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The Clenched Fist

Method: In groups of three, one student clenches his/her fist. As a team the other two students need to figure out a way to unclench this student’s fist. Give them thirty seconds to figure it out.

Processing Questions:
What happened?
How did you get the person to unclench his/her fist?
What worked? What didn’t work?
What did you do to overcome the challenges?

Affirmation Song

I LIKE YOU – an affirmation song for young children
This is a song for young children that promotes affirmation of self and others. It is sung to the verse of “Skip to My Lou”.

1. I like you; there’s no doubt about it.
I like you; there’s no doubt about it.
I like you; there’s no doubt about it.
You are my good friend.

2. You like me; there’s no doubt about it.
You like me; there’s no doubt about it.
You like me; there’s no doubt about it.
I am your good friend.

3. I like me; there’s no doubt about it.
I like me; there’s no doubt about it.
I like me; there’s no doubt about it.
I am my good friend.

It is important that children choose their partners for the song so that they feel comfortable saying “I like you”. In the first verse, as “I like you” is sung, children point to their partners; in all verses on “no doubt about it” they move open hands in the air while shaking heads indicating “no”; on “I am your good friend” partners shake hands. In the second verse, as “you like me” is sung, children point first to their partners and then to themselves. In the last verse, children point to themselves and on “I am my good friend”, hug themselves. This song should be used only after children have shared a great deal of self and others-affirmation, which case it can be a moving experience.

Peer Mediation Best Practices

The Education Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution provides a set of “Recommended Standards for School-Based Peer Mediation Programs.” These standards are designed to enhance quality and stimulate thought among youth and adult participants in peer mediation programs.

This document is designed to be helpful in:   
• Designing and implementing programs
• Developing and selecting curricula
• Ensuring that programs are welcoming and accessible to all
• Funding programs
• Improving established programs
• Promoting programs
• Providing professional development
• Setting guidelines for research

Use it at your school to review current practices or start a discussion about adding peer mediation to your community. Get it online at: www.mediate.com/acreducation/

Assertive Speaking

When you need to tell someone something that might be difficult for them to hear, or when you want to initiate a conversation around a conflict, try using assertive speaking by doing this:

  • Think before you speak
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say
  • Separate facts from feelings
  • Focus on the action that occurred – not your interpretation
  • Tell the other person what you want as opposed to what you don’t want

Spider Web – To Reconnect in the New Year

This activity gives participants practice with paraphrasing and active listening.

Sit on the floor in one large circle. Explain that everyone will share his/her name and something about himself/herself. Give everyone a minute to privately prepare a response.

Have one person start by sharing his/her name and something about himself/herself. Then have the student hold on to the end of a ball of yarn and roll it to another person in the circle.

The person who catches the ball of yarn restates the name of the person who rolled them the yarn and what the first person shared about himself/herself. Then this second person states his/her own name, something about himself/herself and rolls the ball of yarn to the next person, holding on to their part of the yarn as they do so.

Have everyone continue this process until all have shared. Optional: With each holding the yarn, stand up/kneel in place to fully reveal the spiderweb. Talk about ways we are connected to one another; how communication strengthens our human web.

Yoga with Kids

Yoga’s benefits include: stillness, balance, flexibility, focus, peace, grace, connection, health, and well-being. It pairs nicely with conflict resolution education. When teaching yoga to kids it can be challenging to keep their attention. Here are some ideas to make the experience postive for everyone.

Children will jump at the chance to assume the role of animals, trees, flowers, warriors. Your role is to step back and allow them to bark in the dog pose, hiss in the cobra, and meow in cat stretch. They can also recite the ABCs or 123s as they are holding poses. Sound is a great release for children and adds an auditory dimension to the physical experience of yoga.

As they perform the various animal and nature asanas, engage their minds to deepen their awareness. When they’re snakes, invite them to really imagine that they’re just a long spine with no arms and legs. Could you still run or climb a tree? In Tree Pose ask them to imagine being a giant oak, with roots growing out of the bottoms of their feet. Could you stay in the same position for 100 years? If you were to be chopped down, would that be OK? Would it hurt?

This helps to make a connection between the macrocosm of our environment and the microcosm of our bodies. The importance of reverence for all life and the principle of interdependence becomes apparent. Children begin to understand that we are all made of the same “stuff.” We’re just in different forms.

Active Listening and Open Ended Questions

Active listening and the use of questions are essential to resolving conflicts. Open-ended questions are helpful when you want someone to “open up” and give you as much information as possible.

Incorporate “active” listening by repeating back important information and feelings to make sure you “got it” and the person you are listening to feels heard. Here are a few open-ended questions to get you started:

  • How would you describe…?
  • How did this problem begin?
  • How do you feel about…?
  • What happened in this situation?
  • How did you respond when…?
  • Can you explain what went on?
  • How would you like to resolve this?
  • What can you do to work this out?

