Nonviolent Communication in School Settings

In a previous post, we’ve introduced in-school restorative practices as tools to address discipline in a way that keeps students engaged in learning.

studentsWe’ve situated restorative practices as components of developing person power, and components of a constructive program that envisions alternatives to punitive responses to behaviors. We’ve also addressed two common misconceptions about restorative practices in schools that both educators and policy makers have voiced during consultation. And throughout, we’ve consistently claimed that restorative practices can help folks develop fundamental skills to address challenges and concerns in their lives.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is one of the core practices often used in school-based restorative practices to address challenges and concerns. Fundamentally, NVC includes three parts: honest and compassionate personal reflection, honest expression to others, and empathetic listening of others. NVC can lead to success because it aligns with common human experiences, it is similar to well-researched and validated conceptions of human beings, and is structured in ways that are accessible to many.

The set of assumptions made in Nonviolent Communication are similar to ones made and often observed by humanistic and community psychologists. They assume that, to some degree, humans share a basic set of needs and that when these needs are met, people are better able to become happier and healthier. That is, addressing challenges and concerns usually relate to addressing unmet needs. They assume that when given the opportunity to address these needs, humans are innately growth-oriented and will strive to meet these needs unless they’ve been systematically and persistently denied these opportunities many times. Moreover, given that most human experiences are nested within social contexts, people must effectively relate with others to meet many of these needs. And taken together, humans may be motivated to effectively connect and cooperate when communication includes a shared understanding and acknowledgement of these basic needs.

Nonviolent Communication is a promising practice for school settings because it makes a complex set of tasks accessible through a 4-step structure:

1. Observations
Ex. “I (teacher) notice that you (student) are talking with your neighbor during this lesson.”

2. Feelings
Ex. “I (teacher) feel worried…”

3. Needs
Ex. “because I (teacher) value your (student) opportunity to learn.”

4. Requests
Ex. “Would you (student) be willing to tell me (teacher) why you were talking with your neighbor?”

The rest of this example communication could happen as follows:

Student: “I don’t want to tell you now.”
Teacher: “Are you feeling self-concious in front of others and want to talk later?”
Student: “Maybe.”
Teacher: “I want to trust that we’ll work this out soon so that you can continue to learn… would you be willing to talk about this after lunch?
Student: “Ok.”
Teacher: “Okay, I’ll check in with you after lunch.” The lesson resumes.

There isn’t much available online about elementary, middle, and high school teachers’ experiences for others to learn from. If you are an educator who has used NVC in a classroom, please share your experiences in the comment section below. And if you know of any resources for adapting NVC for young folks in schools, please include those in the comments below too.

For more information about Nonviolent Communication please see:

The Metta Center archives
The Center for Nonviolent Communication