NVC in Schools in Serbia and Montenegro

Overview of the projects implementing the programs of nonviolent communication in the schools and kindergartens in Serbia and Montenegro
in the period 1993-2008
Directed by Nada Ignjatovic Savic

We started with the "  Smile  keepers" project  ", name itself designating the basic intent to enhance a  pro  active  and  positive stance in all participants . We were offering training for preschool and school psychologists and teachers, aiming to strengthen their personal and educative competence especially in socio-emotional domain and enabling them to facilitate the program of psychosocial help for the children in group and classroom setting.

There are 3 manuals " Smile keepers I,II, and III -with programs for children aged 5-10, 11-15, and 15-18.The content of the programs is designed so to help children under stress to develop strategies to cope with emotional experience (fears, sadness, grief, anger), and to develop self and social cognition . Out of 32 hours of training for teachers, 8 were introduction into the basics of NVC. Applying cascade model of training ( I trained a group of 20 trainers, each of them trained groups of teachers, teachers worked program with children) from 1993 when the project started till 1995 we had about 35000 children involved and network of about 2500 teachers from 76 places in Serbia and Montenegro.

Pre and post program assessment of  relevant attributes of behaviour showed that all children involved in program become less afraid to express  their emotions, less fearful , passive, tense, On the other side , they are all  more  confident  in  others,  open  minded,   free,   sensitive, persistent , joyful, sociable, imaginative, curious and  independent. The most conspicuous changes observed in refugee group were that they become more joyful, sociable and imaginative after the program.

According to the estimates children made- the   most conspicuous changes that can be attributed to the program are:

a. new relation with teachers - they emphasize that it was new and valuable experience for them to share their fears, anger, and sadness with their teachers
b. they feel more relaxed (they mention that relaxation exercise was very pleasant experience for them )c. their closeness with peers increased
c. the overall atmosphere in the institution changed:  the  teachers, children and their parents noticed and commented  with  approval  the effects of workshops.

In the next project “Mutual education: giraffe language in kindergartens and schools”, in the period from 1995-1998,our activities were focused mostly on enabling teachers to apply NVC skills in their work, and engaging them as workshop leaders to teach children to adopt skills and values of nonviolence. Applying cascade model of training (each lasting for 48 hours) we educated 14 NVC trainers, 1055 teachers to transmit NVC program to children, and had app.30000 of children aged 5-16 involved in NVC programs in 57 institutions.

Teachers used manuals with programmes of non-violent communication for children, “Words are windows or they are walls 1-3”. The programmes are made so that could fit in regular activity schedule and to be done with the whole class so all children could benefit out of it;

The effects of programs were very satisfying, showing that participants, both children and adults, learned more than communications skills; they made a shift in the attitude toward themselves and others. They started to focus to the needs, and nonviolent strategies to meet them; the number of incidents of violence between students, between students and teachers, as well as toward school property decreased

Lessons learned as guidelines for next project proposal

  • It was noticed that with a bigger number of  professionals trained from one school, with the school principal participating in the training, and more continuous education of the same group ,the overall atmosphere in the school positively changed ensuring long term effects of the intervention ( more mutual support, higher motivation, more new ideas how to develop program and live in tune with NVC model)
  • Parents showed significant interest and motivation to be involved in the NVC training, having observed changes in children’s behaviour as a consequence of the NVC program. In some schools teachers or school psychologists gave introductory seminars on NVC at parents meetings, but parents expressed requests to learn more on how to apply NVC in education.

Next project was NONVIOLENT COMMUNICATION PROGRAM IN SCHOOLS - sponsored by the European commission in the period from 1997-1999

The Israeli Center for NVC and the Palestinian Center for Educational communication, Italian Center for NVC and Center for nonviolent communication Smile keepers in Belgrade took part in the project

3 schools from Serbia participated in the project, one from Jagodina and two from Valjevo. Training started in October 1997, with 40 teachers being trained in NVC from each school. Seminars have been held for parents from each of the schools attended by app. 100 parents from each school. Several teachers who received training organized app. 14-16 workshops with children in classrooms, covering 180 children from Jagodina and 120 children in Valjevo.

There was an overall improvement in the atmosphere in the schools participating in the project. In addition, the project stimulated a variety of creative activities

Valjevo team initiated “Giraffe Theater club”, a drama performance of children that highlights Giraffe (nonviolent) and Snake ( violent) behaviour in society, which gives wonderful opportunity for children performing and teachers and parents watching it - to laugh together and discuss what kind of change they would like to see in each other and in society.

Jagodina team initiated a series of meetings with parents, organized on similar scenario: First part is role-play done by children demonstrating some of the typical conflicts in the family or in the school. After the play all of them together-children, parents and teachers are exploring alternative ways of expressing and resolving conflicts. “The sentence from the heart”, Giraffe classroom versus Snake classroom”,” Drug is a bitch”,” Do we hear each other”, are some of the topics giving insights into habitual parental behaviour and language and its impact on the development and behaviour of their children. All these activities resulted in changing relations between pupils, parents and teachers toward achieving greater mutual understanding and listening to each other’s needs.

