Example Of Conflict Resolution Essay Between Student And A Teacher

Kathy Bickmore, Ph.D.

 

 

 

As young people develop and learn about the intersecting social systems of which they are a part, conflict is all around them. Inescapably as children grow, they develop understandings about interpersonal and social conflict, about procedures for handling it, and about the violence and war that may emerge when conflicts are not resolved. In school, official curricula guide children's and adolescents' development of understanding about war, conflict and peace. At least as powerfully, young people also learn about conflict from the implicit curricula of student activities, teacher and peer responses to political events, school governance, and discipline practices. This chapter discusses the school factors that influence young people's developing understandings of war, conflict, and peace.

Two concerns motivate this research: first, the apparent inescapability of individual and group violence (resulting in children's entanglement as bystanders, victims, and perpetrators of wartime and ‘peacetime’ injury — Merelman 1990, Prothrow-Stith 1994), and second, the spread of apathy and political cynicism (resulting in low citizen involvement in democratic activities — Klaassen 1996, Lasch 1995). These are really the twin horns of one dilemma: young citizens in many countries seem to be less involved in the various institutionalized processes that are designed to manage social conflict, while they are increasingly involved in the violence that is a consequence of such conflict's escalation. Ironically, many young people are involved in violent activity, without necessarily understanding themselves as social actors who make choices that influence the course of that activity. Peace seems to many like an abstraction, while war and violent conflict carry vivid images into every developing mind. Children often don't understand peace as a dynamic equilibrium that depends on citizens' participation in (learned) processes for handling conflict.

Schools can play an important part in handling this dilemma, by helping diverse young people to "see themselves in the definition of citizen" (Adler 1994, p.35), and therefore to internalize skills, norms, and roles for managing personal and social conflict. Clearly educators do not agree on the importance of such citizenship education for peace, never mind on how to do it. Powerful absences and silences in school activities leave certain matters unquestioned, leave certain citizens uninvolved and unheard. In this chapter, I examine a broad range of school-based learning opportunities that influence young people's development of knowledge and inclinations for handling conflict. I argue for the more systematic and careful inclusion of conflict education in school: if peace requires nonviolent management of conflict, then education for peace requires practice with conflict.

Conflict — perceived incompatible objectives between two or more people or groups — occurs in every social system. It is part of being alive. The evolution and successful management of a conflict depends upon:

• the parties' awareness of problems and potential solutions,

• the degree of interdependence (relationship) among the parties,

• the degree of equilibrium (balance and stability) among the parties, and

• the existence of predictable (understood) procedures for handling problems (Deutsch 1973, Kriesberg 1982).

The ingredients for conflict resolution, in relation to each of these factors, can be taught. Like violence, nonviolence is learned behaviour. School classrooms and informal school activities are important settings in which children and youth develop:

• understandings of conflict and its consequences,

• skills in recognizing and nurturing healthy relationships with people like and unlike themselves,

• knowledge of (and capacity to navigate) the workings of power in social and political systems, and

• skills and inclinations to use a broad repertoire of conflict resolution (peacemaking) processes (Deutsch 1993).

Paradoxically, peacemaking requires confronting conflict. Without carefully balanced opportunities to practice making informed decisions, particularly in public schools, the prevalent cultural models of social fragmentation, alienation, and violence are bound to carry tremendous weight in young people's socialization. In societies with contested political regimes, children may learn a great deal about managing conflict and violence, but meanwhile they may develop rigid, fearful notions of self and others that impede efforts at conflict resolution (Merelman 1990). In regimes that are largely peaceful or uncontested, children may learn to fear conflict and to regard dissenters as abnormal, thus undercutting positive possibilities for social integration and democratization. This paradox can put schools in an awkward position, because of the political nature of public education. However, the alternative to confronting conflict in school is to have young citizens learn about conflict idiosyncratically and accidentally, thus to allow the spiral of violence to persist.

How do schools teach about conflict and peace? As public concern over violence increases, school leaders often respond with what has been called "negative peacemaking" — the premature use of bargaining or settlement procedures, before underlying problems have been solved or understood (Curle & Dugan 1982, also Bettman & Moore 1994, Fennimore 1997). The goal of negative peacemaking is avoidance, not problem solving. For example, educators may take short-term safety measures emphasizing control, exclusion or segregation of disruptive students, and avoidance of sensitive topics. From these models, students may learn to hide their true feelings, to blame others for problems, and to censor uncomfortable topics or viewpoints. In contrast, feminist political science identifies "positive liberty" — procedures and encouragement for broad involvement in handling community concerns and conflicts — as a guiding principle of democracy (Dietz 1989). Positive liberty involves the practice of active democratic participation. For example, students are engaging in positive liberty when they learn:

• about conflict resolution by serving on a student government committee,

• about power and problem-solving by contributing to a service project,

• about peacemaking by serving as peer facilitators or conflict mediators,

• about analyzing multiple perspectives on public questions by studying problems of war, peace, or controversial issues.

With the good intention of protecting political neutrality and safety, public education — even education intended to teach conflict resolution — may be "coopted" by the "powerful logic" of hierarchical school management and thus reduced to mere "violence prevention" (Deutsch 1993).

