Life-Enriching Education: Nonviolent Communication Helps Schools Improve Performance, Reduce Conflict, and Enhance Relationshipsby Marshall B. Rosenberg
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Addressing the need for a dynamic change in the formula schools use to mold their students, this groundbreaking guide provides a new approach to education that serves the lives of everyone in the learning community. By implementing the unique communication skills outlined, educators can promote cooperation and understanding and address many of the complex problems faced in the classroom. Teachers will learn new skills to increase student interest, achievement, and retention, as well as create a safe and supportive learning and working atmosphere. They are also given strategies for cultivating emotional intelligence, respect, authenticity, and empathy and are empowered to resolve conflict and prevent or defuse violence. The end result helps teachers rediscover the joy of teaching motivated students.
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Nonviolent Communication Helps Schools Improve Performance, Reduce Conflict, and Enhance Relationships.
By Marshall B. Rosenberg
PuddleDancer PressCopyright © 2003 Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
I'd like to offer you a vision for the future of education in this country. In this book I will be describing a process of education that can serve, not arbitrary order and authority, but life itself. In this larger dream, we will live in a world in which obedience to authority is no longer a major objective. Before we begin we need to know what our dream is — our ultimate goal. Here is mine — and, I suggest, every human being's dream and goal, at heart: a world nurtured and sustained by Life-Enriching organizations.
I would like to educate this and future generations of children to create new organizations whose goal is to meet human needs — to make life more wonderful for themselves and others. I call the process of education that can achieve this, Life-Enriching Education. I call its opposite Domination Education.
Life-Enriching organizations are characterized by fairness and equity in how resources and privileges are distributed. People in positions of leadership serve their constituencies rather than desiring to control them. The nature of laws, rules, and regulations are consensually defined, understood, and willingly followed.
Life-Enriching organizations, whether families, schools, businesses, or governments, value the well-being of each person in the community or organization and support Life-Enriching connections between the members of the group.
Life-Enriching human connections have three characteristics:
1. The people are empathically connected to what each is feeling and needing — they do not blame themselves or let judgments implying wrongness obscure this connection to one another.
2. The people are aware of the interdependent nature of their relationships and value the others' needs being fulfilled equally to their own needs being fulfilled — they know that their needs cannot be met at someone else's expense.
3. The people take care of themselves and one another with the sole intention of enriching their lives — they are not motivated by, nor do they use coercion in the form of guilt, shame, duty, obligation, fear of punishment, or hope for extrinsic rewards.
Comparing the Dream to the Nightmare
Perhaps the best way to describe my dream of Life-Enriching organizations is to contrast it with the nightmare of Domination organizations.
In a Life-Enriching organization, we get what we want but never at someone else's expense — getting what we want at someone else's expense cannot fulfill all our needs. Our goal in a Life-Enriching organization is far more beautiful — to express our needs without blaming others and to listen respectfully to others' needs, without anyone giving up or giving in — and thus create a quality of connection through which everyone's needs can be met.
The students coming out of an educational program that I envision would learn to value their autonomy and interdependence, and would have learned the organizational skills necessary to create Life-Enriching systems in which to live their lives.
What you would observe in such schools:
teachers and students working together as partners, setting objectives mutually and consensually.
teachers and students speaking a process language. The one I teach is called Nonviolent Communication, which focuses attention on: 1) the feelings and needs motivating each person, and 2) what actions might best meet their needs — at no one else's expense.
students motivated by their eagerness to learn and not by fear of punishment or promise of reward.
tests given at the beginning of the course of study to determine need, not at the end to determine reward or punishment. Grades replaced with evaluations of student learning that describe what they had learned — what skills and knowledge they had mastered.
an interdependent learning community designed to encourage students to care about one another and help one another learn, rather than competing for a limited number of rewards — a community where the common goal is to support all students in reaching their objectives.
all rules and regulations being created consensually by the people who are affected by the rules — students, teachers, parents, and administrators. Force only being used to protect needs such as health and safety, but never with the intent to punish.