In July 1998, Nada Ignjatovic Savic, together with Rita Herzog, a trainer from International Center for NC in USA, ran an intensive training course for Israeli and Palestinian NVC trainers, enabling them to train others and to introduce NVC to children.

In February 1999, the project coordinators from Israel and Palestine travelled to Yugoslavia and Italy in order to visit the schools involved in EC project. This was an excellent opportunity to share experiences and ideas relating to training, skill development, implementation problems and evaluation of the effects. One aspect of the project that became evident during the exchange visit is that despite the cultural differences of each of the project participants, the project teams and the school teams in each of the different countries were facing very similar experiences in implementing NVC. There was a strong element of universals in the existence of similar sort of violence in schools, despite the various backgrounds and specific regional and cultural issues.

Within the next project (1999-2000) “Education for nonviolence: parents, teachers & children working together “we proposed a whole school approach, aiming to develop nonviolent ethos of the school. 7 schools in 6 towns were identified which were supposed to serve as methodic centers for coordination of various activities with teachers, parents, students, psychologist/pedagogues, principals and also local authorities, local media. The schools were selected for this deepening NVC skills program according to criteria such as expressed need i.e. motivation of the staff, effectiveness of existing programs, expressed interest of parents and other criteria aiming to maximize sustainability of the project. A development of model schools as sites of education for nonviolence was sought in order to enable replication of this project later into other schools, and other towns.

Basic seminars for teachers, followed by more advanced ones were held in a concentrated three and two day format enabling them

To assimilate and integrate NVC skills into their teaching and educative practice,
To transmit these skills to parents (within parents meetings) `
To conduct NVC training program in the classroom, and
To offer a special” peer mediation” preparation course to students.

A special program for parents meeting was designed fostering educative competence of parents and enabling them to reinforce children’s process of applying NVC outside of school. It was focused on some of the key topics in education:

a. Informing parents about the negative developmental effects of some habitual educative practices, and offering them alternative derived from nonviolent, compassionate communication model
b. Offering them to practice non-violent alternatives to punishment in the situations when the behaviour of children is not in tune with their values
c. offering them know- how to develop child’s autonomy and personal responsibility
d. Offering them know-how to foster self respect in children
e. Offering them know-how to strengthen self-confidence in children
f. Offering them skills to deal with anger (their own and children’s anger) in constructive way
g. Teaching them how to mediate in children’s conflicts

Teachers were sceptical with respect to parents willingness to participate in the program, and to come regularly 8  times  to the meetings; also they were expecting critics and comments as “ we do not need any education, who are you to teach me etc... After the first meeting they were delighted by motivation and active participation of parents, and surprised that parents wanted even more than 8 meetings.

Very important learning both for teachers and parents was the workshop on the negative developmental effects of 12 habitual educative practices, and alternative derived from nonviolent, compassionate communication model. We asked participants to imagine that child is reacting in a certain way (for example: saying “I do not want to go to the school, school is stupid” or “Marihuana is not a drogue, you are old fashioned” etc. we choose examples according to the age of children they are with) and then to write down what would be their reaction to it. We used Tomas Gordon’s 12 categories, and asked participants to find category their reaction could be classified. And then we were analysing categories from 3 points of view: what would be child’s reaction to it, what developmental consequences are, and why we adults are reacting in that way. At the end we practised NVC alternatives.

Both teachers and parents appreciated distinction made between learning based on fear (of rejection, punishment, hurting others) shame or guilt and motivation based on deliberate choice out of love for learning. They found NVC very useful tool in stimulating intrinsic motivation.

What was especially well received and effective in changing children rule breaking behaviour  was the initiative to create school rules together with children, and to translate all the rules in positive, concrete, action language- i.e. to say why, what need is satisfied with it and what action is asked to meet the need. Teachers and principals were sceptic in the beginning, expecting that children will not come to the same list of rules they would like to be respected. But they were pleasantly surprised to see that children came to the almost same set of rules, but this time taking them as their creation, they were more careful in respecting them. Another initiative that was effective was engaging children in making school space more beautiful and personal.

“Peer-mediation” program was designed enabling students to use NVC to mediate and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts that arise between them. We choose to prepare all the children in a classroom to be mediators, rotating in that role, and every week one couple of student

Peer mediation project is not developing as we would like. Only a few teachers decided to work with children. They created cartoon story, some interesting material for workshop, and still it is not accepted by children as we would like. It seems that 24 hours of training is not making teachers confident in their ability to transmit these skills to children.

