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Friends Schools Keep the Peace

Solve kid conflicts the Quaker way

"Friends" in deed!

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Given the long history of Quakers in the Delaware Valley — Pennsylvania, after all, was founded by and named for one of the most prominent Quakers to settle in the colonies for the right to freely practice his religion — it’s hardly surprising that the region is home to a substantial number of established Friends schools. Among the many unique lessons independent Friends schools offer is a method of nonviolent conflict resolution rooted in the peaceful focus of Quakerism, known as the Religious Society of Friends — one that stresses justice, tolerance and respect for all.

Our area's full of highly regarded Friends schools. Click here to see a comprehensive list.

“When there has been a hurt in a community, how do you help the community and that person heal?” posits Deborra Sines Pancoe, associate director of the Philadelphia-based Friends Council on Education. “Across the board, peaceful conflict resolution is woven into the ways teachers deal with children from the earliest ages.” 

To foster a “climate of collaboration and respect” in which students learn to handle the peer disagreements and frustrations that occur during the course of a normal school day, Friends teachers — and, gradually, older students who form small advisory peer groups that help solve problems, “almost like a family,” says Sines Pancoe — model several techniques parents can adapt to de-escalate kid conflict in their own homes.

Morning circle

Friends students, says Sines Pancoe, “are listened to by teachers and known well; we want to hear their stories.” Therefore, when kids speak about what’s going on in their lives during the morning circle that starts each day, “Skillful teachers pick up on places where conflict might arise.”

Parents can similarly learn about and head off potential issues by engaging their kids in a morning circle–type scenario conducted at a time better suited to their schedule, be that at the dinner table or driving between activities. “Some of my most important conversations with my kids came in the car,” Sines Pancoe says.  

“Anger Mountain”

“The first thing we do toward conflict resolution is teach kids to control their impulses,” says Penny Colgan-Davis, principal at Philadelphia’s Frankford Friends School. “We start by helping them develop an effective vocabulary. Kids who can name their feelings — are they annoyed? frustrated? hurt? — are much more in control of their impulses.”

To demonstrate this visually, teachers draw a slanted line representing “Anger Mountain,” above which, Colgan-Davis says, is “our anger, and below is our ability to think. When kids are at the top, they’re at their lowest ability to think; that’s usually when they act out. They see the picture and get [the concept] right away,” learning to react once they’ve calmed down. 

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