Our young people are speaking up. At March for Our Lives rallies across the country, they showed up to hear and hold each other, and to work toward a simple dream of safe schools. Their message, their leadership and the community they have built is inspiring. By sharing their feelings and their needs, these young people have found common ground in their experiences, whether they come from Florida or Chicago or Los Angeles or anywhere in between. Because they are listening and actually hearing each other, they have been able to build a movement.

We know the power and healing that comes from being heard. We know that we need allies who will help us to express our feelings in healthy ways. Allies give us the support we need. With the help of our allies we can create a safe environment so that everyone can speak their truth – even when we don’t understand or when it’s hard to hear. Allies help us to work toward solutions that serve the best interests of all. This is the role our Peacemakers have on school playgrounds across the country.

Peacemakers are 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students who are trained to help their classmates resolve conflicts that occur on the playground, in classrooms, or the cafeteria. They learn conflict resolution skills, communication tools and leadership. When a conflict arises, two peacemakers literally walk their peers through the Soul Shoppe Peace Path. They use our seven-step process and work through the problem until it’s resolved.

While the process is important, the Peacemakers themselves and the qualities they embody are the heart of the program. They are allies to one another in facilitating the peace process and allies for their classmates to ensure that each person is heard. Peacemakers come to every interaction with ally strategies that change the dynamic from punishment or shame to mutual understanding.

One of the strategies they use is “dropping the story.” Every one of us has the impulse to form an opinion about a person whether we know them or not. To be an ally, it’s important to let go of assumptions and judgments. Peacemakers learn to counteract that impulse by telling themselves, “I’m dropping the story.” This is easier said than done! Try it for yourself. For the next five people you see, actively interrupt your thoughts by saying, “I’m dropping my story.” You might be surprised at how quickly we create stories about everyone we encounter. Notice what changes in your interactions when you let go of them.

The next ally strategy is “open mind.” An open mind includes actively listening with ears, eyes and heart. Peacemakers look for feelings that aren’t explicitly voiced, but can be read from body posture, from the tone of someone’s voice, from the look in their eyes or from a gut feeling they have. Our bodies are sensitive to other people’s emotions, and we can generally read other people well when we take the time to do it. Taking a moment to stop and breathe and tune in to someone else allows the Peacemakers to see what is going on. As a result, the person feels genuinely heard, and being deeply heard is sometimes all a person needs. Having someone stop and listen is powerful medicine.

A third ally strategy is “listen to all sides.” Peacemakers remain neutral, not taking sides or deciding who is right or wrong. As an ally, the goal is to understand the needs of each person. Right/wrong is not an important concept. Peacemakers listen, not to decide or to judge, but to help each person speak and be heard.

These are a few of the tools that Peacemakers put into action. As you can imagine, when schools have Peacemakers, the entire culture of conflict shifts. Disagreements are settled not by who can yell the loudest or run away the fastest or with a quick punishment, but by listening deeply to one another’s needs. When students receive the tools/support to solve problems themselves, they learn that conflict can be an opportunity to build connection.

We’re inspired by the power of our young people. Let’s continue to give them opportunities to step into leadership in our classrooms, schools and communities. Let’s support our next generation of leaders by sharing our skills, resources and knowledge. Most importantly, let us be allies to them by listening deeply and hearing what they truly need.

Would you like more Soul Shoppe in your home? We’ve put together a special package for you! Our new Peacemakers @ Home Kit contains two of each of our highly coveted peace path (laminated, 8 1/2″ x 11″) and peace keys. Instructions on how to get started are included. Order between now and April 20th and use code PMAPR to receive free standard shipping. Click here.

Contact Amanda to find out how to bring our Peacemaker Program into your favorite elementary school.