses or buildings, no squirrels, no people, no evidence of life as they inch mile after mile in the mud and darkness. Not a single creature crosses their path through the weary ordeal.

At dawn, when the sun breaks through the darkness of the terrifying night, the soldiers come across one tree that is still alive. All the birds in the area have come to the only shelter that still exists for miles around. Birds that don’t normally occupy close quarters are sharing the tree. And the birds are singing. One by one, the soldiers stand up. Their fear of being shot by the enemy is not as strong as their gratitude for the signs of life before them.

The image of the mural students construct is based on the idea that the earth is the “Singing Tree” of the solar system – perhaps of the Milky Way and beyond. The third planet from the sun is teeming with different life forms in unlikely combination, surrounded by emptiness for billions of miles. Life seems to be a rare and precious occurrence. Everything that divides us is not as important as this fact.

Students work together with older or younger students or community members to create a mural that depicts our earth floating alone in the universe growing a tree that includes leaves depicting the things most precious to them. A pdf booklet explaining it all is available at snipurl.com/singingtreebk See also snipurl.com/stinstructions for more instructions.

This activity has been developed by Laurie Marshall based on the 1939 book The Singing Tree written by Hungarian author Kate Seredy.
More on Laurie’s work is available at www.soulemporium.com

Abstract Art

Materials Needed: Paper and Paint (crayons, markers, or pastels could also be used) Think of an idea or an emotion. Experiment with a variety of marks (smooth, slow, graceful, short, orderly, jagged, quick, chaotic) and colors (cool, warm, bright, muted). Paint the emotion or idea without making objects or people. Now try painting the idea of conflict. Paint the emotions that one would feel when in conflict. Then paint the emotions that one would feel when conflict is resolved. Share your results!

For more ideas on infusing conflict resolution and art, see the Western Justice Center’s “Art Start Cards” kit available online at

Mix it Up at Lunch

Mix It Up at Lunch Day was held on November 10th in 2009. The event is an annual one.

Mixing it up helps students become more comfortable interacting with different kinds of people. The event is a simple call to action: take a new seat in the cafeteria. By making the move, students can cross the invisible lines of school division, meet new people and make new friends.

More info and tools at: www.tolerance.org/mix-it-up/get-started

Legend of the Great Law of Peace

Several hundred years ago, long before there were states, the Peacemaker was born. The Peacemaker carried a message of peace during a time when five tribes in the northeastern part of North America were often at war with each other. The tribes suffered greatly because of lost lives. As the men fought & died in battles, there were fewer people to gather food for the tribe & tribes often went hungry. The legend says that Hiawatha, a good man of the Onondaga Nation, was chosen by the Peacemaker to help the five tribes stop fighting with each other to make life better for all the people.

He gathered all the chiefs of each of these tribes and took one arrow from each chief. He held up one arrow and broke it. He told the people that it is as easy to break that one arrow as it is to break the rest of them, if they are not united. He explained that tribes working together in peace makes all of the tribes strong. He then asked each chief if he would help his tribe to stop fighting. When the chief agreed, he gave him a new arrow. When all the chiefs agreed, he took their new arrows and tied them together in a bundle. He then passed the bundle around and asked each chief to try to break the bundle of arrows. They could not break the bundle. Hiawatha then explained that the Nations working together in peace are like the bundle and cannot be broken.

When peace had successfully been spread among the five nations, the people gathered together to celebrate. They uprooted a white pine tree and threw their weapons into the hole. They replanted the tree on top of the weapons and named it the Tree of Peace, which symbolizes the Great Law of Peace that the five nations, collectively known as the Haudenosaunee came to live by. The four main roots of the Tree of Peace represent the four directions and the paths of peace that lead to the heart of Haudenosaunee territory, where all who want to follow the Great Law of Peace are welcome. At the top of the Tree of Peace is an eagle, guardian of the Haudenosaunee and messenger to the Creator.

ACTIVITY: Have the class create a “Tree of Peace” in the classroom (use construction paper for the tree). Brainstorm a list of ways that everyone in the class might get along better (no mean words, bullying, etc.). Agree to “bury” actions and words that create a negative environment.

Setting the Tone For the Year

Conflict Resolution Education Ideas in the Classroom:

  1. Plan community building activities. The activities can focus on themes of understanding emotions, communication, diversity and more. (see Diversity Bingo)
  2. Set expectations. Develop classroom rules together using posi- tive language. Discuss consequences if rules aren’t followed. Follow through. (See Classroom Rules Revisited)
  3. Use cooperative learning groups and ask the Physical Education teacher to introduce some cooperative games. (See June activities)
  4. Establish a problem solving process and introduce students to how to use it in interpersonal conflicts. Set aside a table or corner of the room as a cool off corner and as the problem solving area. Post rules and the process, and remind students to follow it. Train students to act as mediators, if necessary. (see Conflict Resolution Protocol link)
  5. Introduce students to daily or weekly class meetings for commu- nity building, teachable moments, planning, and problem solving. Have a way (such as suggestion box) where students can submit their ideas.
  6. Allow students to express their feelings through daily check ins, regular evaluations of activities, and self-evaluations.
  7. Teach listening and have students practice in pairs so the teacher is not always the focal point of listening.
  8. And always, encourage students and acknowledge their postive traits and contributions.

Quick Decision Role Play

Here is a chance to practice the assertive speaking, active listening and creative problem solving skills that you have been teaching/learning over the past several months. For each of the following role plays, name the two characters in a role play (see below) and have paired participants choose roles. Read the conflict scenario involving the two characters and tell participants they have 3 minutes to role play it. When the time is up, go around the circle and have participants demonstrate for the class their I-messages, their active listening and the proposed solution.


  • Two children: Two children are fighting over a pencil. One accuses the other of stealing the pencil. The accused says she brought the pencil from home.
  • Teacher and student: Money has been stolen from a teacher’s desk. A student named Pat was in the office alone just before the teacher noticed the money missing.
  • Two students: Two boys are shooting hoops at lunch. One accuses the other of hogging the ball.
  • Teacher and student: Halfway through directions for the lesson, the teacher notices that one child is not writing anything. The teacher notices the child does not have a pencil. This has happened several times before.
  • Teacher and student: School rules forbid talking during fire drills. One student sees water on the floor and warns the others. The teacher hears the student talking and reprimands her in front of everyone.

Discuss how participants felt in their roles. Ask which of the different solutions they liked the best or which solution was the most respectful of everyone or the best nonviolent solution.

Anger Art

Have students paint, color or draw a picture that represents things that make them angry, how they feel before and after they are angry, and any other issues they might be dealing with.

In a safe environment, they might draw something that gives you better insights to deal with their anger.