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Creative Spirit - Joy In Learning / Character Education

Phoenix, Arizona

November 13, 1996

Program Helps Teachers Deal with Disruption
Key to harmony: Creative play
By Mike Padgett, Staff writer

"Yeah, I like to cheat, and yeah, I like to hurt people," a chatty first-grader told Charlie Steffens.

"Then 30 seconds later she said, 'But nobody likes to play with me,'" Steffens said.

Teaching children like that little girl how to play fairly and that she could have friends if she didn't hurt them is what Steffens and his partner, Spencer Gorin, do best.

Mark Henle / Staff photographer

Teacher Karen Peterson pretends she's sleeping during one of Charlie Steffens' and Spencer Goring's creative-play workshops, which aim at resolving conflicts and building cooperation among students.

Through their Tucson-based company, Creative Spirit, the two former psychiatric nurses teach educators how to resolve conflicts involving disruptive students.

In the four years since Gorin and Steffens founded their Healthy Play training program they have worked with 30,000 students and more than 2,000 teachers in several states.

Most of their work is for teachers through the sixth grade, although they sometimes are asked to arrange workshops for teachers in high schools.

Last Wednesday, the two spent most of the day at a Sunnyslope conference center with 35 teachers form several Valley school districts. In animated dialogue, Steffens and his pouty alter ego, "Skippy," acted out disruptive behavior with Gorin, who represented the teacher or classmate.

"I think we all have 'Skippys,' " said Karen Peterson, a third grade teacher from the Deer Valley Unified School District.

Peterson was at the workshop "to learn more creative play for students and how to make activities more interesting for them."

Another educator at the conference was Lori McAllister, who is in the kindergarten-third grade administration in the Washington Elementary School District. McAllister said she plans to share several ideas she learned at the workshop with her teachers.

Steffens said disruptive or problem students, through their classroom misbehavior, distract the teacher and bring all the learning in the room to a stop."

"These are the kids that usually control the classroom, " Gorin said.

The key, they say, is in sidetracking that behavior and encouraging those students, through creative play and innovative games, to learn proper social skills and to think of the feelings of others.

If teachers cannot resolve a student's disruptive actions, every other student in the classroom stops learning.

"We often work in systems where there are two kids in the classroom who are always arguing or always fighting," Gorin said. "They get all the attention. Everything stops because these kids are acting out."

Teachers also get instruction by participating in childlike games during the creative-play workshops.

"Our program is so experiential, " Steffens said. "The teachers regain what it really feels like to be a child. They regain what it really means to be healthy and to play. We've forgotten that play is the most natural thing that children know. We no longer see that play is therapeutic for children."

Gorin said the program shows teachers how to encourage students to practice sharing, caring and honesty.

The benefits include better self-esteem, more cooperation, improved social skills, less-aggressive behavior and a supportive and positive peer culture.

"There are many other programs out there, but what makes ours different is that ours is so succinct and unique and elegant to use, and it's incredibly fun," Gorin said.

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