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Teacher-Student Conflict Resolution Strategies

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will talk about some effective strategies for resolving conflicts in the classroom. We will consider some of the common sources for conflict as well as a step by step protocol for developing effective conflict resolution.

Understanding Conflict

Every good story has a conflict. If there was no conflict, there would be no story. In stories, conflict advances the action and creates interest, but classroom conflict provides the opportunity for you to model appropriate conflict resolution strategies and teach students to cope when things do not go their way. Remember that conflict is natural, functional, and healthy. You can help provide students with the knowledge and skills it takes to effectively resolve a conflict.

Now that we understand the functional role conflict in the classroom, let's take a look at some of the common sources of conflict to give you a better understanding of how to help bring about resolution.

Sources of Conflict

Ideas

Occasionally, students and teachers may have competing ideas. For example, in the current politically divisive climate, different ideas regarding nationalistic patriotism, problems of poverty, issues of gender or race and other situations can spill over into a student's life and into the classroom. Teachers can seize this opportunity to teach their students the rules of civic discourse, effective self-expression, active listening, and how to separate the person from the idea to maintain everyone's dignity and self-respect.

Some people are more comfortable than others in dealing with a conflict of ideas, but remember some basic rules of civilized debate when holding these kinds of conversations. Encourage students to discuss ideas without attacking the people who have those ideas.

It is not healthy to engage in this kind of debate when it upsets students, but it is also not in the interest of education to avoid this kind of conflict completely. Try to find some middle ground and don't be afraid to stop a discussion that becomes unproductive.

Needs

Some students may have conflicting or unmet needs and desires. For example, let's say a student acts out in class everyday about mid-morning. With a little digging, you may find that this student gets a little touchy when they need to eat so by meeting the need for food, the teacher can avoid any potential conflicts that arise from feeling hungry.

There may be things happening at home that result in unmet emotional, familial or psychological needs. It is worth having a conversation with students who regularly engage in conflict to determine what these issues might be. You could help them mitigate those problems. It is possible that one of the unmet needs at home is learning healthy ways to resolve a conflict and so teachers can provide that need at school.

Sometimes the conflicting needs and desires relate directly to teaching the students effectively. For example, many teachers need their students to do homework and many students desire not to do their homework. It helps to make a connection between the assignment and the learning goal so that students see homework as opportunities to increase their grade and improve scores on the test. Provide an explanation and rationale for expectations you put on the students so that assignment do not seem arbitrary or a necessity.

Affect

Occasionally, students and teachers may have a negative affect. Sometimes people are just in a bad mood and they try to share that bad mood with everyone. As a teacher, it's important to remember not to allow your own negative emotions to influence how you work with students.

Some people have naturally conflict avoidant personalities and would rather back down then engage in a difficult conversation. This often results in injustice, where the powerless being taken advantage of by those with more forceful personalities.

One strategy to deal with a negative affect or difficulty in expressing emotions is to help students identify and articulate their feelings. Help students speak with 'I messages' that can frame healthy self expression of opinions and feelings. Provide them a vocabulary of feeling words so they can move past anger and identify any confusing emotions. Create a safe consistent classroom environment that encourages student trust and healthy expression of discomfort.

Steps to Resolve Conflict

Now that we understand more about the common sources of conflict, let's look at some steps to take to bring a peaceful resolution.

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