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Conflict Resolution Education in USA - Educational Practice for everyone to become a peacemaker - 2. Interview with Tom Roderick: Conflict Resolution Education for Elementary Students


Conflict Resolution Education for Elementary Students
Tom Roderick

school_2007_05_02.jpg   Interviewee:Tom Roderick
Tom Roderick is the Executive Director of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, a non-profit organization based in New York City ( Morningside Center provides conflict resolution programs in about 80 schools per year. Mr. Roderick co-founded the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP), one of the best known conflict resolution programs in the U.S. Mr. Roderick is also working to promote social and emotional learning (SEL) in New York City, New York State, and beyond in collaboration with the Collaboration for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a national leader in the field.

1. General Questions

a. When, why and how did you get involved in teaching conflict resolution?

I started out in the 1960s teaching at an elementary school in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood. In 1983, I became Executive Director of Morningside Center?which was then called Educators for Social Responsibility Metropolitan Area. The organization had been founded a few months earlier by educators concerned about the dangers of nuclear war. The first thing we did was mobilize teachers for a major demonstration in Central Park protesting the arms race and advocating for a nuclear freeze.

We started developing a program for educating about issues raised by the cold war and nuclear weapons. We weren't trying to promote one solution or one point of view. We just suggested that these issues needed to be openly discussed and debated, and that people needed to think creatively about them.

After a while, the New York City Board of Education convened a conference for educators about the nuclear arms race. I presented a workshop with Linda Lantieri, who then worked for the Board of Education.[1] Afterwards, Linda and I got a call from a superintendent of a group of Brooklyn schools, Dr. Glassman. He was interested in contributing to world peace through education and asked us to help him. We said we would be delighted. We developed a workshop that showed teachers the possibilities for peace education and asked them what areas they were most interested in. They chose conflict resolution. We realized that they were interested in how to teach kids to get along better in the classroom.

So that was how we came to develop what we called the "model peace education program," which later became the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, or RCCP." [2]

b. What do you see as the purpose of conflict resolution education?

One purpose is to help young people develop the skills they need to work well with others?which is an essential part of democratic citizenship. A second purpose is to help young people live better lives, to have better relationships with friends, family, and the community. A third purpose is to give young people practical skills to help them make a difference in the world.

c. What do you think is the difference between conflict resolution education and "violence prevention education," "anti-bullying education," and "peace education"?

Conflict resolution education goes beyond violence prevention. I think violence prevention is especially important for high-risk youth?young people who have seen violence, live in fear of violence, or are at risk of committing violence or getting arrested. But conflict resolution skills are something that everybody needs, including people who would never think of pulling out a gun or punching somebody. These are skills that can help every young person relate better to others and be more productive and happy. I think teaching people conflict resolutions skills can affect society as well. Democracy depends on people working well together and respecting differences and respecting people of different cultures. So if we're going to have a democratic society, conflict resolution has to be a part of everyone's education.

Conflict resolution is different from anti-bullying education because, again, it is a broader set of skills and attitudes that everyone should have. Also, conflict resolution is proactive, not reactive (to bullying, in this case).

The term "peace education" is very broad and can mean different things to different people. Betty Reardon [3] said that peace education is about human rights. Conflict resolution education is an aspect of peace education. Conflict resolution education largely deals with personal conflict, while peace education also includes resolving conflict among nations. So while violence prevention and anti-bullying education are aspects of conflict resolution, conflict resolution is one aspect of peace education.

d. What do you think is the key to a successful peer mediation program?

We always encourage schools to first establish a classroom-based program like the Resolving Conflict Creatively so that all the teachers and children in the school know what conflict resolution and mediation are and have some sense of them. You've got to change the culture of the school and get the teachers interested in the program. You've also got to make sure that the school has the organizational readiness and capacity to support a conflict resolution program, because if the school can't support the classroom program very well, a peer mediation program won't succeed. For instance, the school needs a good liaison person who can schedule visits by staff developers and good teachers who can recruit students to be mediators. They have to understand that a mediation program is not a silver bullet for their discipline problems, but is instead another program they will have to invest in.

2. Curriculum Development

a. What do you think is the most important thing in teaching conflict resolution to elementary students?

