Certainly the hardest part of collaborating is dealing with conflict. As co-teachers in this cooperative, we get plenty of opportunity to practice conflict resolution ourselves, so we can genuinely empathize as kids struggle to master this complex skill. We see ourselves as conflict resolution coaches, and we expect to help a lot.
We stay alert to what is brewing between children, and are present in a calm, attentive way when trouble arises. Our job is to interrupt those instinctive but primitive responses to conflict — like running someone over with a trike or throwing a block across the room — and offer instead a repertoire of conflict resolution strategies that are powerful AND safe. And, as often as we can, we try to help kids go for a Win-Win — a solution that is truly satisfying — not merely satisfactory — for all involved.
We give kids words that establish the boundaries around their territory before trouble arises: “Jacob, these are the cars I’m using, you can have the ones over there.” We teach kids how to use strong I statements to express their needs — “I’m scared to be stuck on the ladder! Make a space! I need room to get up in the loft, now!” We show kids how to find another option when what they want is taken already — “Look, Will, there’s another stool right here you can use.” And we help kids learn how to share something fairly when sharing makes sense — “There’s one big pile of clay, and three kids who need some — how can we divide it up?”
We help kids learn to ask for what they need, and also how to answer one another’s requests — “Casey, I’m using the potato masher right now. You can have it when I’m done.”
We offer ideas about how kids can use something together, so nobody has to wait for a turn — “Look, Margaux, you can stack beads on this end, and Abby can put beads on the other end, and you can try to fill up the whole string together.” Here, Aion and Hannah find their own way to use the shaving cream soup together.
We encourage an “abundance mentality” in our school culture, because kids are more likely to believe that people can disagree and still end up in a place where everybody gets what they need when they’ve learned through consistent experience that there’s plenty for everybody, whether it’s food to eat, or blocks to stack, or pumpkins to smash, or grown-ups to love them.
And from the teachers in Reggio Emilia, Italy, we’ve learned to encourage discourse — arguing freely and passionately about theories and ideas. We expect children to challenge and question us and each other as they go about the important daily work of creating and testing their theories about how the world works. Through discourse children learn that conflict can be an engaging, creative, and respectful exercise.
If we are to reach real peace in the world . . . we shall have to begin with the children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have to struggle; we won't have to pass fruitless ideal resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which consciously or unconsciously the whole world is hungering.