A nine-year-old boy considers committing suicide; no one knows if he will be alive the next day. A bomb scare in a small town causes an entire school to evacuate; students, teachers, and staff wonder if the school will be safe when they return. How can teachers address these complex problems? Preventing problems by building healthy relationships is one answer. School districts of all sizes are taking advantage of materials that help students to understand themselves and others, so that disappointments and disagreements can be brought to light and addressed early on, before they become unmanageable crises.
The videos and accompanying materials (such as teacher guides, games, and work sheets) produced by Sunburst Communications are an example of practical, concrete teaching resources about relationships, conflict resolution, and respect for self and others that schools need.1 While the various videos are made for K-12 students, adults can also learn from their clear, straightforward messages.2 Perhaps attaining a hopeful attitude and learning these important skills and attitudes will help us all survive the new century.
Early Primary Grade Selections (Grades K through 2)
Learning to Care (1999), narrated by a young boy, leads the viewers through a series of case examples and discussion opportunities. The video enables students to discover how others feel and to empathize with their experiences. One case concerns a young girl who has to move and leave her friends behind. Another example tells about a boy who is having a hard time keeping up with his schoolwork. Viewers learn specific ways to show that they care about others, and they learn why it is important to do so.
Ten Things to Do Instead of Hitting (1995) presents acceptable and constructive ways to deal with anger, while recognizing that angry feelings are normal. Key points include situations where anger may occur (such as during disagreements, arguments, conflicts over differing wants), aspects of angry emotions (the degrees of anger, mixed feelings, and the relationship between feelings and actions), and ideas for the constructive expression of anger (such as redirecting ones energy or talking through a problem). Activities in the teachers guide use drawing, fantasy, and reflection (such as a survey about what makes you angry, how you show it, and what helps you stop feeling angry) to apply what students learn.
We Can Work It Out! Conflict Resolution (1994) consists of typical problem situations and guidelines for working them out. The concrete steps of listening and asking questions, communicating your feelings, and compromising help to solve the problems. Active learning incorporates songs to remind students of the problem-solving steps, puppets to act out conflict situations, and pictures from magazines to create images of new possibilities. The video acknowledges that conflicts cannot always be perfectly resolved.
Working It Out (1997) is an extremely well-designed instructional product. It teaches the problem-solving steps noted in the previous video with additional clarity, using strong learning methodologies. The video and supplemental material are organized conceptually and are more comprehensive than the 1994 video was, although both provide worksheets to reinforce specific skills. Problem situations used as examples reflect typical conflicts in school and on the playground and will be meaningful to students.
Primary Grade Selections (Grades 2 through 4)
No One Quite Like Me . . . Or You (1992) addresses individual identity. Segments focus on language and cultural differences, differences in appearance (such as wearing glasses, being tall or short), likes and dislikes (such as playing certain sports and musical instruments), and abilities and disabilities (such as being hearing-impaired). Activities in the teachers guide enrich the video. One child responded that the video shows what different kinds of people there are in the world. Thats why I like it.
Respect: Give It, Get It (1999) and Respect Yourself and Others, Too (1994) address the concept of respect as it relates to other peoples property, their feelings, their own way of doing things, and their hopes and dreams. Students explore the effects of disrespectful behavior on peers and those in authority. Students also share examples of giving and receiving respect and communicating respectfully. Each video contains essentially the same content with similar case examples of true-to-life experiences.
When I Get Mad (1999) opens with a series of examples that illustrate how people differ in what makes them angry, and students are told that they can learn new responses to anger-provoking situations. Strategies for dealing with anger are presented. For example, students are encouraged to stop and think about something else they can do instead of getting mad. They can use self-talk to put things into perspective and face difficulties. Talking it out is also recommended. Student narrators lead a discussion about the specific situations presented, using key questions highlighted on the screen to organize the discussion.
Getting Better at Getting Along (1992) contains content similar to the videos We Can Work It Out! and Working It Out. Basic communication and conflict resolution guidelines are addressed. The teachers guide provides further examples and a variety of related activities and references.
