54 Chapter 2
Coach Children to Develop
Negotiation and Collaboration Skills
Many teachers strive for conflict-free classrooms
with rules about how many children can play in an
area and a timer to enforce sharing of toys. But when
your goals for children include developing skills for
living in community and as citizens in a democracy
(Johnston 2006), you will provide opportunities for
negotiating conflicts, working with different perspec-
tives, and taking responsibility for group decisions.

Teachers can find any number of resources on
behavior management, but do these offer children
ongoing ways to see themselves as problem solvers
and competent negotiators? Children benefit greatly
from routines that support them in working through
conflicts in ways that reinforce values of mutual
respect, empathy, and generosity. What routines give
children experiences to nurture these dispositions
and acquire problem-solving skills?
Spicy Work idea as a new game to learn. The teach-
ers group the children into teams of three and give
them the task of making a plan together for how to
spend their time. Ann, Megan, and Sandra craft Spicy
Work teams with an eye on sparking new friendships.

Sometimes they group three strong leaders together,
hoping they’ll challenge one another in useful ways;
or they put together three children who are typically
quiet and tend to cede their voice and power so they
can experience the safety needed to take risks; or they
may bring kids together across a broad age range to
spark understandings across differences.

There are three rules to the Spicy Work game. The
first rule is that you stick with your team; you might
want to play on your own, but during Spicy Work, you
stay with your group the whole time. The second rule
is that all members of the team make a plan together
for what to do. You have to keep taking turns telling
ideas until you make a plan everyone agrees to. The
third rule is that the whole team decides together
when they’re done.

Spicy Work
Teachers demonstrate possible ways to move for-
Teachers at Hilltop Children’s Center have built into
ward when the team can’t agree on a plan. You can
their classroom culture a small-group routine they call
change your idea: “Let’s build a spaceship instead of
“Spicy Work,” adapted from the book Tribes: A New
a house or a boat.” You can put your ideas together:
Way of Learning and Being Together (Gibbs 2000).

“Let’s build a house that’s also a boat.” You can take
Spicy Work takes its name from the notion of getting
turns with your ideas: “Let’s build a house first; then
the right chemistry together, just as happens when
we’ll build a boat second.” During the first stages of
you are cooking with an ingredient that alone could
be an irritant but in combination with other ingredi-
the teachers demonstrate that they trust the children
while scaffolding their negotiation skills.

During the fall months of each school year, Ann, San-
dra, and Megan talk with one another about how the
children’s relationships are developing and when the
children might benefit from introducing their Spicy
Work routine. Spicy Work groups give children a struc-
tured opportunity to learn and practice skills in com-
munication, collaboration, and negotiated decision
making. When they feel the time is right, the teachers
call their whole group together to introduce the
Hilltop Children’s Center
ents creates something new and inviting. Notice how