The notions of negative peacemaking and positive liberty, as alternative emphases in education for citizenship, provide a conceptual framework for organizing this chapter. First, I will examine some prevailing practices in school discipline, in particular negative peacemaking efforts to minimize disruption and overt violence. Second, I will review the research on a range of school-based conflict resolution training programs, in order to examine the relative space that may be given to negative peacemaking and positive liberty in such efforts. Third, I will discuss a range of programs, including student governance and academic classroom work, that show promise for infusing positive liberty into school practices. In particular, I will focus on the infusion of controversial material and peace concerns into academic curriculum and instructional processes. I will conclude by assessing the possibilities for citizenship education for developing young people's understandings of conflict and.

 

School discipline and violence prevention

Discipline, the management of student behaviour, is at the heart of school-based socialization. Repeated modeling and consistent practice are powerful influences on learning (whether or not they are consciously planned): deeds speak more loudly than words. Thus the processes of developing and enforcing school rules, and of grouping and sorting students for the delivery of the explicit curriculum, are powerful contributors to young people's understandings of themselves as members of society (Clifton & Roberts 1993, Ingersoll 1996). Young citizens learn about conflict and violence by observing the ways conflictual or violent incidents are handled (and by whom), and by practicing and internalizing particular norms and roles in relation to conflict management. This implicit curriculum regarding conflict, violence, and peace varies widely from place to place, and from teacher to teacher. Educators wield different types and degrees of authority in relation to students and their conflicts — sometimes in ways that facilitate students' development of their own autonomous strategies for handling conflict and preventing violence, and sometimes (unfortunately) in ways that insist upon dumb obedience.

Classroom conflicts matter to students. Young people learn a great deal about conflict from the ways they (and their peers) are treated in school. Discipline practices sometimes ignore what educators know about good teaching — for example, the importance of clear explanations, positive feedback, and guided practice to help students improve skills (Schimmel 1997). This "negative peacemaking" undermines young people's opportunities to develop self-discipline and an understanding of democratic citizenship. If classroom rules are negative, restrictive, unexplained, or delivered in a rigid legalistic manner, then students may be provoked to subvert or ignore the teacher's goals, especially when not under direct surveillance. Thus students develop understandings of conflict and power that the teacher may not have intended. Furthermore, constructive resistance (for example, clarifying procedures, correcting misinformation, or assisting peers) is sometimes tarred with the same brush as other forms of perceived 'misbehaviour' (Kearney & Plax 1992). As a result, students may cease to think of such teachers as legitimate guides, or may internalize implicit values that marginalize conflict, blame particular individuals for confronting problems, or assume conflict must be managed by powerful authorities rather than by ordinary citizens.

Schools have custodial (control and safety) responsibilities, for which negative peacemaking is a necessary though not sufficient condition. However, they also carry humanistic (democratic and child development) responsibilities, for which positive liberty is essential (Larson 1991). Positive liberty (democratic) experiences in school can make a difference in students' capacity and willingness to engage in democratic citizenship activity, including conflict resolution (Hahn 1996, Hepburn 1983). Children learn to make decisions and to solve problems only by participating in — practicing — making decisions and solving problems (Carlsson-Paige & Levin 1992, Kamii 1991). It's a matter of balance and inclusivity. It is possible for schools to protect students' safety, without asserting authoritarian control that would deny students opportunities to learn about positive conflict resolution and peacemaking.

It can be a challenge to broaden the range of student involvement in non-punitive learning opportunities so that democratic experiences are not limited to an elite group of students. Where students' liberty to participate in positive ways is curtailed, those students' opportunities to learn conflict resolution and peacemaking are thereby limited. School discipline policies often implicitly focus on males — especially minority males — because data on visible school violence, vandalism, and suspension highlight the involvement of these populations (Slee 1995). Lower-status and minority youth are disproportionately blamed and labelled 'difficult' by educators; they often suffer the most severe negative consequences of the negative peacemaking embodied in traditional discipline practices (Leal 1994). The kinds of student resistance that are less disruptive, such as absence from school or nonparticipation in activities, are more commonly associated with female students, and often ignored (Bergsgaard 1997, Slee 1995). Similarly, less-visible violence that contributes to girls' absence or alienation, such as sexual harassment, are often relatively ignored by school personnel (Stein 1995). In either case, certain students may be implicitly or explicitly denied positive liberty, i.e. excluded from the more autonomous democratic opportunities. Thus, these students learn different roles and skills for handling conflict, in comparison with their more privileged peers.

Violence prevention and anti-bullying programs generally involve narrowly-focused 'training' in social skills and anger management, supplemented by counseling, stricter punishment, physical plant remodelling, and/or increased staff monitoring/ reporting responsibilities (Pepler & Craig 1994, Smith & Sharp 1994). For example, many schools in North America have recently implemented so-called "zero tolerance" policies, built around negative peacemaking — blaming and excluding from school the identified ‘perpetrators’ of violence. Many of these interventions single out particular populations, disproportionately ethnic minority males, that are considered by educational leaders to be 'at risk' (Guliano 1994, Prothrow-Stith 1994). Critics point out that control-oriented and culturally imposed violence prevention efforts may backfire, by reinforcing mutual distrust among members of school communities, thus escalating conflict and breeding additional resistance (Noguera 1995, Soriano et. al 1994). The unintended consequence of negative peacemaking programs may be to marginalize people who have engaged in violence, rather than to educate the broad population of students regarding nonviolent alternatives. Some violence prevention efforts do build in prejudice reduction lessons or problem-solving strategies (Greenberg 1995, Moore & Batiste 1994). However, when such programs are limited to the margins of schools, they are ill-prepared to address problems of social conflict or violence. This is the dilemma of negative peacemaking: it is understandable that school leaders would wish to put a lid on violence problems, but premature imposition of surface-level remedies can exacerbate underlying tensions and resolve nothing.

