As we approach Remembrance Day in early November, it will be a time for our students to recall and reflect on some important lessons of history. In preparation this week, we joined schools, municipalities, legions, hospitals, and other institutions on Monday in supporting The World Remembers – a project about remembrance, education and international understanding.
If you visit our school’s atrium between now and November 11th, you will see a rolling slideshow displaying the names and countries of every soldier who died in the First World War (more than nine million military personnel). Each page displays several names and no name is repeated. The presentation will continue – uninterrupted and around the clock – for three full weeks. It is a poignant reminder of the world that existed at the time of our school’s founding.
There is no question that peace and the arts of peace are greatly needed in every generation, both past and present. For those of us working in schools with children, a commitment to these “arts” is a serious responsibility. I have often said during my career that “the playground and classroom explain the world”. A quick survey of common childhood conflicts, along with examples of some of the least desirable daily human interactions (e.g., uncharitable remarks, gossip, exclusion, backbiting, etc.,) can give a person pause to think.
Wherever people work, live, and learn together, conflict is a risk and can arise in tense situations when wrong words are tossed around like gasoline on a fire. Misunderstandings on the playground, insensitive or careless remarks in social interaction, or the need “to be right” at all costs can rupture relationships.
Dr. Jane Bluestein, a former classroom teacher, crisis-intervention counselor, and teacher training program coordinator suggests “magic sentences” as a practical way of using language to prevent, minimize or de-escalate conflicts with children. Such statements can represent a win-win approach to relationships with young people, but can be equally effective in interactions with adults. “Magic sentences” might even make all the difference when the stakes are high and the choice is conflict or harmony, war or peace OR fight or flight. Choosing the right words is a crucial skill, if we are to faithfully exercise the “arts of peace”. Below are a few of the magic peace-seeking words I hear our teachers using and encouraging every day!
“Great first draft!”, “We’ll try again later, “This isn’t working”, “I know you wish you could”, “That won’t work for me,” “Think of a solution that will work for both of us”, “Can you live with that?”, “Tell me what you just agreed to”, “Humour me”, “Because we’re all different and we all get to succeed”, “We don’t say that here”, “We don’t need to talk about that.”
Wars are waged, friendships fade and families falter as the result of words, poorly chosen. The World Remembers is a dramatic reminder of the ultimate consequences of their power and our responsibility to choose them wisely.
Ric Anderson, Head of School