Middle School Selections (Grades 5 through 9)
Only One Me, Only One You (1994) presents characters who learn to value and understand themselves and others as individuals. They confront group differences and make or remain friends with others unlike themselves. One boy chooses to join the band at school instead of staying on the football team. A Spanish-speaking immigrant girl shares her culture as she develops friendships with those who had ostracized her at school. A boy with a broken leg learns that another boy with a disability is not so unlike himself after all. The main characters in these examples provide solid role models for students.
When Friends Mean Trouble (1998) addresses problem solving in difficult social situations. Effective responses to destructive or dangerous peer pressure are shown. The idea that some friendships can be unhealthy is an important concept for adolescents. The situations portrayed include being pressured into meeting with a person met through the Internet, playing a nasty trick on a new student, stealing, skipping basketball practice, and partying instead of doing homework. Many students will identify with the examples in this video. The video encourages students to evaluate their friendships, to develop the resources they need to act in their own best interest, to maintain their self esteem in the face of criticism, and even to say no to destructive relationships.
Taking Charge of Me: Emotional IQ (1997) addresses the emotional aspects of relating to and working with others. Responses of all sorts to being angry (such as pretending that everything is okay, not ever getting angry, ignoring your feelings, getting even, acting aggressively, and thinking through the consequences of a decision before making it) illustrate the choices to be made with regard to an interpersonal problem. Examples show how people can learn new skills and responses to enhance their relationships and their ability to work with others, even others that they dont initially like. The teachers guide suggests reading, writing, and role-playing activities. A quiz assesses the viewers knowledge of healthy beliefs and behavior that can lead to better relationships.
Learning Relationship Skills (1999) identifies guidelines and techniques for good communication. The 3 Cs being clear, concise, and complete and giving attention to body language and tone of voice are some examples given. Additional topics cover assertiveness, avoiding communication roadblocks, negotiation skills, and resolving conflict. The overall context deals with assessing and improving relationships. The characteristics of healthy relationships are identified, and as the main character chooses healthy behavior, his relationships improve. Because the content of this video is well outlined and kept simple, students could refer back to it for years to come and still find it useful.
Across the Grade Levels (Primary through Middle)
Solving Conflicts (1994), recommended for Grades 2 through 5, builds on Getting Better at Getting Along. Specific skills taught and implemented include getting the facts, listening attentively, sharing your feelings, and brainstorming solutions. Role plays, discussion, worksheets, and references can be used to reinforce the learning objectives. The creative format (the use of detective cases and the closing rap) is appealing.
Conflict Managers (1996), recommended for Grades 3 through 6, takes students through a four-step mediation game plan. Each section of the video focuses on a part of the plan: introduction and ground rules, get the story, brainstorm for solutions, and make an agreement. Practical details within each step allow students to develop the skills of a conflict manager. These managers can help peers to work out their problems, listen and understand, be respectful and trustworthy, and help others to come up with ideas that will resolve conflicts.
In conclusion, one could argue that building healthy relationships and learning to resolve conflicts without violence are the most important social objectives of the elementary years. The videos described above (and others by Sunburst on violence and bullying in school) can help provide a solid instructional base for the development of healthy individuals, schools, and communities.
All of the Sunburst videos are of an appropriate length for instruction with the intended grade level audience. They provide clear objectives, high-level discussion questions, related activities such as role plays, scripts of the videos, and further references for teachers. Perhaps the greatest strength of these materials is that the videos reflect students real-world experiences and address the developmental needs of the audience.
1. Sunburst offers a free thirty-day review and free lifetime replacement of their products. The cost of the videos can vary with special sale and package prices. For ordering information, contact Sunburst Communications, 101 Castleton Street, Pleasantville, NY 10570. Phone: (800) 431-1934. Fax: (914) 747-4109. Website: www.sunburst.com.
2. A few of the teacher guides to the videos use repetitive, older graphics and references that could be updated. For example, the value of the songs or rap depends on the students and teachers tastes. On the other hand, videos labeled for minority and urban youth may have been designed for that audience, but seem appropriate for any student audience.
About the Author
Gloria Alter is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. She was editor of Social Studies and the Young Learner from 1993 to1996 and president of the Illinois Council for the Social Studies in 1997.