Monday, June 4, 2012

Consensus Problem Solving

First of all let me tell you about my latest hobby: Yard Sale-ing! I have found some great treasures for pennies. Here is one of my latest scores. It is a building set using pool noodles with magnetic connectors and pieces of fabric that clip on to make partitions. I got it for a whopping $3 at a yard sale.

It is however only one set. The typical preschool classroom requires at least equivalent to two sets of things to maintain harmony. Once there is an insufficient amount of material to work with, children start getting a little, er, grabby and argumentative.

In any case, the scarcity issue has been a great opportunity to practice working together, problem solving and thinking outside the box. (There's always a silver lining, right?)

Working together, listening to and sharing ideas, and employing the use of other sets of learning materials all led to independently solved problems.

Of course, there was the occasional disagreement that required teacher intervention.  In my ECE classes, I have heard this protocol that has always guided the way I help children solve conflict:

1. Listen as each child identifies the problem
2. Ask if either child has an idea about what to do next
3. Use their ideas to propose a solution
4. If no solution can be reached between the children, offer a solution for them.

Well, one day after visiting my friend Liat's preschool program, I saw a wonderful new way to modify the last two steps.  At the end of each conflict negotiation, she would ask each child if the proposed solution was okay with them. She didn't offer ideas, and she didn't impose judgment. She simply allowed the children their process and made sure there was consensus among them before proceeding.

It's a subtle difference, but brought about a huge change in the way I manage conflicts in my program.  By not imposing a last resort strategy (step 4 in the above sequence), I am forcing myself to step back and allow the children to take 100% responsibility in their own conflict. I am the facilitator of discussion rather than the final decision maker.

Sometimes, the children simply get tired of talking and will give in or walk away.  But who is to say that this also not useful for them? Learning to compromise is a great way to practice coping when things don't go our way.

Sometimes, the outcome will not be what I consider to be "fair", but since both parties are okay with it, my opinion is irrelevant.

Usually, children come up with a solution beyond what I would have imposed.  And the older they get, the more creative they are with how they manage their own conflicts.  Although I expect this now, I am still taken by surprise to hear how they use outside-the-box thinking to manifest solutions.

Further, by requiring consensus, the children are given a last little nudge to meet in the middle.  When I was resorting to the enforcement of a "fair" solution, I robbed children of that last little piece of the resolution process--that which offers a true learning experience. And, of course, I was robbing them of the opportunity to take ownership of their own process.

I am fortunate to have been exposed to a more consensus style of conflict resolution.  It has opened up areas in my teaching that have benefitted both me and the children.  My mentors are everywhere when I stay open-minded and receptive.  I've been doing this teaching thing for over a decade now, yet I have so much to learn.

Bl enjoys being able to go inside the structure that they have worked hard to build, and fine tunes its construction from inside.
Have a good week!

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