A school’s experience in applying the Litigare Bene method

How did the school in Vrbovsko (Croatia), learn the Litigare Bene method and spread its use to whole-school practice and to other schools as well?

We lacked a method for little ones’ quarrels

(Viktoria Samsa’s speech at Dissemination Event for FISM schools, 25th January 2023)

Greetings from Croatia! My name is Viktoria Samsa. I am a history teacher. With us is Tanja Jakovac, our school pedagogue. We work in an elementary school in a small town called Vrbovsko, in the mountains between Zagreb and the Adriatic Sea. Our students are from 7 to 14 years old.

We first approached the Litigare bene method during another Erasmus project called EduCATe in 2017. Elena Passerini presented Daniele Novara’s Litigare Bene method on that occasion. The topic immediately aroused a lot of interest since our school is a member of the Peace Schools Forum and we pay great attention to nonviolent conflict resolution among students.

We have experience in Peer mediation, but it is suitable for students older than 11 years old. At that time, we had nothing to offer for younger children.
School pedagogue Tanja Jakovac supported the idea of introducing the Litigare Bene method in our school. We presented the method to all our teachers who were working with young children. We had created several Conflict Corners. However, after a while, there were only two left. We realized that teachers needed more knowledge of the method, working mainly on themselves and their own beliefs.

At that time, Elena Passerini suggested doing a KA1 project on the Litigare Bene method. Our teachers accepted with open arms and with the great support of our principal. We decided to introduce the method in all classes in our school since all our teachers enthusiastically agreed to participate in the project. Through the KA1 project, all teachers received theoretical knowledge about the method. We provided the basic information about the method to the non-teaching staff of the school, too. This is key, you will surely agree with me, this is a very important detail since in this way we managed to involve all staff: Daniele Novara’s method pervades throughout the educational course.

During the school year, our pedagogue Tanja Jakovac, who is here with us today, managed to create nine workshops for children on the topics: of expression of emotions, conflicts, and the Litigare Bene method. The children reacted very well to the workshops and understood in a heartbeat how the method works.
It was, however, very difficult to get the teachers to accept the method. They had to change their beliefs that were practically opposed to the method. They had to stop taking an active role in resolving conflicts. We tried to convince them of the importance of suspending judgment on children who argue.
They stopped judging and interrupting children’s quarrels. Finally, they worked on themselves. In addition, they were afraid that parents would misjudge them by perceiving their behaviour as too passive toward children.

The fundamental change came when our six teachers and the school pedagogue went to Gavardo (Brescia, Italy), where the “Sassolino” Montessori school is located. There we have done Job shadowing, looking at the Litigare Bene method in practice. I must admit that I was a little sceptical when I heard that they would have to go to kindergarten. In a preschool, I expected a noisy and chaotic environment because these are young children from 3 to 6 years old. However, when we arrived, I first noticed the calm, serene and very pleasant atmosphere suitable for learning and growing.

Since this is a “Casa dei Bambini Montessori”, I noticed that the teachers encouraged the children to do many things by themselves and thus develop their potential. For example, they would clean the work area by themselves after finishing the activity, they would participate in meal preparation, and to set an example of good practice the children had to peel oranges by themselves. When a dispute among children happens, it is the same thing. The Litigare bene method has a strong relation with Montessori’s pedagogy because it encourages and develops children’s autonomy. Litigare Bene places emphasis on developing children’s social and emotional skills. They need to be prepared for good interpersonal relationships as adults.

At the “Sassolino”, I especially liked that the children spent a lot of time outdoors. That is where most of the children’s conflicts took place. The teachers were always present, standing behind the children in a nonintrusive way so that they could develop their social skills.
When it came to the younger children, teachers would intervene during arguments with questions: “How do you feel? What happened? What can you do?” to get the children to come up with solutions and answers on their own. At the same time, they would lower themselves to the children’s height.

I remember two situations in particular from Sassolino. A good example is a dispute between two children of different ages over a toy. If an older child does not want to give his toy to the younger child who insists on taking it, we should not intervene in any way. Only when the older child has decided to stop playing spontaneously and leave it to the younger child will we help the older child to acquire the so important self-esteem and at the same time induce the younger child to exercise his own patience.

Another good example is the situation where a child falls down. The teacher does not immediately intervene by helping it to get up. Instead, she waits for the child to get up on his own, and only when the child approaches her, console it in the way the child wants. In this way, the teacher makes the child aware that she/he is self-sufficient in the fall situation and at the same time always has a person next to him or her for help in an emergency. Of course, in this particular case, it was the fall. The child will use this experience later as an example in other emergency cases.

What did we learn from this? Most of all, we worked to increase awareness of our experiences and beliefs that we passed on to the students: «be good, be smarter, give up, it’s not okay to fight, I’m a bad teacher if my students fight». We realized that quarrelling is how children learn to be with others, we do not have to stop or avoid this experience. The teacher no longer needs to judge because there is no one to blame in an argument. By not interfering, we give children the confidence that they can resolve their disputes. We make them aware that they should express their emotions more to encourage children to do so.

After the experience at Il Sassolino and with a lot of work on themselves, the teachers felt great relief because they left the arguing to the children. They adopted the method very quickly because it is very simple and natural. They began to apply it completely independently. Although at that age they focused on themselves, and the satisfaction of their own needs, they began to understand better the position of others. They proudly and joyfully told the teacher what happened and how they solved it. Teachers feel much less stress using this method because they are no longer responsible for children’s quarrels.
I must confess: by using the Litigare Bene method, we adults have also learned to communicate and argue better. In fact, we also use the method elements in our daily lives, and it seems to me that we are about to fill in the gaps and learn what we did not learn as children. We did not have the opportunity to grow up with the Litigare Bene method, we can learn now by looking at the children.

(translated from Italian by Elena Passerini)
Photo: Viktoria Samsa, Malta, Multiplier Event 15th November 2022 ©Lucia Tringali