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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 5, March 2007

Nonviolent compassionate communication

by Joan Gillis

"Wow, the missing piece!" That was my reaction when I stumbled across NVC. The piece I would love to have given the children I taught. I’ve taken workshops, courses, and attended practice groups ever since.

NVC (Nonviolent Communication or Compassionate Communication) is the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It has been evolving for 30 years and he has used it in many situations-self, interpersonal, educational, and in war-torn areas. His work has been endorsed by many, including Arun Ghandi, Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama, Jack Canfield, Dr. Thomas Gordon, and William Glasser.

For me, NVC is a set of tools to teach, to learn, and to use a consciousness that allows moving beyond labeling and blame to access the essence of what is going on, and from there, find strategies to resolve issues.

I currently have a Grade 4/5 class. This is my first year teaching the skills to students. We are in the early stages of learning the skills and applying the processes. I’m greatly encouraged by the response of the children when we’ve used the process with issues that have come up in the classroom. The students have expressed feeling heard and understood, and the situations where we’ve applied these skills have been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

I value NVC tools because I see them as a concrete means to address major issues of school and society-co-operation, peace, social justice, bullying, and connection within a community.

The following excerpts are from an interview with Sura Hart, co-author of The Compassionate Classroom, an NVC book for teachers, and co-leader of the Teach for Life Educators’ Institute. She is also the co-author of a new book, Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to Turn Family Conflict into Co-operation.

Gillis: How would you describe NVC to teachers unfamiliar with it?

Hart: NVC is a way of seeing the human needs people are trying to meet. It is a way of getting right to the motivation for behavior so we can address it effectively and compassionately. It is a way to help kids understand what’s going on in them and with other people, so communication happens, and effective solutions to problems are found.

Gillis: What are some of the underlying beliefs?

Hart: One of the main beliefs is that we are each trying to meet our needs in the best way we can. Kids are not out to trip you up. Like all people, kids want to learn. Kids want to get along. How can we help them do that?

Another basic belief is that people have the most fun when getting along with one another and co-operating. Kids would love to get along and co-operate with one another if they knew how to do that, if they had the understanding about themselves they would love to have, and could also understand what’s going on with others. It’s my experience that you can’t stop kids from learning when they feel safe in the classroom, when they get the understanding and respect that all of us want, and when their developmental stage and learning style is addressed.

Gillis: What about the teacher who already sees the needs of the child, but they’re stuck at that point?

Hart: I work with teachers not only to help them see the needs of the students, but also to support their teaching and awareness of needs to their students.

In The Compassionate Classroom, we develop curriculum for educating young people about universal human needs, for developing a literacy of needs and feelings, and specific skills for conflict reduction and resolution. These are life-skills that students can build upon throughout their years. And for the classroom teacher, it means that young people are able to work things out with each other more and more of the time, and the teacher spends less time with behavior problems and mediating conflicts, freeing up time to address learning needs.

If we’re really going to be serious in our schools about teaching peaceful conflict resolution and how to get along with each other and co-operate rather than fight and retaliate, then it seems important to teach these kinds of skills to the kids-understand what they’re needing when they act, understand what’s going on with other people, and learn how to talk together about ways to meet their needs so that they resolve issues in a way that’s a real win-win.

Results are pending from a study last year, which taught NVC skills to students, parents, and teachers in a Vancouver elementary school.

The international web site for NVC is www.cnvc.org and the BC NVC web site is www.bcncc.org.

Marshall Rosenberg will be in Vancouver, March 16-18, 2007, and in Nelson, BC, March 19-21, 2007. Sura Hart may be reached at surahart@aol.com.

Joan Gillis teaches at Miller Park Community School, Coquitlam, jogillis@sd43.bc.ca.

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