For elementary students?as well as older students and adults?one important thing is the idea of a win-win solution. If you understand what you need in the situation and if you listen well and can figure out what the other person's needs are, then both parties can come up with creative ideas that will enable them to get what they want. To do that, you need to be very skilled in listening, you have to know how to be assertive and how to handle feelings. To be a good win-win negotiator, you need to be able to really understand aspects of the other person. Then you need to be able to work with that person to find creative solutions.

A lot of what we do is to develop the foundation skills to be a win-win negotiator, like listening, assertiveness and thinking creatively. So to me those three are the most important lessons in the curriculum.

b. What has been the best part of developing conflict resolution curricula?

It is very satisfying work when children and teachers get the program, when they really understand it. It is endlessly fascinating and creative work. You never complete the journey, you always try to find the better ways. And you meet a lot of wonderful people along the way. It is great to be able to help people heal their relationships and to form new relationships and friendships.

c. What has been the most challenging part of developing the curricula?

Getting people to pay attention to this work. In the last decade, our education system has been obsessed with raising students' scores on standardized tests. As a result, the core of what education is really about has been pushed to the side. The values and skills you need to treat other people with respect, instilling a sense of hope and responsibility in children?all those things are getting less attention. It is challenging to convince policy-makers to provide more resources and more time for conflict resolution programs and to put a priority on this kind of work.

d. How has the curriculum been changed?

In the past ten years, we've put more emphasis on teaching assertiveness. I have come to see how important assertiveness is. It's not only using "I-messages," but also learning many assertiveness techniques.

After we developed the RCCP, we created another curriculum which builds on the RCCP but is different in several ways: The 4Rs Program [4] (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution). Because the RCCP stemmed from the desire to make world peace, its organizing framework is peace and conflict and how you deal with conflict. The 4Rs is organized around how to create a caring community in the classroom. Of course you need to learn both these things, but the emphasis is a little different. We also made the 4Rs grade-specific; there is a separate teaching guide for kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and so on. And it uses literature so that it can be incorporated into English and literature classes. Over the past 20 years, people have created many beautiful children's books. In the 4Rs, we use this literature as the starting point for discussion about conflict.

3. Next Steps

a. What are your next steps?

More and more we are using the term "social and emotional learning" (SEL) to refer to our work. SEL is the process by which children and adults learn to understand and manage their feelings, relate well to others, make good decisions, effectively handle conflict and other life challenges, and take responsibility for improving the communities of which they are a part?from the classroom to the world. So of course conflict resolution is a part of SEL, but SEL is a broader term that captures more of what we do.

Our vision is that high-quality, sustained social and emotional learning becomes an integral part of every child's education. And we are pursuing several strategies to bring that about. First, we provide services for the schools, giving teachers and kids the tools they need. Second, we take part in research. We work with university-based researchers to study the impact of our programs and learn how to make them more effective. And third, we work to change educational policy. We are working on a pilot project that is aimed at informing policy-makers about SEL. So we are working on three levels?service, research, and policy?so that more schools and communities can get involved in promoting SEL and conflict resolution education.

[1] Linda Lantieri is now the director of Project Renewal Tides Center ( and director of New York City office of CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

[2] The RCCP helps children learn better ways to deal with conflict and cultural differences. The Program was co-founded by Morningside Center (then ESR Metro) and the New York City Board of Education in 1985. Since then, it has been implemented in many NYC public schools and in many school districts around the United States.

[3] Betty A. Reardon is a consultant to Columbia University's Peace Education Center ( and Founding Director Emeritus. Betty Reardon is recognized worldwide as a leading theorist and designer of pedagogic materials and processes in peace education.

[4] The 4Rs Program (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution) integrates conflict resolution into the language arts curriculum for kindergarten to 5th grade.

Roderick, T. and Phillips, M.(2001). The 4Rs (Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution), Teaching Guides for Grades K-5, Educators for Social Responsibility Metropolitan Area. Roderick, T. and Lantieri, L. (Eds.). (1996) Resolving Conflict Creatively: A Teaching Guide for Grades Kindergarten through Six, Educators for Social Responsibility Metropolitan Area and the New York City Board of Education.

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