What is a peaceful school?
A peaceful school is one in which students, staff and parents work together to ensure that everyone feels safe, valued, and respected. Based on responses from educators, students and parents, PSI sees six essential ingredients in creating a peaceful school:
- Schools use a collaborative approach to decision making and develop a climate of cooperation, support and understanding. For example, students, parents and teachers are all involved in developing a school’s discipline policy.
- Schools provide curricular and/or extracurricular peace education initiatives. For example, schools might host a peace festival where they share their experiences of peace with parents and the community.
- Teaching methods stress participation, cooperation, problem-solving and respect for differences. Students 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.
- Student and community-centered conflict resolution strategies such as peer mediation are available.
- The school is involved in community service projects. For example, students may pick up litter in their neighbourhood, fundraise for a specific cause or group, or collect food and clothing to donate.
- Opportunities for professional development in creating a positive school climate are available to all staff. This may include training in areas such as crisis response, dealing with bullying, peer mediation, anti-racism or anti-sexism programs, or cooperative learning strategies.
What is peace education?
PSI defines peace education simply as “learning to live well together”. We also use the definition of peace education from UNICEF:
“the process of promoting the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about the behavior changes that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create conditions conducive to peace, whether at a personal, interpersonal, inter-group, national, or international level.”
Peace in Action
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, we must teach peace. It cannot be achieved by means of a simple recipe or by wishing for it anymore 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, being aware that their needs 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. 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.
An example: Kingslake Public School, Toronto, Ontario
A very multicultural Toronto school, Kingslake has been a member of Peaceful Schools International since 2004. Originally, the school’s focus was on building a culture of peace within the Kingslake community. Drawing on PSI resources, the school created peace books and poems and organized activities to promote positive interaction. One member of the staff reported that, “We knew our efforts were producing results when we overheard a student reminding a new Kingslake student that, ‘We don’t do that at Kingslake. We’re a peaceful school.'”
Having entrenched peaceful practices at Kingslake, the school has recently expanded its focus by twinning with Mayagba Primary School in Sierra Leone, through PSI. The schools share emails, photos and books and learn about each other’s cultures. At each step of the way, Kingslake staff has felt strongly supported by PSI. Representatives from the organization have visited staff, made presentations to students, and provided resource materials, leading to close and meaningful connections between the school and PSI.