Workshop for teachers

Veronica Pelicaric shares the story of creating a new nonviolence workshop tailored to the questions and challenges of being a teacher in today's world with a sample outline.

It is sometimes difficult in today’s world to be a teacher. The number of students in classrooms has doubled, more children have disruptive behavior patterns, and it is hard to get their attention. Addiction to their cell phones is one more challenge to add to the list, not to mention the fact that more and more children come from stressful home situations. All of these factors overwhelm teachers who have their own personal situations and crises to deal with in a world that is increasingly complex.

A year and a half ago Veronica Pelicaric, Pace e Bene’s Education and Training Coordinator and co-author of two books, facilitated the curriculum Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living online for Patricia Hall, a credentialing specialist living in Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful experience for both of them, and after finishing the curriculum they decided to continue to meet weekly to create something together. Patricia, a mother of four with ten grandchildren, saw the need to create a workshop for teachers. As enthusiasm and the need for more input grew, Petal Steel, a transpersonal therapist living in Montreal, joined their weekly meetings. Petal and her husband adopted Jeremy nine years ago. She deals with school issues on a daily basis, so she is well versed in what it means to be a parent and the challenges faced by the teachers, parents, administration, and students.

With care for their children and grandchildren, hope for their future, and compassion for the teachers who often have to navigate situations of interpersonal, cultural, and systemic violence, these three women set out to make a change. It became apparent that the best way they could help educators was through a workshop on nonviolent principles and how to incorporate nonviolence into day-to-day tasks.

Thus this short workshop was born, not from expertise in education, but from daily practice and application of nonviolence skills. This is an introduction to nonviolence tailored to the questions and challenges of being a teacher in today’s world. It is intended as a set of guidelines to bring more awareness of the inner- and outer-skills needed in the classroom and in the personal lives of teachers. It is not a study program, but an effort to pique the interest and stoke the appetite for more education in the field. Through this, the intention is to realize the dream of mainstreaming nonviolence in our personal, interpersonal, and global lives, and to do so by working with educators of the next generation.

In a lifespan stretching thirty years, Pace e Bene has been developing curricula to teach people the width and breadth of the nonviolent life. We have been organizing an annual week of nonviolent actions that has grown from 250 actions five years ago to 2,500 in 2018. It is clear to us that people need what we are offering: an alternative to the worn out trend of structural, cultural, and direct violence. A culture of peace is needed and it is imperative that we educate ourselves and others in the values, philosophy, and strategies of what that means and how to achieve it.

The workshop has two possible formats: A three-day workshop by invitation (where the person who invites us needs to also do the organizing), or an online personalized course with a maximum of six people.

Below you can see a sample of what you will find in a typical workshop:

We will look at possible ways of responding to violence and conflict by engaging in a short exercise (10 min).

Ask people to make two parallel lines so that everyone has a person in front of her/him. Ask everyone in one line to make a fist and tell people facing them that their task is to open their opponent’s fist. After a few minutes, switch sides and repeat the process.

What were the strategies you used, and what are the habits we have in approaching conflict? (Some may have tried to open the fist by force, others by tickling, distracting, or simply asking.)

Offer, as a short reflection, that there are many ways to respond to violence and conflict, and that our behavior influences the outcome. The fist can be seen as a conflict, and if we respond with force, the result may be hurt. For more on the ways we respond to conflict, discuss the five conflict styles as listed below.

Five Conflict Styles Model

I. Avoiding (denial)

When we use the strategy or script of avoidance or passivity to deal with conflict, we look the other way and decide that it is “not my problem.” Sometimes we get someone else to deal with it (say, the police or the military). We often choose this because we feel powerless to do anything, don’t know what to do, do not feel responsible for intervening, or deny that the violence exists.

II. Competing (either verbally or physically)

When we use this strategy, we take the offensive by initiating attempts to achieve power and control over the other to stop the violence. These can be through violent words or deeds, and can also include the wielding of political or financial power and control. The classic excuse, “The end justifies the means,” is how violence is often legitimized as a valid strategy. This strategy is often based on the assumption that the only way violence will end is when a “stronger force” (usually ourselves) uses more violence to overpower the other.

III. Accommodating (acceptance)

When we use the strategy or script of accommodation, we conclude, “That’s just the way it is. Just accept it. There is nothing I can do.” We are afraid that if we do anything it will just get worse. The reasons we accommodate are similar to the reasons we avoid. We feel powerless to do anything, don’t know what to do, or do not feel responsible for intervening. However, we do not deny the violence; rather we adapt to it. This approach assumes we can do nothing about the violence—it is the way things always have been and the way things always will be.

IV. Compromising (negotiating “win-lose”)

When we deal with conflict by compromising, we try to look for common ground and negotiate. Often we will set priorities that we stand up for, and let other things go. We are prepared to give up some points and expect the other to do the same. Although it is a step towards conflict resolution, the assumption behind this strategy is still a “win-lose” way of thinking, rather than trying to find “win-win” scenarios.

V. Joint Problem Solving (looking for “win-win”)

This strategy is based on the idea that there can be a “win-win” situation, where no party loses. Instead of one against the other, it is “us versus the problem.” When we are committed to nonviolence we can look at the conflict as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the other person’s or group’s needs. We separate the position that someone takes from the needs that person has. We enter into a dialogue where we are transparent and ask the other to be too. Based on what we learn in the process, we identify a strategy together to solve the conflict so that we meet the needs of both parties, or so that each party is satisfied with the outcome.

Small Group Discussion (15 min):

Ask people if they have a “default” or favorite strategy for dealing with conflict. They may have gotten an idea by the short exercise at the beginning. Make five groups, each group to represent a different conflict style. Let each group reflect on the effectiveness of their behavior. Can they list advantages and disadvantages?

Large Group Debrief (15 min):

Ask the following questions:

  • What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy? Begin with avoiding, then ask the groups for confronting, accommodating, compromising, and joint problem solving.
  • Who can/wants to share an example of joint problem solving?
  • What is needed to reinforce joint problem solving? What has to change in the culture and structures? What attitude and context do we need to create to promote peaceful behavior?

Sometimes we have no real choice but to avoid or accommodate, especially in violent conflicts. The disadvantage is that when we use the strategies of avoidance and accommodating we do not deal with the root causes of the conflict. Nor do we deal with the consequences, including the consequences that others face.

“Peace is not the absence of conflicts, but the presence of solutions.” Dorothy Thompson.

This story was produced by Campaign Nonviolence

Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.

Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.