The criteria for membership in PSI have evolved over several years based on input from educators, parents, students, and community members in many parts of the world representing both rural and urban communities. The contributors were asked to identify what they believed to be the key characteristics and components in creating and maintaining a peaceful school. The criteria described in the following pages emerged as commonly recurring themes. These criteria are not meant to be prescriptive, but rather to help to guide schools in their journey to creating a culture of peace.
You can also visit PSI Membership Criteria with Questions and Examples that provides more detail about the membership criteria. This includes questions schools can use for self-reflection, and some examples of how others have worked to meet the criteria. The questions provided can be used to stimulate thoughts, conversation and future goal setting.
1. A collaborative approach to school-based decision making
A school with a safe, inviting climate is a school in which the parents’ input is valued, students and staff members work together as a team and there is a high level of participation in school decision making and goal-setting. There is an expectation that each student and staff member can and must make a difference in the overall life of the school.
Recommended in a collaborative approach is to invite the input of all staff, students, parents and community members when developing the expected behaviours which are to be seen, heard and modelled in that institution. Examples of such practices are supported in Positive Behaviour Intervention Strategies (PBIS) and Positive Effective Behaviour Strategies (PEBS) which promote an ethos of forgiveness, respect and inclusion within the culture of the school.
In every school there is a wide range of expertise among teachers and resource staff. In schools that foster cooperation, collegiality and professional risk-taking, staff members share their expertise willingly and problems are shared as readily as successes.
A school discipline policy, for example, should be a shared responsibility. By including students and parents/guardians in the process, a sense of ownership and responsibility is created among all those affected by the policy. When asked why her school was peaceful, one grade two student in a PSI member school responded, “Well…you know, in some schools teachers make the rules and tell the kids to follow them. In our school, we help make the rules.”
As is the case in all organizations, when people are invited to be actively involved in decision making, a climate of cooperation, support and understanding emerges. Fostering a spirit of mutual respect and inclusion in decision making plays an important role in the ever-increasing challenges that face schools in all parts of the world.
Question to consider;
- “Has the administration and faculty at your institution conducted discussions about the decisions that can be made at the school level, versus those that are predetermined by Board policy or government mandate?“
2. Curricular and/or extracurricular peace education initiatives
The responsibility for creating a global culture of peace is far too lofty a goal for educators alone. We can, however, strive to create and sustain a culture of peace within our schools. To do so, staff members must teach peace. It cannot be achieved by means of a simple recipe or by wishing for it any more than we can achieve it by writing tough policies or merely mandating it.
There are basic principles inherent in the belief that it is necessary to equip children and youth with the attitudes, knowledge and skills essential to the prevention and resolution of conflict. Every student has the right to feel safe in school. The prevention of conflict and the peaceful resolution of conflict can be taught and should be taught.
There are currently many books and other resource materials available that contain innovative, practical lessons in cooperation, respecting differences, communicating effectively, expressing emotions in a positive manner and resolving conflict creatively and non-violently. No single book or program will meet everyone’s needs. When there is a variety of resources made available in the school, teachers will be free to use those that are relevant to the needs of their students, at the same time being conscious that the needs of their students will vary from year to year.
In some schools and school districts, peace education has been incorporated into curricular activities. Social studies, health and language arts are some of the subject areas that are conducive to such integration. Within these subjects, the curriculum should place focus on maintaining positive and healthy relationships as an integral part of building a culture of acceptance, unity and understanding. In other schools and school districts, peace education activities are introduced in an extracurricular manner. For example, many schools host Peace Festivals, invite guest speakers and hold assemblies with a focus on peace. How peace education occurs is not as important as that it occurs.
Questions to consider;
- “Have the adults in the school decided that they want their school to have a core identity as a place of peace, and have discussed ways that that commitment will show up in daily practice?”
- “Do administrators and teachers consider the question, ‘How would this situation be handled in a place where peace is the highest value’ when making decisions?“
- “Have students and adults discussed how peacefulness and ethical behavior shows up in face-to-face and digital communication?”
- “Are there clear policies, frequently reinforced, that mistreatment, discrimination, and all varieties of hurtful behavior have no place in the school environment?”
3. Teaching methods that stress participation, cooperation, problem solving and respect for differences
The days of passive learning have all but disappeared. In many parts of the world, students are being encouraged to work cooperatively with one another and take an active role in their own learning. Discussions, small group work, cooperative learning and attention to individual needs all contribute to a classroom environment in which students feel free to take risks without fear of failure.
We feel that it is important in our technologically inclined society, to teach lessons of cooperation and respect with regard to Digital Citizenship (appropriate and respectful behaviour when communicating through the use of technology). It is important that these lessons be taught at a very early age and consistently throughout the entirety of the school experience in order to avoid negative habitual online behaviour. If executed appropriately, these characteristics should not only affect students’ behaviour online, but also transfer into their role as a respectful member in any society.
Our students need to be creative, critical thinkers, capable of solving problems alone and as members of a team. The development of self-motivated, creative young people does not occur naturally in a classroom where children passively listen without opportunities to participate actively. On the other hand, in an environment where students are invited and encouraged to make choices and the differences in learning rates and styles are acknowledged and celebrated, creative, independent thinking flourishes.
