Classrooms & Committees

Ch12 Classrooms, Committees & Institutional Constraints

Ch11 Period Pieces

When you bring Peace and Power into a group that exists within an institution that typically functions in hierarchical ways, you bring a powerful influence toward transformation. You can use the methods of Peace and Power as a whole, adapt them, or use them in part for moving to new power relations in traditional groups.

The key element in making decisions about what to do and how is clarity about what value or values the group chooses to embrace. From there, the group will find many ways to enact its values. The group members can then periodically examine how well they are doing in creating the value and process changes they are seeking together.

One way for groups in institutions to begin the shift is to choose one, two, or three of the PEACE powers as a starting point. Many groups work within tra- ditions that alienate and divide individuals from one another, and people who grow weary of the divisiveness and alienation are often eager to find a different way. Choosing at least one PEACE power implies a unifying value, provides a focus for the shifts in interaction, and maintains a grounding for times when the confusion of change becomes overwhelming.

The Internet and the Web, developed from philosophies of democratiza- tion, is a powerful tool for groups to use in equalizing power.3 E-mail, distri- bution lists, e-mail discussion lists, and bulletin boards offer equal access to information and give everyone an equal opportunity to “speak” without inter- ruption or time constraints. As is true for face-to-face groups, everyone in the group must participate online—everyone has to show up.

People enter traditional groups such as classrooms, work teams, and committees expecting that the group will function as usual. When you present a different way of working together, explain the reasons for making the shift.  If the reasons clearly relate to what the group has already been seeking, then the transition is relatively easy. The group can consider Peace and Power approaches as ways to help achieve what they already want to do.

Classrooms

The traditional teacher–student power imbalance is familiar to everyone who has attended school. The teacher has the power to grade, to offer opinions and judgments, and to speak. The institution defines the student as a receiver of grades, a receiver of the teacher’s opinions and judgments, and the listener. Overcoming these expectations for roles and behaviors is not easy, and some institutional expectations cannot be ignored (such as the recording of grades to represent the achievement of a certain curricular or institutional standard).

Three Peace and Power values that classroom participants usually welcome are:

  • empowerment for all,
  • demystification of content and processes (especially processes for grades), and
  • creating community

Although you might assume that these values are central to what education is all about, they are ironically consistently undermined by typical classroom traditions. When a teacher brings alternatives to the classroom that clearly enact the values of empowerment, community, and demystification, dramatic change occurs in how teaching and learning occur. Here are some suggestions to bring these values into action in the classroom (face-to-face or virtual)

Empowerment for all
  • Emphasize student-centered learning activities, and grading structures that value self-evaluation and mutual discussion.
  • Build in learning activities that give every participant opportunities for leadership.
  • Emphasize discussion formats that bring every voice to the center for respectful consideration by all.
  • Assure that minority voices and experiences are acknowledged and respected.
Demystification
  • Develop clear grading plan published in the course syllabus, and devote time to discussion early in the course.
  • Discuss openly the fundamental expectations of the curriculum and discuss the basis on which the curriculum was developed, and encourage open critique of the assumptions underlying these expectations.
  • Build in opportunities for group negotiation of all aspects of the course, including learning activities, due dates, grading plan.
Creating Community
  • Build in early opportunities for each person to learn the names of all participants, and to share information about each person’s personal passions related to the course.
  • Assure that everyone participates in “Peace & Power” check-in and closing at the beginning and end of a face-to-face meetings, or at the beginning and end of a week (or module) for virtual groups.
  • Build learning activities that emphasize sharing and cooperation, and reduce competition.