Changing the System
So what I am advocating is not just a new curriculum, a different daily schedule, an adjustment in classroom arrangement, or some innovative teaching techniques. Many individuals among you have tried the ideas I will suggest in this book, and collectively we have tried all of them. What I am urging is a shift in values, a change in the entire underlying system, something as radical as that.
The people I meet are hungry for such a change, ravenous for it. They realize, along with Morrie Schwartz in Mitch Albom's bestselling Tuesdays With Morrie, that "the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We' re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say, if the culture doesn't work, don't buy it. Create your own. Most people can't do it."
Maybe alone we can't do it, but the first step in creating a Life-Enriching culture is to be willing to imagine it, and then maybe together, we can.CHAPTER 2
Expressing Life-Enriching Messages
As teachers, we can prepare students for participating in and creating Life-Enriching organizations by speaking a language that allows us to truly connect with one another moment by moment. I call this language Nonviolent Communication. By speaking this language we can make partners of teachers and students, give students the tools with which to settle their disputes without fighting, build bridges between former adversaries such as parents and school boards, and contribute to our own well-being and the well-being of others. So, you might ask, why don't we all quickly learn this wonderful language and speak it every day of our lives?
Unfortunately the language we have learned has taught us to judge our own actions and the actions of others in terms of moralistic categories such as "right/wrong," "correct/incorrect," "good/bad," "normal/abnormal," "appropriate/inappropriate."
We have been further educated to believe that persons in positions of authority know which of these judgments best fits any situation. If we find ourselves wearing the label "teacher" or "principal," we think we should know what is best for all those we supervise, and we are quick to label those who do not comply with our decisions as "uncooperative," "disruptive," or even "emotionally disturbed." At the same time, we are calling ourselves "ineffective" if our efforts fail. Our having been educated to use language in this way contributes to the subservience to authority upon which Domination systems depend.
Once I was asked by an interviewer on a radio talk show, "What do you think would create the most peace on earth?" And I said, "If we could teach people to think in terms of their needs rather than in terms of moralistic judgments like right/wrong, good/bad." Whew! You should have seen that switchboard light up! Many people get scared when they hear that, and think that I am recommending making no judgments at all, advocating total permissiveness. On the contrary, people who believe as I believe have strong opinions, powerful values, but they make judgments based on these values instead of moralistic judgments.
So most of us find that Nonviolent Communication is not a difficult language to learn at all. What is difficult is unlearning the language of moralistic judgments, the language of Domination.
The Effects of Moralistic Judgments on Learning
The most powerful way I've been able to get across to teachers the difference between moralistic judgments and value judgments occurred in a school in Norfolk, Virginia. I was showing teachers how they might use value judgments when evaluating students' academic performance. These teachers were skeptical about evaluating a students' work without indicating whether an answer was "right" or "wrong." So I took over several classes including math, science, and language, hoping to convince these teachers that there are alternatives to such judgments. These classes were videotaped.
More than four hours of videotaping was done during that school day. However, the school authorities later told me that the first ten minutes of videotaping was all that was necessary to convince teachers about the importance of alternatives to moralistic judgments.
During these ten minutes, I came across a nine-year-old boy. He had just finished adding up a page of arithmetic problems, and I saw that he had added up nine plus six to equal fourteen. So I said to him, "Hey buddy, I'm confused about how you got this answer. I get a different one. I'd like you to show me how you got that."
What I said was true. I really was confused how he got that answer. Maybe he'd invented a new system of mathematics I might like better than the one I was taught. Anyway, I was confused whether that was it, or he had done something else. And so I said, "I'm confused how you got this answer. I get a different one. Would you be willing to show me how you got this?"
The boy hung his head and began to cry.
I asked, "Hey, Buddy, what's going on?"
He answered, "I got it wrong."
That's all the teachers needed to see. This child had already learned by the third grade that all that matters in school is how you are evaluated by others. He heard the word wrong without my even saying it. Not only did he hear that he was "wrong," but his response communicated how ashamed he was to be "wrong." He probably associated being "wrong" with other painful judgments such as being called "stupid" and with powerful consequences, such as being excluded from some group.
How quickly we contribute to students learning that the most important part of schooling is not the development of Life-Enriching skills and information, but earning positive judgments and avoiding negative ones.
