We will work with teachers, pupils and the wider school community to develop creative approaches to challenging bullying, racism, inequality and prejudice, encouraging positive perspectives on diversity, the school’s relationship to its community and for the teaching of Global Citizenship.
Using creative teaching frameworks, the Cooling Conflict Programme, we will encourage young people, teachers and parents in different parts of the world to engage in dialogue and share their experiences of dealing with conflict, bullying and related issues in very different contexts, in the process building a global network of participating schools.
A whole school approach to bullying and conflict in schools
Cooling conflict is a whole school approach to bullying and conflict in schools that was developed and researched over several years in Australia by John O’Toole and colleagues. The programme is described in rigorous detail in their publication: O’Toole, J. Burton, B. Plunkett, A. (2005) Cooling Conflict. A new approach to managing bullying and conflict in schools. Pearson Education Australia. What follows is a short summary with extracts from the programme.
Cooling Conflict provides an exemplar of the practice implied in chapter 3: it is clearly structured but offers opportunities for flexibility and variation. The programme has emerged through a critique of Boal’s Forum Theatre and enables the participants to explore key issues and experiences in some depth and detail. I myself have adapted the framework to work on a collaborative project linking young people in Palestine with their peers in N. Ireland, and a project with primary schools in inner city Plymouth UK involving families and their communities. I have also drawn up plans for a post war reconciliation project in Sierra Leone, West Africa, which will use Cooling Conflict as a guiding structure to give ‘voice’ to young people, especially girls, in that country.
Conflict and bullying pose problems in virtually all schools throughout the world. For some pupils bullying is a source of deep misery, for others an anxiety that undermines productive teaching and learning. Over the years there have been various attempts to solve the problem ranging from the quick fix to well considered, longer term strategies.
The findings from Cooling Conflict showed that the programme had a major impact in schools and demonstrably helped to build positive relationships across perceived barriers of culture, race, age and status: the development of a more harmonious web of relationships within the school leading to the creation of an improved teaching and learning environment.
Through engagement with the Indra Congress schools could also be linked up with our overseas network of schools, young people, educators and artists, some of who are in settings of tension and conflict, e.g. in the Middle East and Africa.
As described by the authors the aims of Cooling Conflict are to:
- promote a genuine understanding across the whole school of the roots and nature of conflict and bullying
- provide students with the confidence, strategies and skills to engage effectively and sensitively with diverse forms of conflict and bullying – i.e. verbal, psychological, social or sexual.
There are three pillars underpinning the programme:
- An understanding, appropriate to each age group, of the basic elements of conflict/bullying:
- conflict is about clashes of interests, rights and power and is perpetuated through misunderstanding and stereotyping
- there are three stages to a conflict; latent, emerging and manifest
- conflict can be de-escalated through learned strategies and mediation
- bullying is the ongoing misuse of an imbalance of power causing distress to those less powerful.
- Enhanced Forum Theatre (EFT)
EFT is a carefully structured and accessible drama form that allows issues to be explored in imagined contexts that are based on but detached from real life. The programme does not propose quick fix solutions but offers an opportunity to explore, understand and deal with the underlying patterns, the webs of relationships that motivate ongoing conflict.
- Peer group teaching
Studies have shown that peer group teaching is the most effective way to teach these issues – both for the teacher and the taught: peer teaching enhances the self-confidence and self-esteem of students who have been peer tutors.
We can then offer a fourth pillar: engagement with a national and international network, through which we can link pupils with their peers in our overseas partner settings such as Palestine, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Kosovo, India, Greece and others.
How does it work?
A structure would be designed for each school or cluster but a basic outline over a year could be as follows:
An in-service training session for the key co-ordinator in the participating secondary school and participating members of staff, including a senior management figure, will introduce the scheme.
The key class
A senior class, known as the key class, ideally a drama group doing A Level or GCSE equivalent in the UK – but could be at any starting level – are inducted into the programme. They are taught the roots and causes of conflict and how to practise conflict management through de-escalation and mediation using structured drama techniques, i.e. EFT.
The relay classes
The key class then teaches the concepts through drama to the first relay classes (preferably not a drama class), who may be a couple of years below them. This involves the key class researching and rehearsing a piece of EFT based on the experience of the relay class.
The first relay class is then empowered (with teacher guidance) to use the techniques to a second relay group of classes, again a couple of years below.
