Conflict Resolution Strategies for the Classroom

Instructor: Derek Hughes
With any group of people comes the potential for conflict. This is especially true for students in the classroom, who have such a wide range of personalities. The strategies in this lesson will help you teach them how to handle and resolve conflicts.

Conflict Resolution Defined

Think of the last time you were in a situation with someone you vehemently disagreed with. You also happened to find this person particularly grating and you were frustrated by his or her presence and interactions. How would you handle that situation? Would you lash out and start making personal attacks? Would you remain quiet and internalize your frustration and anger? Or would you try and resolve the conflict peacefully, agreeing to disagree?

Now imagine that same situation, but instead of emotionally mature adults being the key players, make it two middle school-aged children. The situation probably looks a lot different and potentially explosive. That is why, as a teacher, you need to teach and practice good conflict resolution, which is the process of facilitating an amicable, peaceful conclusion to a conflict.

The strategies detailed in this lesson are not just strategies you can use to resolve conflicts among your students, but can also be taught to your students so they can begin the process of independently resolving conflicts.

Cool-Off Time

A good beginning strategy for conflict resolution is helping students know when they need to back away from the situation and 'cool off' or calm down. The following situation shows the huge benefits this strategy can garner almost immediately.

Two fifth grade students are working together on a project about a book they read in class. For this project, the students must take one side of a debate that has been assigned to them by their teacher. However, the students are on opposite sides of the issue, and their discussion is getting heated, almost to the point of a screaming match.

The teacher in this situation has several options. First, the teacher can continue to let the students argue hoping they settle it themselves. Second, the teacher can step in and move the students to new groups, or third, the teacher can pull the students aside and tell them to spend some time cooling off.

You may be thinking that the first option sounds ridiculous- that's because it is. That will only lead to more fighting at a much worse level. The second option may sound good because those two students won't fight if they aren't working together. However, they also won't learn anything about resolving conflicts. The teacher wisely chose the third option.

By letting the students cool off, the teacher is helping them immediately get their emotions back under control. The students will no longer be as fanatical, which means their disagreement won't lead to more arguing and potentially harmful personal attacks. They will also learn that it feels good to just stop and take a breath if they feel themselves getting too overwhelmed and angry. This cooling off period also helps students transition into the next conflict resolution strategy: teacher or peer mediated discussion.

Teacher (or Peer) Mediated Discussion

Another conflict resolution strategy you can use is a calm discussion mediated by either you or a student who you trust to help resolve the conflict. Through a mediated discussion, both parties in the conflict can safely discuss their feelings and frustrations without the risk of the situation blowing up again.

Take, for example, two 10th grade students. In this situation, the students are fighting because one didn't invite the other to a party. This bothered the student who was left out, but she wasn't forthcoming in expressing that to her friend. Instead, things slowly bubbled beneath the surface until a full-blown screaming match broke out in the cafeteria.

Thankfully, there was a student with them who is very good at helping resolve conflicts. She also happens to be good friends with both girls, so they trust her. First, this student suggests each person cools off for a few minutes. After that time, the student mediates a discussion between the two girls.

In this kind of discussion, each person is encouraged to discuss his or her feelings using 'I' statements (statements that start with the word 'I' and focus on the speaker's feelings and experiences). They are also discouraged from trying to attribute feelings and thoughts to the other person and instead focus on talking about their own feelings. This prevents personal attacks and further frustration.

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