I’m a firm believer that the role of “world-changer” requires more than an ability to identify things that need to be changed. It also requires an ability to develop practical, cost-effective and easy to implement strategies that are reasonably likely to advance the ball in bringing about those changes. With that in mind, a few days after I sent the foregoing letter to Governor Bush, I devised the following “Lesson Plan for Life” that I promptly circulated to a number of local (and not-so-local) elementary, middle and high school teachers and administrators. I believe the plan is appropriate for use beginning in the 4th grade and up through high school. I have no real pride in authorship, so if the idea appeals to you, I would encourage you to suggest it to your child’s teacher and/or school administrators this Fall, as well as to friends and colleagues who are educators:
Lesson Plan for Life
The Goal – To “educate” students, in a creative way (i.e., through role playing, etc.): (1) how to more constructively interact with one another; (2) the meaning and importance of friendship and other “traditional” values; (3) the devastating impact that a lack of kindness and compassion can have on their peers; and (4) how to deal with and resolve conflict without resorting to violence, bullying or other less dramatic, but no less abusive tactics.
What you need to begin – A cardboard box (an empty shoe box should do) with a slit cut in the top that is only big enough to allow small folded pieces of notebook paper to pass through. If you use a shoe box the lid should be secure so that “pranksters” can’t gain access to the box when you’re not around. You may want to “decorate” the box (to “illustrate” its purpose) by juxtaposing the “replacement” character traits you are trying to instill, with the “behaviors” that require a more thoughtful and constructive approach: hatred/love, selfishness/selflessness, integrity/deceit, belonging/alienation, pride/humility, intolerance/compassion, peace/violence, hope/despair, problems/solutions, friendship/isolation, communication/suffering silence . . . (You get the idea).
Let’s “Play the Game” – On Monday, tell your students you’ve come up with “an idea” that you hope will be an important first step in helping them better understand how the way they interact with one another can make a positive or very negative impact on their own lives and the lives of others. Tell them the “success” of your idea depends on their taking the exercise seriously and in participating “as problem solvers” in finding a better way to interact with each other. Once you’ve “sold” the concept, encourage your students to be more observant of social situations and behaviors in their own lives or in the lives of their friends and peers at school, both in and out of the classroom, which they find personally hurtful or which they believe are hurtful to others.
It could involve being ostracized from a clique, a hurtful exchange on Facebook, something that happened at lunch or on the playground, something that happened at the mall between classmates over the weekend, etc. Have them jot those situations down on a piece of paper with the reason they believe the situation “belongs in the box.” Everything about the note must be anonymous (i.e., they are not to put their own name on it and they are not to use any names in describing the people involved in the situation, except by gender “a boy did x to a girl,” “two girls were talking and I overheard one say to the other,” etc. On Friday, take the box home with you and sift through the notes, selecting 3 or 4 that you consider to be particularly important and which will lend themselves to “role playing” and class discussion for “the educational part” of the game. Create “scripts” for the role players to act out “the situation(s)” described in the note(s).
Finding a “Better Way” Through Role Playing and Class Discussion: Set aside ½ an hour or 45 minutes once a week as team building time. Pick the requisite number of students and give them their “scripts”. Have them “act out” the situation. Open a discussion with the class. First question: “What did you just observe?” or “What’s wrong with this picture?” Don’t accept superficial responses. Have them dig deep and identify how they would feel if they were the object of what they just saw. And then shift the focus. Ask them to suggest how “the situation” could have been handled differently. Keep in mind, “the actors” are also free to comment on the problem and the solution. Once you have a “consensus” as to how it could/should have been handled, challenge the actors to replay the scene with the “new approach”. I believe encouraging them “to think” about the “emotional consequences” of everyday behaviors and exploring “creative” alternatives will be very powerful and very exciting! They may grow to love this – and, at the end of the year, be much better people and students because of this . . .
Depending on the level of participation, repeat the exercise each week and make it part of the “curriculum” for the year.