Within the next project The other way: parents and children needing help we focused attention on children labelled as problems (aggressive, having learning difficulties, problems with discipline, not coming to the school regularly, extremely withdrawn) and their parents. The aim was to:

  • To offer a programme for children needing special help

a. providing psychological relief to each child and reducing his or her emotional tensions through structured exchange about their most difficult experiences and reinforcing their coping strategies
b offering .a series of workshop helping children to re-establish self respect and confidence in themselves and others
c. giving opportunity to children to learn social, communicative skills helping them to integrate in their peer group.

  • To offer a program for their parents fostering their educative competence and enabling them to apply nonviolent, compassionate approach in education.

School psychologists from the two schools were facilitating both programs

The school psychologist and their teachers identified two groups of 20 children needing help and their parents in each school. So, 80 children were selected (40 of them age 7-10, 40 of them 11-15) the parents of all children were invited to join the program, but mostly mothers responded. Also, the parents of younger children were more interested to collaborate. Remark of the school psychologists is that the parents of older children are embittered with respect to the school, and have lost confidence in the possibility of change.

There were 2 workshops per month with two groups of parents, each lasting 3 hours. Having in mind that these parents are not coming to parents meetings at all; it was a big step for them to attend workshops twice a month.

There were 2 workshops per week with the children, each lasting one-hour.

So there was altogether 18 hours of work per one group of parents, and 20 hours of work per one group of children.

In the beginning of program, the parents were sceptical with respect to the purpose of the program (“Why my child? Why me?”) This was later transformed into satisfaction, regretting that they didn’t have this opportunity to get the support they needed earlier.

The program stimulated sharing between parents and children, and contributed to a greater closeness and mutual confidence between them.

One of the most important effects of the program on parents was their insight that there is alternative to violence, and that they learned how they can act differently. On the bases of the parent’s statements and facilitator’s observations, what parents were missing is to KNOW HOW, to learn about what kind of educative procedure is beneficial for children’s development. And lack of this specific knowledge was not related with the level of education of parents, because there were parents in the group with university degrees. Although the main and most painful insight parents had was about the psychological consequences of punishment, many of them admitted that they could hardly imagine rising up children without using punishment, before the project.

The parents reported that they learned also not to see every problem in child’s behaviour as a catastrophe, how important it is to reflect before react, how important it is to tell children what they like in their behaviour instead of only criticizing and blaming them, how important it is to listen to children and let them to express all their feelings, and to understand them.

The method of work was a real discovery for parents, it was for a first time that they had chance to be listened to, (each of them), and that they talked about their difficulties without being criticized. Also they liked to hear each other and to realize that the others have similar problems.

The parents have dissolved their resistance with respect to contact with the teachers (which was based on their fear that teachers will only criticize them and their children), and they started to come regularly to the school to talk with teachers about their children, and were more eager to listen to the teacher’s suggestions

In the very beginning of the program, the facilitators have put lots of effort to help children to get rid of the image that they are marked as “problems” by the fact that they are involved in the program. . But after the first workshop they said that they like the program and method of work,

The teachers noticed that children involved in the program are showing bigger motivation and interest for the school ( not missing classes,  improving school marks, writing homework, do not resisting when teacher is telling them to bring their parents to the school because they are not taking it as a control any more). The number of discipline violation decreased (in the school and in the schoolyard); there were no fights at all since the program started. Children become more attentive. Withdrawn children took initiative to show what they have learned, and started to take additional lessons.

As a result of all these changes was their better achievement in the school (manifested through the improvement of the school marks).

The parents noticed that children are more eager to talk, that they are more fluent in expressing what they are feeling and needing even to the other parent that is showing violent behaviour (demanding, punishing, beating child) and refused to participate in the program. One mother reported that her 13 year old son dared to say to the father: “When you are talking and screaming like that, I feel hurt. I would like if you tell me something nice, with what you are satisfied about me. The father felt uneasy, sighed and said at the end “ O.K., son, I’ll correct myself”. It was for the first time, as mother said, that the conversation between her son and husband ended without tears and beating.

The facilitators noticed positive changes in the behaviour of all children. Even the children designated as aggressive started to use new patterns of behaviour (to talk instead to fight, to express what is hurting them.

Big step in our work happened in 2001. With the new democratic government, the Ministry of education started the reform of the educational system, and our team is engaged fully and wholeheartedly in this process. We were satisfied with the possibility to contribute to a change in system to make it more in tune with the needs of all involved, and also to introduce NVC through Civic education as a new optional subject in school curriculum. About 6900 teachers underwent CE education until know. Also Ministry of education has accredited all our programs and recommended them as integral part of teachers’ professional specialization, and it is up to the schools to choose what program they want.

Manuals Civic Education 1 and 2 for primary school teachers and children published in 2008

With political change in 2004, bringing a new minister of education that is against reform we started, we are faced with new challenge – how to protect and continue the process of change.

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