Education Level: Primary school
Approach: Institutional pedagogy
Target Group: 280 pupils from 3 to 12 years old, teachers and staff of the school
Brief description of the practice
The primary school Léon Jouhaux has an approach to conflict based on the responsibilisation of students in the school life.
This is done, firstly, at the interpersonal level, as pupils are invited to learn through cooperative activities and different learning levels learning, and to address issues and conflicts by themselves in weekly Class Councils or helped by other students in peer-mediations or via Clear messages.
This is also done, secondly, at the institutional level, as students hold Coordination Councils to discuss and to take decisions of school’s issues.
Objectives of the practice
- To promote the involvement of pupils in improving the school environment.
- To educate skills related to dialogue, democratic procedures, and the expression of emotions.
- To address conflict by giving responsibility to students themselves in addressing them (through Class Councils and participation in peer-mediation).
The approach is inspired on the “Institutional pedagogy” (pédagogie institutionnelle) founded by Fernand Oury following Célestin Freinet. This approach, rather implicit, is based on the belief that by creating a democratic environment in the school, with clear rules and channels to discuss critical issues, students will be more responsible of their learning process, and will be more engaged in the school’s organisation. The institutional pedagogy is concretised in different techniques such as providing pupils a space to express themselves freely and classroom councils. Students with greater competences in a specific area should help the others that have a lesser development of that competence. Cooperative methods are also important in this approach.
In the Elementary School Léon Jouhaux from Villeurbanne, the implementation of this approach has been shaped through the following initiatives:
- Pupil’s participation mechanisms: The oldest measures in the school to address conflict are the establishment of several bodies to allow student’s participation. Apart from the School Council, which is stated by law, with the involvement of parents, the city council and the academic inspection, the School Léon Jouhaux has established weekly Class Councils, were pupils and the teacher can communicate notes of “information”, “thankfulness” or “dissatisfaction” about other people’s behaviours and practices, practicing this way principles of emotional education. The written notes are read in the assembly, and either addressed in the Class Council, either redirected to mediation or to the Coordination Council. At the class level, pupils rotate different responsibilities such as Secretary, Council President, Post-person...). The Coordination Council takes place 3 times a year, gathering 22 representatives (two delegates from each of the 11 classes) a teacher, the school director and some parents. This Council addresses issues related to the school functioning. Pupils from the upper classes (CM1, CM2), act as Presidents and Secretary which are rotating roles, while younger students are invited to take notes of the meetings, and have priority to talk.
- Student Mediators (Élèves Médiateurs): To address conflict in a more specific way, pupils act as mediators during the break times in the library. These mediators intervene whenever two pupils accept to participate in a mediation. The goal of the mediation is to help pupils to address conflicts in a peaceful way before they lead to violence. Participation in the mediation requires the respect for the rules of mediation, the ability to express feelings with specific words, and the commitment to find a solution which is acceptable for both parties.
- Clear messages: Either in the Class or Coordination councils, either in mediation sessions or in any other space of the school (playground, dinning room, etc.). Student are asked to express themselves following the rules of the “Clear messages”. These consist in expressing what happened (fact), how that made them feel (feeling) and what they would propose to feel better (propostion).
- Responsabilisation on the others’ learning: Based on the belief that interaction between students of different levels is positive for their learning, older pupils are in charge of smaller students to help them learn to read (“reading pairs”). For certain hours a week, students of different levels are grouped together depending on their learning needs. Some teachers also use cooperative methodologies to enhance this dimension of collaboration between pupils of different levels of competences.
- Trust Licence (Permis de confiance): Pupils and parents sign a document synthesizing classroom and school rules (7 rules). Pupils get green, orange or red trust licences, depending how they followed the rules in the classroom and school. Green trust licence recognises rights, especially freedom of movement in the school, while a red trust licence restrains the pupil’s mobility. The licence's colour is redefined weekly. If a pupil gets a red trust licence for serious rules disrespect (insults, threats, fights, insolence, dangerous behaviour) he/she has to write a letter apologising to the victim.
- Parents’ participation: In order to promote peaceful coexistence among students, to improve the knowledge about other cultures and religions, and to restrain the tendency of families and pupils to cluster on cultural criteria, parents are invited to organise workshops on different topics (food, religion, children's lives, tales, etc), which are then used to strengthen French, geography, history and arts skills.
The main steps are:
- Measures in one to ten classes: Measures regarding conflict started with the adoption from a single teacher of a Trust Licence (Permis de confiance) with her own students more than 10 years ago. After a certain time, considering the initiative was working well, most of the classes (10 out of 11) adopted it, arguing it proved to be an effective way to acknowledge and respect the school rules.