Such learning is critical to maintaining Domination systems in which work is done to gain rewards and avoid punishment. Rewards and punishment are not necessary when people see how their efforts are contributing to their own well-being and the well-being of others.
I recall an elementary school teacher in Texas getting annoyed when I was explaining the benefits of evaluating by using value judgments. She said: "You're making something complicated that doesn't have to be complicated. Facts are facts and I see nothing wrong with a teacher saying a student is right when the student is right and wrong when the student is wrong." I asked the teacher for an example of something that was so factual. She answered, "For example, it is a fact that Christopher Columbus discovered America." That day a Native American friend of mine accompanied me. He calmly said to the teacher, "That isn't what my grandfather told me."
Performance Evaluation Using Value Judgments
Evaluation using value judgments lets the learner know whether or not her performance is or is not in harmony with the needs or values of the instructor. In such evaluation there would be no static, moralistic evaluations usually referred to as "criticism," nor would there be positive evaluations such as "compliments" or "praise." Thus, teachers might evaluate a student's performance by saying, "I agree" or "I disagree," not "That's right" or "That's wrong." Teachers would express what they would like students to do but not use language implying that students had no choice such as, "You have to," or "You can't do that," or "You should," or "You must."
To really get teachers committed to this idea, as difficult as it is, we have a special kind of detector in Life-Enriching Schools. No teacher is allowed through the door who has any of these words in his consciousness: right, wrong, correct, incorrect, good, bad, normal, abnormal, respectful, disrespectful, gifted, not gifted, have to, must, ought, and especially, should.
Students educated in such a judgment-free environment learn because they choose to, not to earn rewards or avoid moralistic judgments or punishment. Every teacher knows, or at least can imagine, the joy of teaching a student who truly wants to learn, an experience that is all too rare.
I hope that by now you are beginning to see that just using a different language to evaluate student performance could radically change our educational systems. And I can also hear you asking: "But what about report cards? What about proficiency and achievement tests?"
I will try to answer those questions. But first I want to describe for you the basics of Nonviolent Communication.
Components of Nonviolent Communication Nonviolent Communication helps us to be aware of and to clearly express:
what we are observing that is fulfilling our needs;
what we are observing that is not fulfilling our needs;
what we are presently feeling and needing;
the actions we are requesting to fulfill our needs.
opinions and beliefs as opinions and beliefs and not as facts.
Nonviolent Communication also helps us empathically hear:
what others are observing that is fulfilling their needs;
what others are observing that is not fulfilling their needs;
what others are feeling and needing;
what actions others are wanting to fulfill their needs.
Remember that our goal and the goal of Nonviolent Communication is not to get what we want, but to make a human connection that will result in everyone getting their needs met. It's as simple, and as complex, as that.
Making Clear Observations Without Mixing in Evaluations
An important part of Nonviolent Communication is the ability to observe what people are doing without mixing in any evaluation that might sound like a criticism. It has been my experience that when people hear criticism, it is unlikely that anyone will get their needs met (for example, the student's need to learn or the teacher's need to teach). Criticism is more likely to provoke defensive arguments or counter-criticism than cooperation.
Even if the person does what we want, he is more likely to be responding out of shame, guilt, or fear of punishment, than out of a desire to fulfill anyone's needs. When people respond for such reasons, it is very costly to all concerned. It is costly to the other person because it is dehumanizing to act out of such intentionality. And it will be costly to us because when we are associated with such dehumanization, it diminishes the other person's enjoyment of contributing to our well-being and even reduce the likelihood that they will want to do so.
Excerpted from Life-Enriching Education by Marshall B. Rosenberg. Copyright © 2003 Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of PuddleDancer Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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(Dr. Thomas Gordon, author, Parent Effectiveness Training and Teacher Effectiveness Training)
Meet the Author
Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD, is the internationally acclaimed author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and Speak Peace in a World of Conflict. He is the founder and educational director of the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC). He travels throughout the world promoting peace by teaching these remarkably effective communication and conflict resolution skills. He is based in Wasserfallenhof, Switzerland
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