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Let's talk it out 

Even after 18 years of teaching, Meg Goodhand still gets excited talking about her students. A first and second multi-grade teacher at Durham's E.K. Powe, Goodhand readily admits, "After all I'm a life-long learner myself."

Five weeks into the new school year, she's most enthusiastic about her students' grasp of their ownership in their community. "We talk a lot about this classroom as their own community. The second-years especially develop as leaders. They know the routines. Their self-esteem blossoms as they show the younger children how we do things. They learn to lead, and take the classroom seriously. If someone or something's not right, we stop and talk about it."

Goodhand, who has taught preschool through college levels, works with three other teachers, Robin Franklin, Billie Grogan and Lynette Damon in their pair of multi-age classrooms dubbed Friendship Garden. "Right now I guess I'm at my favorite age," she says, laughing. "We have a great group of teachers, and we're always sharing stories."

As part of Powe's "Responsive Classroom" educational philosophy, teachers have developed Peace Centers in each room to quickly address classroom conflicts, often without direct adult involvement. "Our kids use the code phrase, 'Let's go talk it out,' which means the two children having difficulty with each other move from the group activity to a quieter place and do just that.

"Our Peace Centers have really worked as most kids have learned to stand up for themselves using peaceful voices, not in-your-face demands," says Goodhand. She explains that first- and second-graders are just starting to discover how to listen to other people's stories after being so used to being the center of their own little universe. "The Peace Centers empower everyone," she says.

"One child ran up to me last week, flush with the success of talking it out with a new friend, and said proudly, 'I'm going to take this home and try it out with my mom.'"

Goodhand's favorite classroom activity, however, is circle time. "The children pay such attention to each other's stories, especially when they tell about things that happened outside of school, often responding with great questions or comments. Our kids come from many different family backgrounds, often with very different perspectives on life situations. They really are curious about other people, their homes, their parents.

"Circle is also a good time to talk about what they discovered for the first time in one of our centers," Goodhand says. "These kids can be such enthusiastic learners. I'm often amazed at how easily they put new spins on things. It's up to us to keep coming up with the learning environments so they can keep absorbing the good stuff in school."

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