 

Peer Conflict Resolution Programs

School-based conflict resolution programs are spreading rapidly and persisting, in part because the public demands that school administrators 'do something' about school violence (Posner 1994). Many program participants strongly believe in the positive program effects they have experienced, whether or not there is firm evidence of those effects (Cameron & Dupuis 1991, Davis 1994, Lawton 1994). The strongest well-documented effects of peer conflict resolution programs have been, not surprisingly, on the most direct and frequent participants, especially the student leaders selected to be conflict managers (Bickmore 1997, Lam 1988, Shulman 1996). It has been difficult to substantiate the influences of these programs on whole school climates. Assessments that are simple to administer, for example surveys of attitudes toward interpersonal conflict, are hard to attribute to any one educational experience. Changes in rates of suspension for fighting (Koch 1988, Sticher 1986) can be attributed to many factors, including administrative policy, not merely to conflict resolution programs. Some of the most convincing assessments of student conflict resolution programs are tied closely to conflict resolution theory, for example showing how many peer conflicts were successfully resolved, how many integrative (win-win) rather than distributive (win-lose) settlements were proposed (to real or hypothetical scenarios), and/or to what degree particular skills and conflict management procedures are retained and used spontaneously (Johnson & Johnson 1996). The evidence indicates that intensive instruction and practice in conflict resolution processes can have a profoundly positive effect on those with the positive liberty to participate directly and for a significant period of time.

Many of the earliest (and still common) school conflict resolution programs have been cadre peer mediation programs, in which a few students are identified and pulled out of regular classes for special conflict resolution training (see Hall's chapter, in this volume). Most such programs are based on the assumption that only students, not adults, need to learn conflict resolution skills. Typically, 20-30 students per school are pulled out of regular classes for 12-20 hours of skill-building workshops. Thus trained, the peer mediators assist their schoolmates to voluntarily negotiate resolutions to their own conflicts, generally following a prescribed series of steps. Often, peer mediators serve on the playground at recess or in special mediation areas during free periods. Some programs choose 'model' students (predominantly girls who are already doing well in school), to be mediators. This elite approach can limit the influence of a program and the willingness of many students to self-refer conflicts to mediation, compared to programs that choose a broader range of students who are identified as having both 'positive' and 'negative' leadership potential (Bickmore 1993b, Day-Vines 1996). In any case, the vast majority of students in these schools encounter alternative dispute resolution only as observers of an introductory presentation or as clients. Most school-based conflict education programs have not been sufficiently large, well-funded, or well-integrated into the business of schooling to offer such an experience to the majority of their students, much less to the adult members of these school communities.

Recently, there has been an increasing trend toward moving conflict resolution in from the extra-curricular margins. There are many examples of social skills and conflict resolution curriculum materials, designed to be used by teachers in regular classrooms (e.g. Bickmore et. al. 1984, Glass 1994, Opffer 1997). The goal has been to offer conflict resolution education to more students in each school, over a sustained period of time. These programs guide students to develop knowledge, inclinations, and skills in what might be called the 'basics' of conflict resolution, whether or not any students' roles are fundamentally changed to include negotiation or mediation of actual peer conflicts in school. One of the most venerable and influential of such programs, more than 20 years old and still flourishing, is the Children's Creative Response to Conflict (CCRC) program (Prutzman et. al. 1978). CCRC's materials build student-centered activities around four intersecting themes that build students’ capacity for handling conflict: affirmation (appreciating oneself and others), communication (sending and interpreting verbal and nonverbal cues), cooperation (working and playing together to do things one could not do alone), and conflict resolution (involving a repertoire of skills for handling problems and creating win-win solutions). CCRC's more recent work adds a fifth theme, bias awareness, that intersects with all the others (Prutzman & Johnson 1997).

A contrasting program that infused conflict resolution into regular classroom activity was designed, based on cognitive development theory, and implemented in several Icelandic elementary classrooms (Adalbjarnadóttir 1992). This program emphasized "activating children's reasoning processes for the promotion of their social development" (p. 400). Teachers led groups of students through discussions, using open-ended questions, in order to model and have students practice cognitive strategies for autonomously working out problems. The students' abilities to generate solutions to various hypothetical dilemmas were assessed before and after the program. It was interesting that girls generally improved more in their reasoning about conflicts with peers, whereas boys, on average, improved most in reasoning about conflicts with the teacher. One possible explanation is that many boys received more of the teacher's attention: thus these assertive children had more practice, during the conflict resolution lessons, with the cognitive skills requiring self-confidence in dealing with authority. In common with a negative peacemaking emphasis, many conflict resolution education materials emphasize teaching students to be polite and non-disruptive, rather than assertive and active in handling conflict. On the other hand, conflict skills can be powerful tools for positive liberty, with which students become more able to solve their own problems and to express their interests in ways that can be effectively heard. A few conflict education programs (to be discussed in more detail below) begin to transcend the weight of school tradition and to broaden the positive liberty that provides students with opportunities to learn about conflict and peace.

