Face it, there’s going to be conflict in your classroom. It happens in even the most supportive settings. The good news is that it doesn’t have to derail your lesson or your positive classroom environment.
Give your students the skills they need to resolve their conflicts, and then you can step back and watch your confident, empowered kids have discussions that result in listening and learning- instead of conflict.
Trust the process.
There are steps to effective conflict resolution. Follow this process, or your own variation, and post the steps prominently in your classroom. Refer to the process often whether during instruction, review or as a reminder.
- Step #1: STOP – Give yourself some time to cool off. Count to 10. Take deep breaths. When you feel calm, it’s a good time to talk.
- Step #2: SHARE, LISTEN & CHECK – Go to a quiet place with the teacher. Share your feelings. Listen to the other person. Tell the other person what you heard him/her say. Listen to what he/she heard you say.
- Step #3: KNOW YOUR ROLE. Take responsibility. What could you have done differently to change what happened?
- Step #4: THINK – What would make the situation better? Brainstorm solutions.
- Step #5: CHOOSE – Decide on the solution. Remember that you may have to compromise.
- Step #6: RESPECT – Thank each other for working on this problem together. Shake hands or give each other a high five or fist bump.
How big is the problem?
Emotions are a big part of conflicts. It is understandable to become upset at a big problem, but perhaps students don’t have to be upset at a small problem. Teaching children how to regulate their emotions to match the situation is important to teaching conflict resolution.
- Something that affects a lot of people and takes a long time to solve is a big problem. Something that can be solved easily is a small problem. Discuss the types of reactions that might reasonably go with each.
- Compare big vs. little problems using a worksheet where students provide real-life examples.
- Place conflict descriptions on pieces of paper and have students sort them into small, medium, and big problems. Discuss how to react to a sample of each.
- Sometimes conflicts are the result of bullying. Make sure that students understand that bullying is a bigger conflict and that they can go to the teacher with their concerns.
Pair and share.
Pair students for a real-life conflict resolution exercise that gives them a chance to get the perspective of their peers.
- Ask students to write down a problem they are facing at school or in their personal lives.
- Students speak for a minute about their issue to their partners. This helps to build listening skills.
- The partner paraphrases the problem.
- The pair brainstorm different solutions.
- The student with the problem chooses one.
- Then they repeat the exercise with the other student sharing.
- For younger students, they can draw about the conflict and share with each other.
Practice makes perfect.
Conflict resolution is an important part of behavior management. Keep it front and center in your classroom with weekly practice. Model different solutions so students know that there are many ways to resolve conflicts.
- Present hypothetical scenarios to the class and ask for their input.
- Have students role-play situations and ask for the class to resolve the conflict.
- Teach de-escalation skills, like taking deep breaths, counting, or taking a walk. Discuss why it is important to be calm during conflict resolution.
- Play a game where someone deliberately bends the rules, and discuss the options for conflict resolution.
For Younger Students…
Try a playground peace pathway.
Designate an area of the playground where kids can go for conflict resolution. Start with teacher assistance to help students with their conflict. Ultimately students can do it independently.
- Paint the step-by-step process on the asphalt with the words for each step along a path (e.g. STOP, SHARE, LISTEN & CHECK, etc.)
- Make sure there is a place for each student to stand as they progress along the path.
- Include a celebratory end point, such as “You did it!”
- Model how to use the peace pathway and periodically remind students that it is there.
Teach with stories.
Stories are powerful teachers, especially to our youngest learners. Use them to your advantage in teaching the core messages about conflict resolution.
- Choose read-aloud books that showcase conflict.
- Discuss how the characters feel. Teach empathy by exploring their different perspectives.
- Discuss how they ended up managing the conflict.
- Relate that to the students’ everyday lives.
For Older Students…
Try a decision matrix.
This pros and cons list can lead to less impulsive and more thoughtful, responsible choices.
- Set up a hypothetical situation such as students teasing a classmate.
- Have students list the pros of participating in the teasing. They will give a point for a positive outcome to themselves, and points for positive outcomes to others involved.
- Have them do a similar assessment for cons, but with negative points.
- Such analyses will help them to determine that there is much to gain by being an ally and showing empathy, and less for participating in teasing or bullying.
Use peer mediation.
Peer mediation has been successful in helping students solve problems. Note however that no matter how well trained the student peers are, there should still be teacher supervision.
- Ask for volunteers or nominate students to be peer mediators. Have them undergo peer mediation training. Utilize peer mediators when there is a conflict. The group should meet in a quiet area with a teacher but without other students. Sometimes this takes place during lunch.
- Have the peer mediator team, aka the Peacemakers, look out for conflicts and alert the teacher.
- Note that not all conflicts are resolved easily or in one session. Allow for those that could take a longer timespan over days.
How to deal with an angry student
There may be times when a student becomes so upset and emotional that he/she cannot control his/her actions. Here’s how to help de-escalate an angry student.
- Stay calm and polite. Keep your emotions under control.
- Make eye contact, speak clearly, and do not raise your voice.
- Give the student a chance to cool off by taking a walk to get a drink and then return.
- Offer to talk privately with the student during a break or after class.
- When you meet, listen and try to understand the real issues upsetting the student.
- Summarize what the student said, and do not disagree with him or her.
- Ask open ended questions to help the student generate solutions to the problem.
- If applicable, refer the student for counseling or other help.
Do you have a strategy to share that’s not on this list? Share it with your fellow educators in the comments.
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