Like many good things, building community sometimes has rough spots. At the end of our last EcoKid meeting, several of the kids were involved in a heated argument that spilled out onto the sidewalk. We separated the kids and were able to talk them down enough to get them home.
After the kids left Ellie, Roberta, Eliza and I met to try to figure our what to do. We decided to focus exclusively on social interactions because without caring community nothing else can happen. Roberta said she would like to lead an exercise where the kids would each get to say how they like to be treated and how they don't like to be treated.
On January 30, we met and all the EcoKids who were involved in the dispute were present. With Roberta's direction we went around the group with each of us saying how we liked and didn't like to be treated. Adult volunteers have to take part just like the kids. It was really great to hear the kids being able to ask for what they wanted in a polite way. Roberta distilled the comments into a list of what the kids decided was important. This is the list: respect, listening, being present to what is going on, participation, fairness, getting along/inclusiveness and responsibility.
It did get tense when elements of the previous week's dispute surfaced. It required considerable energy to focus the kids on the techniques of communication instead of on the positions they had taken in the argument. We allowed the kids to have their argument with referees present. The adults would break in when the kids got locked into their positions. We all seemed to get a lot out of the meeting and we decided to spend time on social interaction next week too.
On February 6, we met and took some time on rules of communication. Here are some of the rules.
- Take responsibility for your own feelings. For example say "I'm angry" or "I'm disappointed" instead of saying "You made me angry" or "You disappointed me". There is less accusation and your listener can feel less defensive.
- We also requested that gossip or talking about someone be limited. If there is a problem take it directly to the person involved rather than talking to others about it. If you don't get satisfaction, go to an adult. Everyone decided that they wanted to be treated with respect and therefore they were willing to try to offer respect.
We did some more refereed interaction of the left over dispute. This is very productive but you must be really alert and fair. You sometimes have to interrupt in the middle of a strongly stated sentence. And ask the person talking how it would feel if they were on the receiving end. The kids must trust you.
Apologies were offered and accepted. Disputes are natural as we grow into social beings. Kids just need a little guidance from those who have gone before and can keep out of the melodrama. We weathered the storm and are better for it. I found out that the kids were strong and that the same rules that I used in the classroom 30 years ago are still good.