 

Implicit curriculum about conflict: Involving diverse students school-based leadership

Conflict management and school governance are important aspects of the implicit curriculum that is embedded in the regular valuing and sanctioning of particular behaviours. Young people learn from what they practice, for example from the responsibilities they fulfill in their schools and classrooms. They learn about interpersonal and social conflict from the roles they play (and are excluded from playing) in handling school community questions and problems. How do educators help diverse students to see themselves as potential actors, not merely pawns, in peacemaking and conflict resolution efforts?

Student governance and student-led activities have been elements in many school programs for at least the last 50 years, but with widely fluctuating roles, scope, and purposes (Danielson 1989, Goodman 1992, Smith 1951). Adults in general, and educators in particular, are not necessarily disposed toward sharing power with young people. Some student governments embody educators' notions of 'good citizens' but involve little autonomous decision-making. For example, students may carry out classroom management tasks or community service projects (Cole & Proctor 1994, Fisher 1994, Heath & Vik 1994). The topics open for student input may range from marginalized special occasion planning to essential school policymaking (Howard & Kenny 1992, Mueller & Perris 1996). Only rarely do student organizations engage in comprehensive decision-making regarding significant school issues, giving careful attention to the inclusion of minority constituencies.

Students learn to manage increasingly complex conflict when their decisions carry tangible authority, for example the delegation of executive and judicial as well as legislative roles, or power to override an administrative veto or the opportunity for any student to participate without prior adult approval (Blight 1996, Dreyfuss 1990, Koskinen et. al. 1972). Young people may learn contradictory lessons about conflict and dissent if their student newspapers, for example, are censored by administrators (Oettinger 1995). However, even limited forms of student leadership or governance, especially when these involve skilled facilitation by adult advocates, give participating students opportunities to develop understandings of conflict and peacemaking. For example, student leaders practice effective communication in groups, recognition of differing viewpoints, persuasion, identification of shared interests, and invention of problem-solving procedures (Hepburn 1983, Leatt 1987). In class or school community meetings, for example, students apply their concepts of justice to conflicts among their peers; "they practice creating the rules by which they want to live" (Angell 1996, p.24, also Sadowsky 1992).

In common with most adult political systems, student governance efforts persistently run into the challenges of inclusivity and unequal status. As in national politics, it is common to view the non-involvement of some individuals as evidence of 'apathy,' rather than as evidence of an implicitly exclusionary system (Keith 1971). People tend to get involved in activities that embody the concerns they feel are important. The population of leaders, and the topics they choose (and are guided) to take on, thus influences who will be interested in becoming involved in those peer leadership activities. Just as young people are sometimes chosen to be peer mediators because teachers see them as 'good' students, a large proportion of young people are commonly excluded from student councils on the basis of lower than average grades (Keith 1971, Koskinen et. al. 1972). Girls and other lower-status students may have little representation in student governance if they have more limited opportunities than their peers to develop prerequisite skills and self-confidence in informal settings; compensatory leadership training can reduce such barriers (Stiles 1986). Bringing student governance activities into the mainstream of school life, for example making them part of classroom activity or scheduling governance meetings into regular slots during the school day, gives proportionately more students the opportunity to participate in democratic decision-making, and thus in developing an understanding of conflict and its resolution.

In earlier generations, young people often did carry significant responsibilities for handling problems, simply because of the ways their communities were organized. Now, many youth have the luxury of remaining children (carrying little responsibility) for many years (Conrad & Hedin 1977, Postman 1982). To help young people learn to manage the conflicts of citizenship, educators create new avenues for practicing meaningful participation in the postmodern world. Every-day life outside of school, especially in socially and politically marginallized communities, is unlikely to apprentice young people naturally into conflict management and democratic leadership roles. Therefore, some schools are creating opportunities for students to practice with many types of participation — including social involvement such as recycling or peer mediation, direct service such as helping in hospitals or soup kitchens, advocacy such as persuading local governments to change toxic dumping regulations, or electoral participation such as analyzing the positions of candidates for school board (Avery 1994).

 

Explicit curriculum about conflict: Pedagogies and subject-matter for active participation

The unknown, the controversial, and the problematic are the fuel for good conversation and the sparks that motivate inquiry for learning (Britzman 1992, Graff 1992, hooks 1994). Critical thinking (conflict management) skills cannot be developed without critique. Democracy and peacemaking depend on citizens' development of capacity and respect for independent critical thought. To facilitate conflict management, socialization — toward existing roles, rules and customs — is balanced with 'countersocialization' — toward questioning and creating alternatives (Engle & Ochoa 1988). Avoidance of conflict, in contrast, distances curriculum from life, rendering it meaningless.

Conflict education may be infused directly into academic lessons. For example, students analyze and respond to the conflicts in stories as part of literature/ language lessons, or they learn processes for managing broader political questions, war, and controversial issues in social studies classes (Angell & Hahn 1996, Bickmore 1993a, Easley 1993, Stevahn et. al. 1996). Conflict education involves the process of learning as much as the content. Cooperative small-group learning methods, for example, have gained currency in many schools: cooperation requres interaction and student initiative, thus such pedagogies provoke conflict and enable students to practice problem solving and conflict resolution (e.g. Cohen 1994). Conflict resolution, equity strategies, and problem-solving processes may be practiced in class meetings, student government, and teachers' professional interactions, as well as academic subject-matter and discipline practices (Fine 1997, Lantieri 1996, Opffer 1997). Comprehensive infusion of cooperation and conflict resolution into both school processes and core curriculum is more likely to yield significant and lasting learning, compared with more limited interventions (Deutsch 1993, Johnson & Johnson 1996).