The second relay class then adapts the technique to teach and apply the process for the top class in primary feeder schools.
The same pattern can then be applied within the primary school.
As the process takes place, other opportunities to pursue issues arising may occur within a range of subject areas, e.g. History, Citizenship, English, Art, Music, Languages.
The key (or other) group may then devise a way through which the experience can be shaped into a performance or celebratory event that can be presented to parents and the wider community.
Pupils may then through the Indra Congress make links and share experience with their peers in overseas settings.
Enhanced Forum Theatre (EFT)
The core concepts are taught creatively through the process of Enhanced Forum Theatre (EFT).
Step 1. The participants prepare and present a situation in three scenes showing the latent , emerging and manifest stages of conflict. Each performing team will consist of from 5-8 people.
Step 2. The story needs to be complex enough to present the audience with a really difficult challenge, where right and wrong are not simplistically presented and all the characters have their own integrity and justification for their actions, where the behaviour is authentic to real life, and where the conflict can be seen to emerge in three stages (O’Toole et al: 2005).
Methods for selecting stories.
- Client stories: researching authentic stories from target audience, which are then fictionalised.
- Our stories: Choosing a real life story from the performing team. Confessions is a useful mechanism for this process.
- Other people’s stories: For example, taking a story from a novel or historical context.
The process of Confessions I have found to be particularly effective as a devising tool:
I use a visualisation exercise to give participants the time and space to identify moments in their own lives when they have experienced bullying and conflict. :
The group then divides into pairs, A and B. They sit facing each other. A begins and tells their ‘story’ to B over the course of about one minute. B listens to this story and then repeats it back to A – as if it was their (B’s) own story. The process is then repeated with B’s story. Each pair then chooses one of the stories that they think has the best potential to dramatise. They rehearse telling this story together.
Each pair then joins with two other pairs to form a group of six. Each group now has three stories. In their groups they listen to each story, make notes and choose one that could be made into a short play. They can incorporate aspects of other stories from the group to add interest. The story now becomes a fiction and is owned collectively by the group.
Step 3. Fleshing out the story line and painting the picture. Groups can use the ‘role circle’ technique In order to ‘flesh out, problematise, establish ownership and fictionalise’ the story. For this the group members sit or stand in a circle and each person adds one piece of fictional information to the story, this is tangible information e.g. what somebody was wearing, not an account of emotional states . It could be a personal testimony type contribution, e.g. ‘I was standing outside my shop when I saw….’
Step 4. Devising the play:
- there will be three scenes: showing the latent, emerging and manifest stages of the conflict
- the 5 W’s must be clear: who, what, where, when and why.
- each scene is set at least one week apart
- each scene will include bully, bullies and bystander
- the action or the host (facilitator) must make clear what is not seen.
- it is important for actors to background their characters to prepare for ‘hot seating’.
Step 5. The performance
The play is performed without interruption. The audience is then invited to select a character to ‘hot seat’. One of the characters is invited to sit on a chair and, in role, answer questions from the audience regarding their attitude and behaviour. This enables the audience to begin exploring in more detail what has happened and why.
Step 6. The host introduces the second performance in which the audience will be invited to take the exploration one step further. As the play is performed again, the audience can call ‘freeze’, at which the actors must stand still. A character is then identified and, with a tap on the shoulder, this character must then speak spontaneously what is going through their minds in direct speech and in the first person.
Step 7. The audience then discuss where things may have been different. They prepare for the third performance, the forum performance. The host introduces the idea that the audience can again intervene as ‘spect-actors’ by calling freeze, except this time they are invited to take the place of a specific character and try to change the course of events in the play. The host also introduces the concept of ‘magic’ solutions, i.e. unrealistic solutions which are too easily accepted.
Allowing space for adequate discussion is crucial to prevent shallow outcomes and to exploration of real human dilemmas and situations in some depth.
Step 8. As in real life there may be a need for mediation ‘off the battlefield’ to de-escalate the conflict. It is very often the case that people who could make a difference may not be visible in the initial story. This is now set up through discussion in groups and, where appropriate, further process drama applications.
Step 9. The discussion stimulated by the performance is often the major learning outcome.(O’Toole. 2005:108).
This is a brief summary of a thorough and in-depth action research project and process, which in its development of Enhanced Forum Theatre from the traditional format, reflects a focus on conflict transformation, as opposed to conflict resolution, which is at the heart of this narrative.