Q. What is your stance in relation to peace in the classroom, and how do you promote it in practice?
A peaceful classroom is the core of a happy and productive environment. Without a harmonious atmosphere it is difficult to achieve the many objectives we are aiming for within each school day. In order to achieve a peaceful atmosphere I believe that the boundaries and expectations within the classroom need to be set from the start. Without an understanding of this how can the children be expected to manage these prospects? This also corresponds with daily routines and timetables, if these are clearly explained and demonstrated to the children, then they will find comfort in consistency and gain a feeling of control over their day. In a Montessori environment there is a big emphasis on setting ground rules with the children at the very start of term. These rules are based around creating a safe and respectful environment; they allow each child the freedom to choose, concentrate and create. When children feel safe and settled they are more likely to explore their environment, try out new experiences and absorb information. In my classroom I feel it is important to involve the children in the brainstorming process of the ground rules, this helps them to feel that that their opinions and ideas are important and makes the rules that we set more relevant and personal to them. One of the rules we have is using a quiet voice inside of the classroom, this helps to keep the room peaceful and prevents disturbing others and breaking their concentration. Another of the ground rules is that the children must work on either a floor or table mat. This is vital in a busy classroom in order to give the children their own work space where they can work peacefully without being disturbed.
Another big factor towards achieving a peaceful environment is the relationships built within it. The children need to know that you care for and respect them. It is essential to build mutual respect between yourself and the children, only then will communication flow effectively. Young children can be very egocentric and as a teacher a big part of the day is dealing with children’s quarrels and fallouts. My approach to dealing with this has adapted over the years. I now use tools that not only support the children but also give them the responsibility to sort out problems for themselves. In my class we have meetings, which revolve around an agenda of any problems that the children or I have been facing. We brainstorm these problems together to find solutions. Through this exercise the children are becoming more equipped with problem solving skills, it is also a quick and simple way to help settle conflicts between children by inviting them to put their problem on the agenda. This technique has proved invaluable and the children feel respected and listened to. The idea of cooling off before dealing with issues has become a treasured method within our class. We now have a ‘cool out space’ in our classroom, with cushions and star decorations. The children go there to relax whenever they choose and it allows them time to feel better before dealing with situations. This is not a form of punishment and the children are never told to go there, it is a comforting option for them if they should like to use it. As teachers and parents it is very important that we model behaviours that we would like our children to develop. Therefore it is crucial that we demonstrate methods of how we take time to cool off ourselves. In my class I put the class mascot, a toy dolphin on my desk to signal that I need a moment to myself. The children are very respectful of this and often come and give me hug as an acknowledgment. We have also created a ‘wheel of choice’ which involved the children thinking of different ways to deal with problems. I made their ideas into a visual wheel which is on display in our classroom. The children now refer to the wheel of choice during times of upset and it provides them with options to help diffuse situations successfully in a calm manner.
My aim is to nurture independence within the children and to help them develop caring and respectful approaches. Once the children are able to successfully work on their own and experiment with ways to solve problems, it provides me as the teacher with precious opportunities to stand back and carefully observe them. During these times I am able to gain a much deeper understanding of the children, therefore allowing me to plan and cater for their individual needs, emotionally, physically and academically. When the children are working peacefully it also gives me the chance to work one to one with them and introduce new materials and concepts, therefore supporting each child at their own individual level and helping them progress towards the next stage of their learning. It is far more challenging to do any of these things in an environment where the children are unsettled and overly reliant on you as the teacher. In my experience a peaceful, happy classroom is far more beneficial for both the children and teacher.