Apparently-inclusive curriculum may be implicitly exclusionary, if by avoiding conflict it marginalizes some viewpoints and molds others into simplified 'correct' answers (Foster 1996). For example, including a few women's names in a history book, without really examining their points of view in contrast to those of the military and political leaders (around whom the narrative is organized), serves to further trivialize the significance of their work. In particular, leaving women's perspectives out of history leaves certain human endeavors, such as peacemaking, unrecognized (Noddings 1992). Confronting conflicting perspectives in school provides students with opportunities to learn strategies for handling conflict and for avoiding violence in their lives (Soley 1996). Open discussion of controversial issues and problems in the classroom has been shown to help students develop interest in the social and political world, their capacity for reflective analytical and evaluative thinking, and their sense of efficacy as actors in their own lives (Hahn 1996, Harwood 1992, Mellor 1996).

Controversial subject-matter may be damaging to some students, as well as ineffective, without careful attention to inclusive and respectful instructional processes. Classroom climates that are closed to dissent, or that assign passive roles to students, can have a decidedly negative effect on young people's willingness and capacity to engage in further discussion regarding social and political issues (Ehman 1969). Young people need a balance between 'dissonance' (conflict that stimulates cognitive development) and 'emotional safety' (negative peacemaking that enables them to learn in a given environment (Houser 1996). This balance is often skewed, especially in elementary classrooms: if educators emphasize safety at all costs, they may create a comfortable but unstimulating environment that ironically slows down or narrows students' learning.

Introduction of conflictual questions can bring previously silenced young people into the pedagogical conversation, giving them the means, the opportunity, and the motivation to learn. For example, a grade 7-8 social studies/ English class practiced research methods by conducting an observational study, to see whether boys talked or interrupted more than girls in other classrooms in their school. It was interesting that the students found wide variations among classrooms, but what was tremendous was the impact of having opened this question at all.

On the other hand, there is perhaps no such thing as a climate that is equally open and safe for all members of the class. Participants' diverse histories, relationships, and prior knowledge affect the degree to which they feel safe and respected, even in an apparently-open classroom climate (Ellsworth 1989). Paradoxically, opening the floor to diverse viewpoints can include some students and at the same time silence others (Bickmore 1993a). There is considerable planning and listening involved in facilitating the human processes that make openness real for the widest possible variety of students (Kreidler 1990, Rossi 1996).

A few examples, of various ways conflict (resolution) may be used as a learning opportunity in academic lessons, will serve to clarify matters. Perhaps the most common way teachers present conflict as a learning opportunity is by initiating debates. These are no doubt motivating, especially for the highest-status and most aggressive students, but it takes considerable planning to make debates a real opportunity for a wide range of students to really learn to manage social conflict. If debates are organized around thoughtful preparation and mutual response, not simply winning, students who participate actively may learn to listen for big ideas and points of view, to respect opposing opinions, and to communicate persuasively. For example, an integrated social studies and language arts "Debating Society" program in an Ontario public school focuses on controversial events in Canadian society (McGeown 1995). In this program, high school students lead preparatory discussions with younger students (grades 3-8), so that all have opportunities to participate and to develop understanding over time. In order for students to learn the component skills and understandings for integrative rather than competitive management of conflict, lessons that begin with debate may require students to switch roles, and eventually to negotiate a mutually-acceptable solution (see Avery, Johnson, Johnson & Mitchell chapter in this volume).

A way to handle conflictual topics that is more oriented toward broad participation and conflict resolution is the simulation activity. This strategy can encourage students to develop a more complex understanding of war and its costs, as well as to handle more locallized problem solving or peacemaking. For example, students may play the roles of historically-grounded characters, for example making decisions regarding Canada's role in the conflict that became the deadly World War II battle of Dieppe (Morton 1986). Alternatively, students may role play members of various interest groups in relation to environmental management conflicts, involving control and use of resources, or choices in energy development (Borad & Fagerstrom 1985, Curow 1985). Simulation activities typically highlight the interdependent relationships among the conflicting parties, thus students practice cooperation and the creation of integrative solutions more than simply winning or losing. Social studies lessons may also introduce students to the workings of global and local institutions designed to prevent violence and its causes, such as non-governmental organizations or the United Nations (Boulding 1988, Casburn 1994).

Since conflict resolution requires communication skills, language and literature classes are natural places for conflict education. Conflict is intrinsically interesting, thus it gives students reasons to talk and read together, whether in a first or a second language (Iino 1994). For example, many children's books highlight questions of conflict and its consequences. Some young people's literature provides insight into concepts of justice and practice in understanding the perspectives of others (Gallagher 1988, Luke & Myers 1994). Literature that touches upon unresolved human conflicts and unpopular viewpoints risks provoking fear and even calls for censorship. However, if a teacher has a clear rationale to explain why the risks are worthwhile (i.e. what students are expected to learn) and how diverse students with minority views will be protected, then such lessons can be defended and strengthened (Herzog 1994, Worthington 1985). Students also can create texts that handle conflict. For example, a summer literacy program guided adolescents to develop persuasion skills. The students produced a public document, addressed to peers, that used sounder arguments than existing literature regarding the dangers of drugs (Long et. al. 1995). Opportunities for managing conflict can stimulate the development of language, and language skills development is essential for nonviolent conflict resolution.