Active Listening and Body Language

Active listening is really the application of the Golden Rule and perhaps the most critical skill for resolving conflict. To know how to listen to someone else, think about how you would want to be listened to. While the ideas are largely intuitive, it might take some practice to develop (or re-develop) the skills.

How to do it

Let your body language show you are listening through your:

  • Facial expressions
  • Gestures
  • Eye Contact
  • Posture

Keep the focus on the other person.

  • Do not interrupt, offer advice or give suggestions.
  • Do not bring up similar feelings or problems from your own experience.
  • Don’t take sides.
  • Paraphrase the person’s most important thoughts and feelings.
  • Make sure people understand it is okay to have these feelings.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s place to understand what the person is saying and how they feel.

Political Posters (POV)

Points of View can be hard to see when obscured with emotion. This often is the case in conflicts about politics, religion or issues of morality. Having skills to deconstruct a conflict to reveal the needs, values and beliefs underneath all sides of an issue is a critical skill for resolving any conflict. It is especially important for citizens in a democracy.

In this activity, assign students to study a political or moral issue and have them analyze at least two opposing points of view. To fully understand these points of view, encourage students to research the subject including interviewing real people and reading relevant editorials.

Next, have students create a poster for each POV – capturing the key points. Then, have them use the poster as a visual aid as they take turns explaining the needs, beliefs or values it represents. Make sure that students/participants understand that they aren’t supposed to explain what they think about the issue, but to provide an objective and fair account of the POV of others.

Feel Your Heart

Yoga helps people of all ages focus, relax and be mentally alert. Gratitude engenders a positive outlook. Take 5 or 10 minutes out of your day to do this yoga-inspired exercise with your students.

Bring yourself back into your body and connect with your breath and your heart by sitting with your hands over the center of the chest, with closed eyes, and breathing through the nose. Let go of everything else. Feel your heart beating and appreciate the work it does for you every moment. Thank your heart, and feel it thank you back!

Being able to center yourself when you are under stress or in a conflict is a very important tool to avoid escalating a conflict further, and to free you to use skills for successfully resolving it.

Understanding Point of View (POV)

The way one sees, understands, and feels about a situation makes up his/her point of view. Often we make the mistaken assumption that others share or should share our own POV. In reality, we all see and feel in our own unique way. We may not agree with another’s POV. Some of the things that shape our POV’s are:

  • Where and how we have grown up,
  • What experiences we have had,
  • What we have learned from others.

Autograph Exercise: This exercise encourages students to get to know one another and to lay the groundwork for understanding POV’s.

Several days before doing this exercise have each student give you a fact about him/herself that no one else knows and that s/he is willing to share with the group. Type these facts into a numbered list, leaving a blank after each fact with enough room for the owner’s autograph. Make enough copies for everyone.

Pass out the sheets to the students and give them 10 minutes to walk around the room and see how many people they can match with the facts. When they find a match they get that person’s autograph.

Debrief this exercise by asking how many matches were made; if there were any surprises; and what role assumptions played in this exercise.

10 Things You Can Control in a Conflict

This is an exercise about discovering one’s personal power. In any conflict, there are things you can’t control. However, there are always things you CAN control and knowing what they are and how to use them is a fundamental and powerful CR Tool.

Have students prepare a group presentation to teach the 10 things they can control in a conflict. This will help everyone remember them in even a stressful conflict situation.

1. Your Plan for the Future – Knowing what you want in the future helps you look past the current situation and focus beyond temporary problems.
2. Your Perspective – Choose to change how you look at it. Stop and reassess your point of view. Find a learning opportunity in the situation.
3. Your Responses – No matter what the other person is doing, you can choose to control your responses.
4. Your Investment – Spend less time thinking about it, talking about it, and engaging in it.
5. Your Role in the Conflict – Ask yourself, “What have I said or done, or not said or done, that has kept this conflict going?” If it takes two to tango and you’re no longer willing to dance, the conflict has no choice but to diminish.
6. Your Expectations – When your expectations don’t fit the situation, change your expectations. Change, not lower. Is it possible that your expectations are what are causing your frustration and the conflict to continue?
7. Your Energy – Unresolved conflict (and unresolved emotions!) can be a black hole for energy. Look for a different outlet for your attention and put your energy there.
8. Your Own Story – Give an account without elevating or victimizing anyone. Consider an honest but hopeful response such as, “It’s a difficult time right now, but I’m learning a valuable lesson about expectations,” rather than, “Yet again I’m the victim and no one cares.”
9. Your Method for Processing Emotions – Find a constructive way to process what’s happening. Talking with a mentor, family member, friends, clergy, or a therapist can be helpful. Keeping a journal, writing letters you’ll never send, a vigorous workout, or even slinging rocks at the tree in the backyard are all productive ways to process your emotions and perspective about an otherwise unproductive situation.
10. Your Character – No one can make you do anything. When you say, “He just makes me so (fill in the blank) that I had to (fill in whatever terrible response or action you took),” you’re giving the other person control over your moral fiber. Take personal responsibility and don’t give anyone else the power to make you behave in a way that is unbecoming, unethical, or dishonorable. Show your best side and not an unchecked series of poor reactions.

