Charlotte Mason famously wrote that “Education is the science of relations.” We usually discuss this idea in terms of children enjoying a broad curriculum of relationships with ideas, authors, and things. But in this grand endeavor of “relations,” the child also has relationships with other children and with teachers. How do we assist children in relationships with peers and teachers so that they are healthy and life giving? And what do we do when harm is done within those relationships?
A few years ago, I was asked to help two 4th grade students resolve a conflict. The boys had been playing with a toy during free play, and it broke. The owner of the toy was very upset and blamed the other child. This had the potential to grow into a major issue if not resolved. The teacher was absent this day but had done a tremendous job building community in the classroom. The students enjoyed strong, healthy relationships, so I found a strong “relationship foundation” with which to work.
I began by gathering the two boys in a secluded place. I asked them to tell me what happened and what they where thinking at the time. As the narratives began to unfold, the owner of the toy came to understand that this was not a malicious action but a result of over zealous playing. This had a calming effect. I then asked the boys a key question: “Who was affected by this and how?” The boy who brought the toy to school shared how he really liked it and how much it bothered him that it was broken.
Two powerful things had just happened. The first was that the boy whose toy was broken was heard. He was able to tell his story, and we listened attentively. I sometimes wonder in this age of electronics how often we take the time to listen to a fourth grader tell his story.
The second thing that happened was that the boy who broke the toy grew in understanding and compassion. Neuroscientists tell us that when we understand how we have harmed someone and the effect it has had on them, it stimulates our amygdala in the brain, and we grow in compassion.
There was one more question that needed to be asked in our impromptu circle. I asked the boys how this situation could be fixed and the relationship restored. The first to respond was the one who had broken the toy! And then they both joined in and came up with a solution! It is essential that when a child does harm that we put the responsibility for repairing the harm on him or her. We certainly support the child as needed but s/he has ultimate responsibility. The boys came up with a solution and returned to class. This whole process only took 5 minutes and ended with a problem solved! Otherwise, there would have been 2 boys who were so upset that they forgot to learn and might have caused serious disruptions to the atmosphere and learning of others!
Fortunately, over time, these interactions do not have to be teacher dependent. We have found that by explicitly teaching children the way to have healthy and restorative relationships they often have these conversations on their own. We see elementary age students asking their teacher for a moment in the hallway to have a “restorative” conversation. It’s marvelous to observe!
A child that enjoys such an education in relationships learns the lifelong skills needed to build strong relationships and learns how to respond in healing ways when there is conflict. It is a remarkable thing to see a child become a man or woman that loves learning and loves people. A person who is ready for the difficulties that life presents. They know the steps needed to handle relationship problems when they arise and are equipped to help others who have not had the benefit of this knowledge.
We will spend the immersion focusing on how teachers in the learning family, co-op or school settings can build a strong community of learners. We will also focus on how to teach children to do the relationship work themselves by developing healthy relationships and to restore relationships when harm is done. We will learn some information but also experience it as well. And maybe in the process we will learn something that will change us.
Since 2001, Storm has been a part of three Charlotte Mason Schools serving in many roles. He has been a teacher, a school board member, a volunteer serving on Administrative Committees and assisted in the founding of two Mason Schools. Currently he serves as an Instructional Coach helping teachers build classroom community and repair harm when it occurs at Gillingham Charter, a K-12 Charlotte Mason Public School located in Pottsville, PA. Storm is also a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Free Methodist Pastor. He and his wife Nicolle planted a church in 2012 which incorporates Mason’s principles into church life.