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Planning for Peace with Peace of Mind

Planning for Peace with Peace of Mind

Written by Elie Goldman, Peace of Mind teacher

My name is Elie Goldman and I am the Peace Teacher at DC’s largest public elementary school. There, I teach the Peace of Mind program to every 2nd-5th grader, nearly 600 students every week.

A few months ago, I opened peace class by posing the following question to my students: Why do we learn and practice peace?

“To give us tools to be calm in this crazy world,” said Emily.

Emily is a fifth grader. She has attended peace class once a week since 2018, when she began pre-K at this school. While only 10 years old, Emily has spent more time learning peace than me and most of us who may be reading this. I bet we can learn something from her.

Emily, what kind of tools are you talking about?

“Mindful breathing techniques. There is Gravity Hands, Take Five, Fireworks Breaths, Four Square Breathing, Rainbow Breathing, Squeeze and Release, and a lot more.”

These breathing practices from the Peace of Mind curriculum are simple and short.

Gravity Hands – lift your hands up as you breathe in, lower your hands as you breathe out.

Take Five – trace the outline of one hand with your other pointer finger. Trace up your fingers as you breathe in. Trace down as you breathe out.

With a duration of 3-5 breaths or about thirty seconds, these techniques are well-designed for a young child’s cognitive capacity. They are also destined to change our world. Just like Emily.

So, Emily, how does practicing mindful breathing help you calm down?

“It gives me time to relax. When I’m more relaxed I notice my feelings more. Then, I can manage my emotions better and avoid conflict with others.”

That sounds important.

“Yeah. It is. Mindful breathing helps so that I don’t flip my lid and do something that I will regret.”

What is your lid? And how do you flip it?

“Your lid is your PFC (prefrontal cortex). It’s the part of your brain in charge of keeping your emotions and energy calm and cool. If you feel threatened or in danger, your PFC flips and loses control of your brain. Instead, your Amy (amygdala) takes control.”

What is your amygdala? And why do we try to avoid letting it take control?

“The amygdala is the part of your brain beneath your PFC. Your amygdala is in charge of your “fight,” “flight,” or “freeze” responses. It helps us make smart decisions when we are in physical danger, like running away from a bear. But, if it is in charge when we are in emotional danger or when we feel our ego is threatened, we might say or do things that hurt others and that we will later regret. It will lead us up the conflict escalator instead of down.”

And mindful breathing helps your PFC take back control of your brain from Amy?

“Yes, it helps resolve the conflict in our brain so we can solve or avoid the conflicts on the playground or with our siblings. When our lids are not flipped, we act with more mindfulness and kindness towards others, and we can think before we speak.”

That is good. Kindness is good. So is thinking before you speak.

“Yeah, you have to make sure what you are about to say passes the THiNK test.”

What is the THiNK test?

“It is a way to make sure what you are about to say is True, Helpful, Necessary, and Kind. If it’s not all of those, it probably doesn’t need to be said. We learned about it in the book Tyaja Uses the THiNK Test.”

What does the ‘i’ stand for?

“Me! I need to think before I speak.”

Emily is one of nine hundred students at school. While each student processes Peace of Mind’s classes in their own minds and bodies, they are being trained to resolve conflicts peacefully. If students are never taught how to navigate these tensions on the playground or with their siblings, how do we expect them to address conflicts later in life?

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must use our minds as rigorously to plan for peace as we have used them to plan for war.”

Peace, especially world peace, feels impossible to achieve if it’s thought about as a utopian status quo of love and non-violence. Just as any educator scaffolds a learning goal or standard into smaller, attainable lessons, we must make peace attainable in our community through consistent and connected lessons. Programs like Peace of Mind make this possible.

Mahatma Gandhi teaches that peace begins with our ability to resolve conflict; “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”

Five years ago, Linda Ryden, Peace of Mind’s founder, wrote in the Washington Post about how her job (my current job) had never felt more important. After documenting how the Peace of Mind program led to a decline in fights and bullying at school, she wrote, “All children need to learn these skills — not just the ones who are referred to the school counselor for extra help.”

Peace of Mind teaches conflict resolution: it teaches all kids how to manage big emotions, get along better with others, and solve conflicts before they escalate.

It’s not hard to tell how embroiled we humans are in escalated conflict. As we see in our own relationships with ourselves, each other, and our broader communities, it can be difficult to practice our ability to cope with conflict and “to be calm in this crazy world,” let alone develop our collective ability. If we don’t give our city’s students like Emily the tools to prevent and navigate conflict today, then when will we be able to start planning for peace?

Peace of Mind educates students about mindfulness, brain science, conflict resolution, and social justice to help them develop skills to enhance their own well-being and become peacemakers. In addition to creating, developing, and sharing the Peace of Mind program, they also provide training and community for educators who deliver the Peace of Mind program to students in elementary and middle schools in the Washington, DC area and beyond. Learn more and support their work!

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