In the Greenhouse, and the activities that accompany it, were taken from “In a Faraway Land”, a resource book on storytelling by Michael Berman that will be published by O Books in 2010.
Coping with Conflict - In the Classroom or Out of It
Michael Berman, UK
Michael Berman BA, MPhil, PhD, works as a teacher and a writer. Publications include A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom and The Power of Metaphor for Crown House, and The Nature of Shamanism and the Shamanic Story for Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Shamanic Journeys through Daghestan and Shamanic Journeys through the Caucasus are both due to be published in paperback by O-Books in 2009. Michael has been involved in teaching and teacher training for over thirty years, has given presentations at Conferences in more than twenty countries, and hopes to have the opportunity to visit many more yet. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Background and rationale
The story: In the Greenhouse
In every community, every family, every classroom, and every staffroom, there are relationship problems, most of which are swept under the carpet, and most of which inevitably resurface again, often when we are least expecting them to, to cause even greater problems than they did initially.
This article presents one way of dealing with such problems that was used to good effect by the International Shamanic Community that I am a member of at one of our periodic weekend gatherings. It has been found to be most effective when carried out in a circle.
First of all, being as honest as you can be, write down all the complaints you have about anyone in the group in question. Next to each complaint write down the name of the person or persons you blame. In each case, whose fault does it feel like it is? If you were to take full responsibility for each of your complaints, consider what you would need to do about each one.
Have you been holding some negative energy towards someone in this group? Do you need to apologise? Or do you need to just let it go and forgive? Are you simply being right about things and not being open to the validity of others’ experience/ideas/needs? Does everything have to be your way? Is your way the right way?
Are you afraid to speak up and offer your experience/ideas/needs? If so, what would it take to be responsible and do it anyway, without blame, and with respect and openness?
After looking within for the answers to all these questions, if you have a complaint you need to express, do so to the person concerned within the group, with a recommendation and with respect.
To bring the session to a close, the facilitator could invite everyone present to stand and hold hands, to feel the power of the circle flow through them. Alternatively, the facilitator could lead the group through a Circle of Compliments, in which each member of the circle is required to compliment the person sitting next to them for something positive they have brought to the process. This can be done by providing the group with possible sentence starters, and here are some examples:
I really like / love the way you … / I’d like to thank you for the way you … / What I really appreciate / enjoy is … / I think you’ve got a really good / great … / You’re really good at … / You’ve got a great way of …
The process described in this article enables the potential conflict situation the group was initially faced with to be transformed instead into a rich, real, responsible experience that will inform and benefit the community. And the way to achieve this is by not holding on to things we need to say and instead to speak them in an appropriate way to the person or persons that we need to say them to.
There follows a story about a conflict situation that was resolved in a very different way. However, before you read it, you might like to consider these three questions:
How do you tend to get on with the people you work with? Do you work together well as a team or does there tend to be a lot of in-fighting? What can be done to solve problems such as this?
Now for the story:
Gilbert Greensleeves was very proud of his tomato collection and his succulent, perfectly formed specimens regularly won him prizes in horticultural competitions all over the land. He tended his plants as if they were his babies and, in a way, they were as Gilbert and his wife had never been blessed with any children of their own. So he was most upset when he woke up one fine summer morning to find a terrible commotion going on in the greenhouse.
He rushed outside, still in his pyjamas, to see what the problem was and he found all the tomatoes having a heated argument. In fact, the dispute had got so out of hand that the tomatoes were almost coming to blows. He tried to calm them all down and to make them see sense but without success and was at a total loss as to what to do.
Fortunately, he knew a bit about relaxation techniques, which he’d learnt to help him cope with his pre-competition nerves, and in desperation he decided to try them out on his beauties. After all, he didn’t want them to get themselves into a state, especially just before the annual finals. It wasn’t easy but he eventually managed to attract their attention and to persuade them all to follow his instructions.
“Good. Now I’d like you make yourselves comfortable and close your eyes,” he began. “Feel the tension gradually fade away from the tops of your juicy heads to the tips of your little green toes.” Here he paused for a moment to give his words a chance to take effect and to produce the desired results. “Now focus on your heads,” he continued “and become aware of the fibre that extends from your crown chakra and what it’s connected to.”
After a couple of minutes, one of the more forthcoming tomatoes, generally regarded as the leader of the pack, broke the silence. “But we’re all connected to each other and we all come from the same source,” he observed.
“That’s it exactly,” Gilbert Greensleeves replied. “So now you’ve solved one of the mysteries of life. When you fight against each other, you’re only fighting against yourselves. And perhaps now you can be more understanding and tolerant towards one another in future.” A hush descended over the greenhouse as all the tomatoes bowed their heads in shame. It was clear that they had all learnt their lesson and Gilbert returned to the house with his head held high, his mission having been accomplished.
And from that moment onwards, Gilbert Greensleeves never had another problem. His tomatoes lived in perfect harmony and won him even more prizes than before!
Choose three of the following questions to ask the person sitting next to you. Then report back what you found out to the rest of the group:
- What feelings did you have during the telling of the story?
- Have you ever been in a similar situation to any of the characters in the tale?
- Did any of the characters remind you of people you know?
- What do you think the "message" of the story is?
- Did it remind you of any other stories you know?
- Which was the most moving or memorable bit of the story for you?
- Which bit of the story sent you off to sleep?
The questions presented above are multi-purpose in that they can be used for a post-listening activity with any story you choose to tell. And they are learner-centred, rather than teacher-centred, in that the students select the questions that interest them and then question each other. (This activity has been adapted from one suggested in an article by Mario Rinvolucri in the IATEFL Newsletter Voices, August 2008).
As a follow-up activity, when telling the story in class, you could find out what relaxation techniques the learners are familiar with, and then invite them up to the front to teach them to you and their classmates.
Please check the Dealing with Difficult Learners course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Building Positive Group Dynamics course at Pilgrims website.