In grade 4 and 5 peers start to take on greater significance in the lives of children. Providing opportunities for students to reflect on friendships and examine the challenges to maintaining friendships is important in helping students increase self understanding, as well as consider their own ethical requirements of self and others in relationships. The students have been exploring challenges that they are experiencing in friendships and reflecting in writing and in creating drama and tableaus which express challenges and make attempts to work out solutions. A major theme for the students is the role of emotions in managing friendship. To connect to student reflections, follow the link to Friendship and Emotions.
Although I believe that curricula on emotions and friendships has impact on the students' development, I also believe that most of the progress I have seen has been through conversations the students have about the challenges they experience outside of class time and during class meetings. Throughout the year I have been trying to reposition myself from arbitrator to private coach and witness. Instead of placing myself between students, I have been talking privately with a student and coaching them on strategies and skills for managing emotions and friendships when they experience difficulty. The student then goes off and implements the advice and reports back. At this point, towards the end of the school year, many students are coaching each other instead of coming to me first. Also, we have a class meeting once per week, and the students write challenges in this book that they are experiencing and it is brought up for group discussion and advice during the class meeting. I am continually impressed at the level of maturity the students show during the class meeting, the high quality of advice they impart, and the sincere concern they have for students having difficulties. Not all students are able to engage at this level, some students continue to struggle with emotions and friendships, but the level of discourse has improved and the students have venues to help meet the challenges they experience.