Point of View – Two Bad Ants

In this activity, appropriate for 1st-3rd graders, students participate in a discussion of a shared reading of the illustrated book “Two Bad Ants.” Students then create a T-chart comparing the perspectives offered of ants and humans in this piece.

Materials and resources: Copy of “Two Bad Ants” by Chris Van Allsburg. The book’s web site http://snipurl.com/2badants gives a plot synopsis and suggestions for key comprehension questions. Students will need a copy of a blank t-chart (see http://snipurl.com/tchart ) to chart the ants and human point of view and writing tools.

Suggested Procedure:

  • Do a read aloud of the book, asking engaging questions and calling for predictions from students.
  • Draw students’ attention to the pictured perspective of the ants in the story, comparing the descriptions of what the ants experienced to what the humans in the story experience.
  • Model for students how to begin a t-chart, which compares these two different points of view of the ants and humans.
  • Students work individually or in pairs to complete the comparison t-chart.
  • Students share their charts with others, retelling the story using the point
  • of view of the ants and then the humans.

Suggested Follow up Activity:
* Read aloud the following scenario:
Setting: The playground at recess
Characters: Tom and Lee, two third grade students
There is a basketball laying on the ground underneath the hoop and no one appears to be playing with it. Lee is talking with friends nearby and Tom comes over to the ball and starts to take some shots. He then starts to dribble away from the hoop. Lee runs over and yells at Tom to put the ball down.
“You’re stealing my ball!!” yells Lee
“Back off! I’m just playing with it. I didn’t know it was yours, I wouldn’t steal this piece of crap,” Tom yells back.
Both boys face off, angrily and continue to name call back and forth.
* Students work individually or in partners to complete a t-chart as was completed for “Two Bad Ants,” this time describing the point of view of Tom and Lee in regards to the basketball.
* Students share the Tom and Lee charts with whole class
* Discuss what happened because Tom and Lee had different points of view about the basketball.
(Did Lee’s reaction seem logical, considering the way the event looked to him? Did it seem okay for Tom to play with the ball if no one was using it?)
* Ask students to discuss the connection between these two sets of comparison charts. Consider the world appearing to be entirely different to the ants and humans and Tom and Lee.

Closing Comments: The events in our lives are always interpreted differently by different people, depending on their point of view. When a conflict
occurs, you can be sure that there are at least two different points of view in play. Conflict resolution invites all points of view to be discussed and valued.

Bonus Discussion: What is a possible peaceful solution to this scenario?

Restorative Inquiry Questions

Restorative Inquiry is a way of talking with a student or students about a situation using nonjudgmental active listening (see questions below). It is a form of Restorative Practice. Restorative Practices focus on repairing harm and restoring relationships when misbehavior occurs. The fundamental unifying hypothesis of restorative practice is disarmingly simple: that human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things WITH them, rather than TO them or FOR them. This hypothesis maintains that the punitive and authoritarian “to” mode and the permissive and paternalistic “for” mode are not as effective as the restorative, participatory, engaging “with” mode.

Restorative Questions I — To respond to challenging behavior
– What happened?
– What were you thinking of at the time?
– What have you thought about since?
– Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
– What do you think you need to do to make things right?

Restorative Questions II — To help those harmed by another’s actions
– What did you think when you realized what had happened?
– What impact has this incident had on your and others?
– What has been the hardest thing for you?
– What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

Three-Part Listening Exercise

This is a communication exercise to practice a helpful way to listen and reflect information. It is especially useful for mediation training. The purpose here is to practice separating out the content (facts or thoughts), the feelings (spoken and expressed through body language) and the values (what is important). It is helpful to brainstorm a list of feeling words (happy, sad, angry, frustrated, etc.) and a list of values (honesty, fairness, family, safety, etc.) Ask everyone to keep what is said confidential.

Directions: Divide into groups of four.
– Choose one person to begin — that person talks about “an upsetting situation” or about “people who annoy me”.
– The second person listens carefully for content information (facts and thoughts of the speaker);
– the third person listens for feelings – both spoken and underlying;
– the fourth person listens for the values expressed by the speaker.

The speaker should talk for 1-2 minutes. Then the three listeners, one at a time, paraphrase the content of the communication and reflect the content, feelings and the values heard. Each listener begins with the phrase “What I heard you say is…” Conclude by asking the speaker if you missed anything and paraphrasing anything else that is said. Repeat this process until each person has a chance to be in each role. The goal here is to listen for understanding in different ways, not to try to solve the problem.

Discuss what it felt like to be a speaker; which listening role was easiest or most challenging and why; what you learned from this exercise about conflict or conflict resolution.