Within the classroom, it is important to recognize the diversity among students and to find a respectful and inclusive way of dealing with it in order to make the learning experience a success. Ethnicity, gender, physical ability, and social class are just some of the differences that will exist in most classrooms.
In peaceful schools, children are encouraged to be open minded and accepting of others who may look different, have different customs or hold beliefs that do not correspond with their own. Teachers are focusing more and more on the importance of such understanding and acceptance as a means of creating harmony in the classroom and in society at large.
Questions to consider;
- “Does the school utilize PBIS, SwPBS, or PBES to create uniform practices that teach, recognize, and reward pro-social behavior?”
- “Does the school actively seek educational alternatives like Response to Invention to engage non-traditional learners and recognize multiple intelligences and non-academic skills?”
- “Does the school gather and use data from students, school staff, and parents to guide decision-making?”
4. Student and community centered conflict resolution strategies such as peer mediation
In a school in which students are taught to be responsible for their own choices and behaviour they are provided with a variety of ways to deal with conflict in a non-violent manner. From peer mediation to talking circles, peace tables and class meetings, a variety of proactive responses to conflict can be introduced through classroom activities, the school discipline policy and as the overall approach of the school.
Research indicates that the most efficient method for addressing bullying in school is consistency. It is crucial to ensure that the students are regularly informed of the steps which will be followed should an incident of bullying occur, and that these steps are always followed through. Consistency in bullying policies and daily commitment to appropriate enforcement is necessary in establishing a safe and secure learning environment for your students.
When conflict resolution is implemented not only as part of the curriculum but also as a lifestyle to be lived by both adults and youth, respect, tolerance and community-building become “the way we do things around here.” Implementation of a conflict resolution program can help schools create their governance structures, develop policies, identify goals and make curriculum decisions. Support and provision for student leadership is an example in which young people are explicitly taught how to lead and take responsibility for social action. These important life lessons are extremely meaningful in the growth of a young person’s life to establish their ability to achieve true social change.When young people are given the freedom to solve their own problems, they are more inclined to make a commitment to the solutions they have created.
Inherent in this context are many advantages. Members of the school community possess the knowledge and skills to create an environment in which diversity thrives. There is an understanding by all that conflict is an opportunity for growth, self-awareness and development of respect for others. There is a shared vision that conflicts are inevitable and that they enrich and strengthen school communities.
Questions to consider;
- “Are students given a way to be involved in safe-guarding the emotional environment of the school, and instructed in methods of non-violent problem-solving?”
- “Does the school attempt to create opportunities to fairly and effectively solve problems and resolve interpersonal disputes and disagreement?”
5. Community service projects
As we spend more time encouraging our youth to become caring and compassionate citizens, it makes sense that we offer them opportunities to put these principles into action in a variety of ways. Many schools organize school-wide or class-based community service projects that address student-identified needs at school or in the community. Often the goals and activities of these projects are woven into or drawn from curricular objectives.
In one school, for example, students send holiday cards to the seniors who live in a nearby residence. In another, as part of a social and environmental studies project, students spend an afternoon picking up litter in the neighborhood adjacent to the school. Social justice and global citizenship can be demonstrated to students through events such as a clothing/toy drive or volunteer activities at a local homeless shelter. Such community outreach projects strengthen relationships between students and the community.
In its broad interpretation, community service can take place anywhere. In many schools older students read with younger students. The collection of food, clothing, school supplies, and first-aid items for those in need occurs in schools everywhere. Social justice may look different for each community however, actions of social justice should always contribute to equality and fairness in their respected area, whilst never bringing harm to another living being.
Whatever the initiative or project, be it big or small, students learn vital lessons in empathy, understanding and social justice when encouraged to help others.
Question to consider;
- “Does the school create settings where students can consider issues of social justice and ways of supporting the needs of under-considered groups within the school or greater community?”
6. Opportunities for professional development for all staff focused on creating a positive school climate
As the staff of a school grows and/or changes, it is crucial that the vision of the school and the means by which it is being achieved be clearly articulated to new staff members. In addition, all staff members benefit from ongoing opportunities for professional development related to enhancing school climate. There are many advantages to including all staff members in professional development sessions. From bus drivers to playground duty supervisors, everyone in the school community who interacts with the students should be included.
Some areas to explore are:
- training in a range of skills from de-escalating potentially violent classroom situations to responding to a serious crisis
- dealing with disruptive students
- preventing and responding to bullying
- becoming familiar with programs that promote positive social skills
- anti-racism, anti-sexism, LGBTQ policies and programs
- cooperative learning strategies
- conflict resolution skills
- helping students deal with peer pressure/gangs
- legal rights and responsibilities of school staff
In order to identify their specific needs, some schools have used parent and student surveys to more accurately fulfill their commitment to being a more inclusive and respectful school community. Topics in surveys have included anti-bullying, roles of the victim, by-stander and offender, digital and global citizenship etc. Needless to say, this should be done annually as the school culture evolves.
Before planning staff development sessions, it is wise to survey staff about their interests and needs. In many schools, parents and community members are given opportunities to attend similar workshops with a focus on family relationships and interactions. These sessions are usually organized by school staff and may be presented by staff or by guests who have a level of expertise in a particular area.
Question to consider;
- “Are opportunities available for staff to strengthen their own physical, psychological, social and emotional wellness?”