Conflict and its resolution are also important to good mathematical and scientific education. Peer disagreement can help students to articulate their understandings, to clarify underlying concepts, and sometimes to translate ideas into language that helps peers to understand (Crumbaugh 1996). Furthermore, application of math or science to real-life problems (in which there are inevitably disagreements) may help young people to take a measure of control over some of the powerful influences in their lives.

Application of science and technology to 'real life' connects it with the social context and the social studies, as for example when students examine legal cases involving conflicts over fundamental scientific beliefs (Morishita 1991). Another approach, in keeping with the work of adult scientists, is to engage students in testing alternative theories for explaining physical phenomena — either as these theories have evolved in the history of science or inductively, based on concrete experimentation and observation (Settlage & Sabik 1997). Any human endeavor worth learning about involves some conflict.

Oddly enough, one of the more controversial matters to teach about is peace, especially if this involves examining the causes and consequences of particular episodes of political violence. The careful examination of "human-initiated, catastrophic events whose legacy we still live" can help young people to understand the dangers of thoughtlessness and to develop understandings that can be applied to preventing future injustices (Eppert et. al. 1996 p.19, also Avery et. al. 1997, Strom et. al. 1992 Wegner 1995). Peace education involves connecting the interpersonal to the cross-cultural and international, in order to develop transferable (useable) understandings regarding the management of conflict (Harris 1996, Hicks 1988, Tabachnick 1990). A few critics have argued that "multiple loyalties" to nation and world, inherent in a global perspective, are unworkable (Fullinwider 1994). However, loyalty without understanding would fly in the face of democracy and social development, especially in this postmodern era of divided communities and particularistic loyalties.

Value-laden international material is particularly well-suited to helping students develop their capacity for flexible and independent thought, because it highlights and demystifies multiple perspectives (Bottery 1992, Merryfield & Remy 1995). ... connect school learning to the political realities in which students find themselves... (Merelman 1990). Problem-posing and peace education extend to students the positive liberty to engage in handling social conflict, first by developing awareness of particular instances of conflict and second by learning and creating mechanisms for developing balanced and peaceful social relationships, thus countering the primary causes of violence (Curle & Dugan 1982).

 

Conclusion

It is tempting to respond to educational problems with quick fixes, and thus to respond to the social problem of violence with 'negative peacemaking' strategies that put the lid on the symptoms of the problem. If we were content to live under dictatorship, perhaps it would suffice to prevent overtly violent behaviour by means of coercion and manipulation. However, stable peace and democratic development require a more open approach to education. Short-run problem-reduction strategies tend to enhance hierarchical control and breed dependence, without enhancing students' capacities to resolve problems autonomously. Many important opportunities for long-term conflict management learning exist, not when people are hurt and angry (whether in wars or schoolyard scuffles), but in the every-day process of learning and living in a school community. Paradoxically, this means that just at the times when conflict can be avoided in school, it often shouldn't be. If students have the positive liberty to practice managing conflict in the protected environments of their schools, then they will develop the skills and understandings to participate in the nonviolent management of conflict as citizens.

The pursuit of peace and justice is not embodied in any particular piece of curricular or extra-curricular program. Instead, every realm of school life is involved in teaching young people about war and violence, conflict and peace. Behaviour management patterns and core academic curriculum, by virtue of being most of what happens in school, are the most pervasive organizers of student learning about conflict, and also the most difficult to change. Smaller-scale and pilot programs in conflict resolution education provide spaces for innovation and experimentation, in the hope that these will eventually influence the core subject-matter and the regularized processes of schooling.

What is getting in the way of systemic implementation of positive liberty in schools, and the consequent development of students' capacities for nonviolent peacemaking? Beliefs about which relational processes and knowledge count as 'real school' are deeply embedded in the norms of our cultures (Metz 1990). Deeply-entrenched habits of schooling reinforce avoidance of conflict rather than developing students' awareness of problems and solutions, sorting and ethnocentric/ nationalist content rather than understanding of human relationships and interdependence, abrupt curbing of controversy or student resistance rather than fostering students' capacity to understand and navigate the realms of power and inequality, and short-term efficiency and safety rather than the messy business of helping students to develop autonomous skills in conflict resolution or peacemaking processes. Furthermore, the bureaucracies that run many public schools have elevated standardization, summative assessment, and replicability to the status of sacred principles: the indirect, student-centred, and context-bound nature of the kinds of education that nurture peace and democracy sit awkwardly in the prevailing organization of schools (Kahne 1996). Perhaps true peace education cannot be mandated or fully tested, at least in a package that would work in any local cultural and political context.

However, the same forces of alienation and violence that make peace and conflict education necessary are also challenging these old realities of schooling. It is not merely that schools should not limit students' liberty to practice managing conflict; schools demonstrably can not and will not go on as they have in the past. The world is simply changing too fast: to their credit) students are already actively resisting the old order (Elkind 1995). As necessity is the mother of invention, the efforts to broaden students' conflict education opportunities are likely to persist and to multiply.

 

References

Worthington, P. (1985). Writing a rationale for a controversial common reading book: Alice Walker's 'The Color Purple.' English Journal vol. 74 no. 1 (January), pp. 48-52.