- Whole school approach (1): Participation mechanisms: In 2011, due to the perception that there was a significant worsening in violence among students, a more comprehensive approach was established, involving the whole school. Participation mechanisms were organised through the celebration of Class and Coordination Councils (until then, only few classes organised Class Councils, and there was no Coordination Council). Due to the freedom of teachers inside his/her classroom, not all of them celebrate Class Councils, but all the classes participate in the Coordination Council.
- Whole school approach (2): Transforming relations: To strengthen the conflict transformation strategy, the peer-mediation service was organised in 2011-2012. Two teachers were initially trained in conflict mediation to know the method 'Teaching students to be peacemakers' (Johnson and Johnson, 1989). After that, several groups of students (an equal number of boys and girls, with a diversity of profiles and ages) were trained to be peer-mediators.
- Scaling up the model: After receiving the Evens Peace Education Prize which invited them to disseminate their practice, some Léon Jouhaux school teachers have started empowering other school teachers’ in the city of Villeurbanne by training about clear messages. They have then been invited to do it again, in other cities and about other mediation subjects.
Challenges and opportunities posed by the context
- Located in a suburb, the school has been labelled as a “Difficult environment Zone” in 2012, and as an “Educational priority” in 2014 by the French Ministry of Education, due to the difficulties it has to face. This allows having less pupils per classroom (24) than the national average, and get more resources.
- Pupils and families come from a great variety of geographical, ethnic and religious origins, which has been used as an opportunity to define an intercultural project to promote a better understanding between communities.
- In the French system, teachers have autonomy in their classrooms, which means that not all the teachers apply the measures in the same way.
Results and impacts
At the personal and interpersonal level, main identified results are:
- Pupils are more capable to express their feelings, their concerns over another student attitude, to discuss about it, and to accept a decision taken in the Councils to ensure rules are respected;
- Pupils know well the rules of the school;
- Pupils own the participation method. They know and respect the different procedures in the different Councils;
- Thanks to the peer-mediation, the climate in school has improved, mediators take their role very seriously, and are recognised by their comrades.
- Pupils have participated in the elaboration of 5 videos explaining “The Clear Message”, how to use the principles of nonviolent communication, class and school council organisation and peer mediation;· Some parents report that their children have used clear messages at home to express problems themselves.
- At the institutional-school level, main identified results are: School councils take place periodically, and despite the fact that teachers are not obliged to do class councils, most of them (all but one) apply it.
- Pupils themselves have taken decisions over school issues such as:
· Getting the authorisation from the Mayor to use the gymnasium during lunch-time;
· Consensus on how to allocate the money for the equipment for the school playground;
· Organising several workshops during lunchtime, which, according to teachers, has also improved peaceful coexistence in the school.
- Teachers of the school Léon Jouhaux organized two trainings for 20 teachers each about how they apply the Clear Messages in their school. The next year they have been asked to train about mediation. This is considered a success not only because they are recognized as a legitimate actor, and because they have been asked to repeat with the trainings, but also because it is a deeper step in the conflict management approach: while the clear messages are a simple way to start with dealing with conflict, that a single teacher can put into practice, mediation goes a step deeper, as it needs to involve the whole school system.
- Dealing with conflict through a preventive approach, by fostering the ability of students to express their concerns of what is going wrong in the school.
- The combination between interpersonal approach (clear messages, mediation for interpersonal conflicts), and institutional approach (class and school participation channels to decide on coexistence issues).
- Their involvement in spreading the word in other schools, through teacher training and through the elaboration of short videos about their approach.
Caroline Blaise, Teacher
[After a student wrote a letter of apology] “I was impressed. He did not only a letter of apology, but also a true analysis of his behaviour. The atmosphere in the classroom is resolutely different. Here students self-regulate, thanks to a constant dialogue”.
Carole Clerc, Principal
“We have worked really hard on the expression of emotions. Instead of beating each other because they can’t find the correct words, pupils are able to communicate and to indicate if they feel hurt, jealous, offended, revolted... Children resolve themselves better their little conflicts as they keep away the possibility of being sanctioned by an adult. This doesn’t mean necessarily that there are less disputes. But simply that they are managed differently”.
Lou, 8 year old pupil
“It is just about to learn how to listen to each other”.
- Video Clear Message (in French, Message clair):
- Video Mediators training (in French, Formation médiateurs):
- Video Mediation (in French, Médiation):
- Video Class Council (in French, Conseil de Classe):
- Video Coordination Council (in French, Conseil de Coordination):
- Association Vers la Pédagogie Institutionelle Fernand Oury: http://avpi-fernand-oury.fr/
Stéphane Lafont : email@example.com
Address: 12, rue du nord
Telf: + 33 4 72653810