Peace of Mind is a unique mindfulness and social emotional learning program developed at Lafayette Elementary School especially for the students of Lafayette. All of the second, third, fourth and fifth graders at Lafayette take Peace Class every week. In addition, there is a special lunch/recess program called Peace Club and a leadership program for fifth graders called Peace Team. Peace of Mind is staffed by a full-time Peace Teacher who works closely with the counseling staff to provide one-on-one help to children with conflicts and other issues.
The goal of Peace of Mind is to create a culture of kindness and mindfulness. Research has shown that the two most important factors in preventing bullying at school are changing the school climate and allotting class time to social emotional learning. Our hope is that through the Peace classes, the Peace Club, the Peace Team, the student-made posters all over the school, and through informal encounters with the children we are helping to build a school-wide climate that will make bullying and other forms of unkindness unacceptable at Lafayette. We encourage the kids to take action when they see acts of unkindness and to make teasing, excluding and bullying “uncool”. The teachers, staff, parents and children at Lafayette tell us that it is making a difference.
Peace class always takes the same shape. We begin with ringing the ting-sha bells. These lovely Tibetan bells set the quiet tone for Peace Class. While we listen to the bells we close our eyes and begin our mindfulness practice. Sometimes we focus on our breathing, sometimes we focus our minds on listening closely to the sound of the bells and raise our hands when we can no longer hear them. We continue this quiet, peaceful mood as we transition into doing the Mindful Movements. Mindfulness practice has many benefits. Mindfulness training can help to enhance children’s attention and focus, improve memory, improve self-control and awareness of our own feelings and the feelings of others. Mindfulness practice is becoming more and more popular in schools because research has proven that creating deliberate moments of quiet and focus in a school day can greatly decrease anger, violence and anxiety in school. I hope that the mindfulness practice the children of Lafayette learn today will serve them well when they venture out into the wider world.
The next component of Peace Class could be called “kindness training”. Each week we assign each child a Kindness Pal. It is their job to do nice things for that child for the whole week (get his snack, stack her chair, play together at recess, etc.) When we come back the next week everyone reports on what they did for their Kindness Pal and they get a new one. This is a very popular activity which achieves several goals. One is to remind the children to make kindness part of their daily lives. It has been scientifically proven that people who keep track of the kind things that they do tend to do more of them. My hope is that doing kind things for their own “pal” will spill over into their treatment of others. Pairing up the children also provides opportunities to get to know each other or to “find the good” in someone that you might not have gotten along with in the past or who you think you just don’t like. We often refer to the quote “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” Many times teachers in other classes use Kindness Pals when they need the kids to pair up for a project or a field trip.
Each week’s class features a lesson on a specific concept or skill that complements the mindfulness practice. Lessons in Peace Class range from specific conflict resolution skills, to learning to think before you speak, to discussions of prejudice, to learning how to calm down when you are angry, to what to do to help someone who is being bullied. We use story-telling, children’s literature, role-playing, drawing, group discussion, pair-sharing, puppets and much more to bring these lessons to life. The same basic concepts are taught each year but they are adapted to be age-appropriate as the children grow.
Peace Club is a lunch and recess program for kids who like a smaller alternative to the cafeteria and the playground. It is a mixed-age group of anywhere from 20-50 kids that meets in the space used by the Lafayette Afterschool Program (LAP). Peace Club has become popular among kids who sometimes struggle with their social skills or with being in a large group. It is also popular among kids who like to make a difference at Lafayette and who make a commitment to making everyone feel welcome and respected. Many of our children on the autism spectrum and with other diagnoses have Peace Club specifically written into their IEP’s and 504 plans because we provide some structured as well as informal group counseling during the hour.
Everyone who comes to Peace Club makes a promise to treat everyone else with kindness and respect and to make sure that conflicts are worked out peacefully and everyone is included. I have recruited some 4th and 5th graders to be my special helpers. These are kids who make an extra commitment to seek out those who have a harder time jumping in and include them in games, who help others work out conflicts peacefully and who help lead the big clean-up routine. If you were to drop by Peace Club you would probably be surprised by how noisy it is. It is not “peaceful” on the surface. But there is so much going on that is contributing to making Lafayette a more peaceful place. Members of the Peace Club also help others by making food for the Bethesda Cares homeless shelter once a month. I’m not always sure why everyone is there, but for whatever reason, Peace Club seems to be a place where many children are finding a community-within-a-community at Lafayette.
Peace Team is a program for a specially selected group of 5th graders who work together on our Peace Heroes program. They collect nominations from students and staff and maintain our Peace Heroes bulletin board. They choose outstanding examples of kindness and announce those names on the morning announcements.
has been teaching for 25 years. She began as a kindergarten teacher, taught music for several years (including one year teaching music at Lafayette), took a few years off to pursue advocacy work, and then spent a few years at home with her children. In 2003 she began to develop the Teaching Peace program that became Peace of Mind. Ms. Ryden was asked to serve on the District of Columbia Public Schools Advisory Committee on Bullying. The new DCPS policy on bullying prevention includes a recommendation that other schools within DCPS use the Peace of Mind program at Lafayette Elementary School as a model program. Ms. Ryden and the Peace of Mind program have been featured in the Washington Post, Fox Five News, ABC7, and CBS. Ms. Ryden has become a sought-after speaker and trainer on mindfulness education.
Click here to see the most recent edition of the Peace of Mind newsletter. Past editions are available below:
Peace of Mind owes an enormous debt of gratitude to our school’s former principal Lynn Main for her support over the years. In this testing-focused culture it takes courage to set aside time in the school day for something that can’t be easily quantified. We would also like to thank the members of the Lafayette Home and School Association past and present who have made a financial commitment to making peace a priority in our children’s lives.