Classroom Management Resource Page–Shindler–School Climate–PLSI–Teaching-Workshops by JVS

Chapter 15: A Win-Win Approach to Conflict Resolution and Potential Power Struggles

From Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. ©2008

Reproduction is unlawful without permission

In this Chapter:

  1. Examining the Sources of Classroom Conflict
  2. A Process for Win-Win Conflict Resolution
  3. Successfully Resolving Power Struggles

Conflict is a natural part of any functional class. In fact, it is not necessarily a sign that there are problems with the classroom management or with the health of the classroom community. But it does often lead to unhappiness, discomfort, and or the need for members of the class to emotionally withdrawal or attack. So making sense of conflict, and providing our students with the skills, knowledge and dispositions to process it effectively is essential to creating a functional democratic classroom.

Where does conflict originate? It comes from many sources, and it takes many forms. Sometimes it is brought into the class from the outside, and sometimes it is created within the class. Either way, when it is examined with a sufficient amount of awareness, it can be a useful means to personal and collective growth. Our job as teachers is to help our students see that conflict can be an opportunity, rather than just a source of grief.

Chapter Reflection 15-a: In the most recent classrooms that you have observed, was there conflict present? What form did it take? Who was responsible for initiating it, and/or perpetuating it?

Exploring the Most Common Sources of Conflict

The most common sources of classroom conflict include the following:

  1. Students have competing ideas.As teachers, some of us are more comfortable working in an arena with conflicting and competing ideas. Research into teaching style suggests that harmony-seeking Feelers (which make up a majority of teachers) tend to be less comfortable than logic-seeking Thinkers with the emotional climate that is created when disagreement is present (Myers-Briggs, 1998). But suppressing conflict can also suppress getting at what can be the meaningful essence of an issue or idea. So Feelers need to consider tolerating some healthy conflict in the name of learning. Conversely, the Thinker teacher should be aware that the feeling half of his or her students might not view argument and debate as the source of stimulation that they do. They need to recognize that what they see as healthy conflict or directness can lead to real discomfort, and can even turn off or shut down some of their students. In general, intellectual conflict is a powerful ingredient in a classroom that needs to be treated with care. And above all, we as teachers needs to model effective communication skills and conflict resolution.

As we develop our “culture of listening and respect” (discussed in Chapter 12), we need to help students separate difference of opinion from personal attack. We need to help them learn the skills of self-expression, while keeping the dignity and respect of others paramount. Helping students keep in mind that their ideas have changed over time and will undoubtedly change in the future can be useful. As they better distinguish their ideas from themselves, then they find it much easier to discuss them without getting defensive. We as teachers need to allow students to disagree and permit them time to process those emotions. As they learn that not always being right or having others agree is not the end of the world, they become more comfortable with self-expression and less fearful of conflict.

Chapter Reflection 15-b: While few of us are entirely comfortable with a great deal of conflict, for some of our students it can lead to a great deal of drama, pain, and/or emotional reactivity. It may be worth getting to know how your students react to conflict. Why do some students always need to be right? Why do some students feel so personally attacked when someone disagrees with their idea? How can we help our students express themselves and feel safe? Understanding the human ego’s need to defend itself is a useful starting point as we try to make sense of this area and for how to promote a healthy intellectual climate in the class.

In addition, we need to help students express their ideas in ways that do not attack others. A good way to start is to help them use phrasing that identifies their idea as “their opinion.” I-messages are useful for this purpose. For example, we might encourage a student to say, “From what I understand, I think a gas tax is a bad idea,” as opposed to “A gas tax is a terrible idea!” The first phrase does an adequate job of expressing an opinion, as such, whereas the second expresses the same opinion as a fact that essentially picks a fight. Practicing how to phrase opinions at the beginning of the year is time well spent. Leading the class in a concept attainment or classification exercise related to “good ways to express opinions” vs. “bad ways to express opinions,” can help clarify the difference more concretely. Putting the exercise on butcher paper and leaving it on the wall for a few weeks to refer to may be helpful as well. And as we continuously need to keep in mind the most powerful learning in this area will come from the modeling of the teacher. So model what you want to see from your students. Expect this to be more challenging than it sounds.

  1. Students have Competing Needs and Desires.No matter how clear our expectations. No matter how well understood our social contract. No matter how well we promote community among the members of the class, we know there will be some level of conflict that comes from students competing needs and desires. But the difference between a democratic classroom with an intentional process for dealing with conflict and an authoritarian classroom where the teacher acts as the judge is that in a democratic classroom, conflict is an opportunity for all parties to grow, while in an authoritarian classroom, conflict is just a source of trouble for all concerned. Moreover, in a democratic classroom, each conflict leads to more learning and skill building, which leads to more effective conflict resolution and less future pain and suffering. Teacher-based resolutions lead to dependent and passive students who learn little about how to deal with the conflicts that arise in their lives, in or out of the classroom.

What Teachers should avoid with regard to conflict between students:

    • Ignoring conflict. This leads to the advantage of the advantaged. The powerful will ultimately use the vacuum of justice to get their way over the less powerful.
    • Acting as judge. This sends the message that students are too immature to solve their own problems, and impedes they moral and social growth.
    • Siding solely with the victim. Be empathetic, but being used as a tool to get back at an aggressor will lead to more dependence and a cycle of victimization for the weak party and an identity as a bully for the aggressor.
    • Don’t encourage tattle tailing. The more you encourage it, the more you will get it. You encourage it by acting as judge, siding with the victim, or not encouraging students to seek their own solutions before they come to you.

What Teachers should encourage with regard to conflict between students:

§         The use of a well established set of guidelines for conflict resolution (see win-win conflict resolution guidelines below).An effective and uniform system helps support a sense of safety and learning for students.

