POSITIVE PEER CULTURE
The term Positive Peer Culture was coined by Harry Vorrath and Larry Brendtro in their 1985 book with the same title. It was originally developed for delinquent youth, but it has been employed in a wide range of settings, including mainstream schools. The authors recognized the tremendous influence peers have on each other. In fact, this influence is often much stronger than the influence of the rules of a school or the community or even their own families. In other words, the accomplishment of the main objectives of any school’s mission statement depends in the first place on the chemistry between the students.
In the 80's when the term Positive Peer Culture was coined, it was mostly applied to relatively small groups of young people (rehabilitation centers, small schools) in a time where there was no 24 / 7 access to the Digital World yet. Times have changed (have they ever...!). We now use the term Positive School Climate for the overall ambiance in the whole school and the term Positive Peer Culture (PPC) for the overall dynamics between students in our SAFE in SCHOOLS programs (and any other group setting where the students or players are fully in charge).
"These days" many youth cultures tend to lean towards the negative side. On top of that students get “bombarded with info” – and not always positive - from outside of the school community. This is why we insist that the SAFE in SCHOOL Guidelines (which are summarized in the SAFE AREA Poster and outlined step-by-step in the SAFE AREA Manual) are strictly followed at the beginning of each workshop, in order to reinforce or develop a PPC in each session.
The starting point for creating a PPC is to give the students as much responsibility as they can handle. As Goethe observed:
Treat people as though they already are
what they are capable of becoming,
and you help them become that
However, it is important to note that:
“Positive Peer Culture makes no pretence of turning over all decision making to the students. Adults never abdicate their authority or responsibility. Instead Positive Peer Culture is so designed that adults are in control without controlling. A flight instructor does not give full control to the student pilot but is always available to take charge if hazards are encountered while the student learns to fly. So in Positive Peer Culture, adults assign responsibility to youth and then teach them to follow through on that responsibility.” H. Vorrath, L. Brendtro (*1)
A PPC challenges the fashion to which many youth adhere to these days; an indifference or negativity towards themselves, others and the environment at large.
“Positive Peer Culture does not seek to impose specific rules but to teach basic values. If there were one rule, it would be that people must care for one another. Caring means wanting what is best for a person. Unfortunately, positive, caring behavior is not always popular among youth. In fact, negative, harmful behavior frequently is more acceptable. Therefore, Positive Peer Culture uses specific procedures to foster caring behavior. Once caring becomes fashionable, hurting goes out of style.” White River Academy (*2)
SAFE in SCHOOLS has developed an efficient approach to (re-)create a PPC at the beginning of each playshop and will train the key students of all Street Arts playshops to be able to do that themselves. We have observed that a PPC develops when a certain number of participants have found their state of being that allows them to truly play. We call this state our "State of Playing" (also known as playing in FLOW). This state is scientifically called Psycho-physiological Coherence and can be measured (*3) (*4) (*5), The stronger a PPC becomes the more students will reach their State of Playing. We have a long history of turning our Street Arts session into "creative feasts" - or however you want to call it - also with learning, attention and behaviour challenged youngsters.
Although we don't use scientific measuring equipment, we train students in developing the ability to unmistakenly recognize their State of Playing through the feedback from balls, instruments or other tools they use in their specific Street Art.
*3 What is Psycho-physiological Coherence?
*4 See also: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20559707
Instead of creating a Psycho-physiological Coherence in each participant through emotion self-regulation techniques, we use Street Arts practice.
In the SAFE Method we inspire all participant to find their State of Playing ,this method has been developed after years of research on "Being in the Zone" and "Experiencing Flow".