New! The Oasis Blog
Teaching Peace is a unique program developed by especially for the students of Lafayette Elementary School. The goal of Teaching Peace is to create a culture of kindness. In Peace Class children learn how to practice mindfulness and to apply the skills of mindfulness to help them resolve conflicts, treat each other with kindness, understand and manage their own feelings, and become active and engaged members of a positive and welcoming school community.
Research has shown that the two most important factors in preventing bullying at school are changing the school climate and dedicating class time to social emotional learning. Peace class, the Peace Club, the Peace Team, the student-made peace posters all over the school, and having a teacher dedicated exclusively to these issues, builds a school-wide climate that will help to make bullying and other forms of unkindness unacceptable at Lafayette. Lafayette students are encouraged to take action when they see acts of unkindness and to make teasing, excluding, and bullying “uncool”. Our goal is to turn bystanders into heroes. In 2013 DCPS passed a comprehensive bullying prevention policy. Lafayette’s own Teaching Peace program was held up in this policy as a model for how elementary schools can create a positive school climate.
For many years only the “older” children in grades 2-5 took Peace Class. But in 2013 School Counselor Jillian Diesner decided to work with Ms. Ryden to adapt the Teaching Peace curriculum for the early childhood grades. Now children take Peace Class from Pre-K to 5th grade. At all grade levels Peace Class includes three main components: mindfulness practice, kindness practice (see below), and many other social emotional lessons. Lesson themes include learning how to resolve conflicts peacefully, how to think before you speak, discussions of prejudice, how to calm down when you are angry, and 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. Many of the same basic concepts are taught each year and adapted to be age-appropriate as the children grow.
Over the past two years mindfulness has become a huge part of what happens in Peace Class and throughout Lafayette. Every Peace Class at every age level begins with mindfulness practice. Mindfulness practice can include quietly sitting to focus on breath awareness, walking mindfully, practicing mindful listening, learning a series of Mindful Movements, lessons in mindful eating, etc. We teach these basic mindfulness skills and then apply them to all of the social emotional lessons.
Mindfulness has been getting a lot of buzz in the media lately and for good reason. Mindfulness practice has many benefits. Mindfulness training can help to enhance children’s attention and focus, improve memory, improve self-control, and increase 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. Lafayette’s Teaching Peace program is on the cutting edge of the mindfulness education movement. We are the only elementary school in the area to have a mindfulness program on such a large scale and we are a model for other schools nationwide.
Another key component of Peace Class could be called “kindness practice”. Each week children are assigned 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.) The following week we hear about what everyone did for their 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. 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 and 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.”
Peace Class is only one piece of the Teaching Peace Program. In order to take the lessons of Peace Class into the wider school community we established Peace Club. Peace Club is an alternative lunch/recess program. . It is a mixed-age group of anywhere from 20-50 kids that 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. Peace Club is led by Ms. Ryden and the School Counselors Jillian Diesner and Rashida Mosby. It is open to all children in grades 2-5.
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. Some older children are recruited to be special Peace Club helpers. 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. The children eat lunch together getting to know children in other grades and classes. After lunch they have lots of options designed to encourage cooperation and social interactions. Some children choose to make the wonderful, colorful peace posters that line the halls of Lafayette. Many children choose to join together to make fantastic structures using the Magna-Tiles. Some children play board games or guessing games or Twister and hop-scotch. Peace Club has become a welcoming community-within-a-community at Lafayette.
Linda Ryden created the Teaching Peace in 2003 as a volunteer. Now a full-time staff member at Lafayette, she works closely with the school counselors, and is a member of the Lafayette Student Support Team. Teaching Peace has grown and evolved over the past eleven years and has been featured on local television and radio and in the Washington Post. In 2012 the DCPS Advisory Commission on Bullying encouraged all schools in DCPS to incorporate a program modeled on the Teaching Peace program. Ms. Ryden is now a leader in the mindfulness education movement and is an advisor to teachers and principals interested in creating mindfulness and social-emotional learning programs in their own schools.
Thanks to Principal Lynn Main for her consistent support of the Teaching Peace program. In this testing-focused culture it takes courage to set aside time in the school day for something that can’t be easily quantified. Thanks to her vision and leadership on this issue, Teaching Peace has grown into an effective and engaging model program. This program also owes a debt to the wonderful teachers of Lafayette who have welcomed and supported the Teaching Peace Program and given the very precious gift of time. Finally, Teaching Peace would not have been possible without the generous financial support of the Lafayette Home and School Association. Many thanks to all members, past and present, for supporting Teaching Peace over the past eleven years, and for making our children’s social and emotional development a priority at Lafayette Elementary School.