Earlier this year our Grade 5 students were looking at peace and conflict in their Sharing the Planet unit of inquiry. As part of the work they did in IT to support this unit, students created cartoon characters of themselves and used the characters created by the entire class to make comic strips based on potential situations of conflict that could arise in the class and the ways that these could be resolved peacefully. Another thing they did later in the unit was to draw peace pictures which were then photographed. These were used in VoiceThreads with the students talking about the pictures they had painted and what some of the symbols in the painting meant to them.
Several months further on, I was back in the same Grade 5 class today doing some work with video cameras. The students are now making advertisements, trying to persuade people to buy certain toys. However I happened to see that on one of the windows was a large piece of paper where the students had defined what they meant by conflict. This to me seemed to sum up conflict in a nutshell:
We think conflict is caused when:
- Someone is told/made to do something they don't want to do.
- When you want to do something but you're not allowed.
- When you are being hurt or threatened.
Having looked at this I started to think about the kinds of conflict we experience as part of our jobs as teachers. Certainly in the past I can remember feeling very resentful being told that I had to do something in a certain way that I didn't want to do because I didn't feel it was the best thing for my students. This could have been being made to use a particular maths resource that the rest of the team had decided to use and that I didn't feel was suitable to the needs of my students, having to have all the students take a standardised test which wasn't really relevant to students who were in the ESL programme (and was extremely stressful to them - I can remember one Korean student asking me "what's an Oz?" during the middle of one of these maths tests - the paper came from the USA yet we were teaching in a European school where we did everything using the metric system - he had never heard of ounces before!) or being told that I had to park at the end of the road in a car park belonging to a swimming pool as teachers were no longer allowed to park in the school car park. Other times I can remember wanting to do something with a class but being told that all classes in the same grade level had to be doing the same thing, or, for example, when I first started publishing my students' work on the internet one of my colleagues told me to stop doing this because I was "making the rest of the team look bad"! Also, when I was a Middle School teacher, I remember telling my students that they should come into the parent-teacher conferences with their parents as I felt it was useful to have them there discussing their learning - today student-led and 3-Way conferences are commonplace, but back in those days I was seen to be creating difficulties by wanting to do things a different way from the rest of the team.
I suppose the thing that kept me going when times were tough like this was the absolute certainly that if I had to fight a battle, it was a worthwhile one because it was not to benefit me in any way but to benefit my students - they were worth the hassle. It is difficult to swim against the tide, but the good thing is that sometimes the tide turns.
Photo Credit: Impala by Arno & Louise