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13 Dec

Extracts from article written in ACResolution Summer 2010

Posted in Uncategorized on 13.12.11 by Merlyn

For 14 years of my working life as a symphonic violinist, I was also a union negotiator. I spent almost as much time negotiating workplace conflict as I did playing in the orchestra for which I was negotiating. Alongside me were my orchestral colleagues, which gave me an unusual insight into how the same group of individuals coped with the performance stress of the concert platform in comparison to the stress of negotiating high-conflict disputes. The feelings of stress and anxiety felt the same in both environments, but how we handled them was quite different.

At the negotiation table, depending on how nervous we felt, we would struggle, however, when it came to the concert platform our competency level for performing was above that of rehearsals, despite, or because of, the adrenalin flowing through our veins.

The parallel continued when I trained to become a mediator. After my first class I automatically sat down and reorganized the training manual into a rehearsal schedule with daily skills exercises, structured practice and reflective learning. My mediating colleagues were fascinated with what I took to be the normal discipline of learning. I then did a Master’s research project to test whether using the methodology of teaching children the violin could effectively transfer to teaching them conflict resolution strategies. The findings were positive and I have been developing this work with Drumcondra Education Centre since.
Performance-Based Conflict Resolution Training for Children

Like musical performance, each conflict situation is unique and this requires us to access and use our skills in a new and different way. We not only need to remember what we have learned, but also to select the relevant response, which we feel is appropriate for the circumstances. It is therefore not enough to teach a set
of skills with a process and expect individuals to be proficient. We have to develop the capacity to deal with each conflict as it arises, effectively selecting and executing the right skills for that situation.
Performance methodology focuses on increasing that capacity to produce skills in a unique situation under pressure and utilizes brain plasticity, the ability for the brain to change and grow to maximum effect, developing a greater capacity to act when resolving conflict.
As we know, when we are in conflict we feel anxious, we fight for the right words, trying to keep our emotions under control. When we are under pressure like this, our amygdala kicks in and floods our brain with adrenalin, shutting off the language centres of the brain. Just at the time we need to think the clearest and with most affect, our brain effectively switches off.
Musicians treat this surge of adrenalin as a normal part of their working life and use practise routines to prepare for this phe- nomenon. These practice methods are highly structured and have been the musicians’ way of life for hundreds of years. We have found that the methods used can easily be adapted to conflict resolution education for children, helping them to find the capac- ity to act effectively when they too are under pressure.

So, what can we learn from the world of classical music? Instrument lessons are largely conducted through music, with around 90% of the lesson time given to playing the instrument. This maximizes the student’s experience of playing and helps them not only to gain in confidence, but also understand what it is to be a musician.

The medium we use to resolve conflict is language, therefore conflict resolution programmes for children should maximise language throughout. Using discussion circles and stories, inter- active games and drama help children to express themselves and connect with each other through language. The more proficient they become with conversation, the more adept they will be in the very medium they use to resolve conflict. So, similar to the young player, they learn to be peacemakers by talking, listening and negotiating in their lessons.
Musicians place high value on structured practice – and not only musicians. Golfer Arnold Palmer has been quoted as saying “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” When I trained as a media- tor, I set myself half an hour everyday to consciously practice skills such as reflective listening, reframing, powerful questions, etc. On top of this, I spent an extra year doing roleplays and extra training to maximise my rehearsal time with the mediation process, before taking real cases. Slowly, I moved from focusing on the mediation skills themselves, while mediating, to having my full attention on my clients. I had integrated my skills base and could use them easily and with confidence, reaching a flow in mediation, through the discipline of practice.
So, what was it that happened to me and why did such a drilling of skills help my creativity as a mediator? Daniel Goleman (2003) describes the findings of a series of scans done on a number of elite concert violinists’ brains. These scans showed a significant growth of grey matter in the areas of the brain required to play the violin. These artists had all done around 10,000 hours of practice before reaching adulthood and seemed to have devel- oped their brains to be fit for the task, leaving their minds free to engage with the creative, uniqueness of each performance. We all marvel when we hear a great musician play. What we should remember is that the great, creative interpretation we are listening to sits on and around a strong structure of skills.
The artistry involved in resolving conflict also sits on a strong, integrated set of skills and we can only transfer the great art of peacemaking to the next generation if we understand how to transfer and integrate that skills set. Musicians understand that there are no shortcuts to skills integration and, quite simply, the more children rehearse, the more they improve their capacity to act effectively in a real situation.
I have sourced and developed a portfolio of children’s interactive exercises, which range from listening games, to anger ladders to mimes, poetry and beyond. I use it very much like a scale book. In the lessons I do, I will have a practice time during which these exercises are used. There are several different exercises on each skill so the children will not get bored and the skills break down into small component parts, for example a game, where each child mime another’s child’s body language, acts as a precursor to a reflective listening exercise.
Finally, just as the musician needs to understand that their goal is to bring music to life, so our children need to develop an un- derstanding of peacemaking. We have created a series of conflict stories, which highlight the skills the children have learned and help them experience peacemaking as a positive way of living.

We have found in Drumcondra that the structured discipline of learning a classical instrument can help us develop new and interesting approaches to conflict resolution education. When we first introduced the children’s programme to teachers, their immediate response was to ask for an adult course of the same nature. The resulting adult course is now regularly given as part of the Continued Professional Development of teachers in the centre and is soon to be accredited at national level.
References
Bodine, R.J. and Crawford, D.K. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution Education. (1998, San Francisco, Jossey Bass).
Goleman, D. Destructive Emotions and How We Can Overcome Them. (2004, Bloomsbury).
Goleman, D. Social Intelligence The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships. (2007, Bantam Books).
McAuslan F. “The S.A.L.T.” Programme: Creative Solutions to Conflict. (2008, Learning Horizons, Dublin.).
Schwartz, J. & Begley, S. The Mind and the Brain Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. (2002).

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13 Dec

Overview of Course

Posted in Uncategorized on 13.12.11 by Merlyn

There will be three main learning modes to the course:

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On line Modules:

1. Dynamics of Conflict.

2. Practical Mediation Skills

3. The Emotional Content of Mediation

4. The Process of Mediation
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Evening Classes:

The evening classes will be set up as a Community Circle. The principle of this will be to support learning in a shared space.

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Course Manual and Reflective Journal

The Course Manual will contain the content of the course. In some cases the content will mirror the On-line Course and in others the two will compliment each other.

Participants will be required to preread the content for that evenings session. This is to maximise the practical skills learning in the sessions.

The Reflective Journal will be the core means of reflective learning for each participant and will be their main core competency for their future peacemaking life.

Therefore there are  five levels of learning:

On-line Course: Introduction to material plus initial exercises.
Manual: Second engagement with material.
First Session: Integration of content.
Second Session: Practical Application of integrated learning.
Reflective Manual: The thread of Reflective Learning throughout the course.

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13 Dec

Tutors for the New Course

Posted in Uncategorized on 13.12.11 by Merlyn

The tutors for the new Mediation Course met yesterday for the first time.  The course will be running in Sligo, the tutors there will be Paddy O’Connor and Margaret McGarrigle, in Enniscorthy, the tutors there will be Paddy O’Connor and Ann Walsh and in Drumcondra, where the tutors will be Tricia Hayes and Fiona McAuslan. All the tutors have many years experience in the training mediators and we are delighted they have agreed to work on the CRE Ireland project.

CRE Ireland (Conflict Resolution Education Ireland), with its the business name and registered trademark, is the platform Drumcondra Education Centre has implemented to develop all its work in this area. It is hoped that the tutors working on this Certified Mediators Course will play an integral part over the next number of years as we develop our work.

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