§         Skills related to expressing and owning one’s feelings. I-messages and empathy are difficult skills to learn, but they are effective and save a lot of pain and suffering.

§         An effort on the part of the student to ask themselves, “What is the best thing for the class as a whole, and can I find a solution that meets my needs and is good for the group as well?”

§         An inclination to solve one’s own conflicts. It may feel difficult not to intervene at first, but as time goes on you will be surprised at how empowering it can be for the students, especially those that have previously been dependent on adult interventions.

§         An inclination to think in terms of one’s own behavior first and others second. Too often conflicts escalate because students all feel the need to point out the misbehavior of other students. We have all heard countless phrases that begin with “Teacher, ____ is _____ ing.” Aside from the most severe cases, attending to these types of student pleas for your intervention will only increase the amount of conflict and encourage an external locus of control mentality. A useful phrase in these cases can be “If everyone takes care of themselves we will be fine.”

§         An effort to recognize how much they are growing in their conflict resolution skills. As with the other skills that you are trying to encourage, don’t hold back your pride and respect for the students that are making the effort to grow in a new and difficult area. (see personal recognition vs. praise, Chapter 6).

§         Openness to modifying the social contract. If a conflict or a series of conflicts send the message that something is not working, use the opportunity to brainstorm a contract modification. This activity can be a very conspicuous opportunity to model the principle – conflict is an opportunity for growth.

Chapter Reflection 15-c: As you reflect on the last class that you observed, how many of the interventions of the teacher would you classify as being consistent with the list outlining “what to encourage,” and how many fell into “what to avoid?” Did you see evidence of the effect they had over time?

  1. Teacher’s Negative Affect/or Misguided Practice Leads to Student Conflict. If you are practicing any of the teacher behaviors “to stop doing” outlined in Chapter 2, conflict will follow. It may take the form of resistance stemming from a feeling that basic needs are not being met. It may take the form of jealously, if you use extrinsic rewards and/or personal praise. It may take the form of mistrust, if you are inconsistent with your consequences, or use arbitrary punishments. But in one form or another, student discomfort will lead to conflict. So be proactive. Create a safe, needs satisfying, consistent classroom climate and you will have to do a lot less conflict resolution and power struggle management.

Chapter Reflection 15-d: As you have been asked to do throughout the book, reflect on the relationship between teacher action and student reaction. Recall classrooms in which there is nearly no conflict, and other classes in the same school in which there is a great deal. What is the difference? In your opinion how much of the conflict in any class is created (both directly and indirectly) by the actions of the teacher?

  1. Students’ and Teachers’ Needs Compete. Even if you are being successful at creating a healthy needs satisfying classroom where the expectations are clear, there are bound to be cases in which your needs and those of your students will be at odds. Sometimes just explaining the rationale behind your expectations can help student see why they are necessary. Sometimes it may be necessary to engage in a process of problem solving to achieve understanding.

For example, a teacher may have a homework policy that makes perfect sense to them, but a good number of their students do not do most or all of their homework. In cases like this, it is important that we listen to our students needs. Ask them what they would change in the policy to ensure that everyone came with their homework completed. After listening to suggestions, you can find a practicable compromise that works for all parties. Jane Bluestein (20tt) calls this negotiating a “boundary.” She suggests conflict is minimized when each party can accept a policy boundary that “works for them.” This process helps meet the students’ basic need for power and brings another level of clarity to the expectations.

Chapter Reflection 15 –e: Recall our discussions in Chapters 6 and 11 related to boundary setting. It can be a potent tool for the teacher to promote clear expectations and student empowerment, but can also lead to an excessive amount of bargaining if it is not done intentionally, and proactively.

  1. Students bring in displaced anger from outside the class that plays out in conflict dramas and attempts at power struggles. Sometimes we as teachers have done a good job of developing a sound social contract and a fair and supportive classroom environment, but because one or more students feel the need to test us, or essentially “share their pain,” potential conflict can arise. Following the steps outlined below for dealing with a power struggle can help strengthen the social contract, keep us from getting hooked into something destructive, and lead to a growth opportunity for the student.

Win-Win Conflict resolution:

Having a system for conflict resolution in place for our classroom or school can have many positive benefits. First, it will reduce the amount and intensity of the conflicts that do occur. Second, it will help students build useful skills to solve their own problems - skills that will be valuable both within the school walls, and outside in their homes and communities. Third, the conflict resolution skills discussed below will act to promote a deeper sense of responsibility, community and success psychology among the student body of a school or classroom.

Naomi Drew, author of the book Hope and Healing offers a 6-step process for successful conflict resolution. It can be used by students for self-mediation, or used by a peer mediator. These steps provide a useful framework for examining how to make a conflict an opportunity for growth rather than disharmony.

Step 1: Cool off.
As , “Conflicts can’t be solved in the face of hot emotions.” It is important for all parties within any conflict to take a step back and recognize the reactive pattern that wants to emerge from within them, and gain some distance and perspective.Help students develop the habit of taking a moment to turn their attention inward and notice that they are most likely wanting to react out of a pain-based mechanism whenever they feel they have been hurt, threatened or wronged.What Eckhart Tolle calls the “pain-body” is a mechanism in each of us that feeds on the emotion of pain. This pain-body reaction blinds us to reason, and actually desires to invite more pain and tries to escalate the drama and the conflict to achieve this. Just helping students develop their awareness alone will save a great deal of suffering for all parties over time.

Help the students consciously witness the tendency within them for the pain reaction to rise when first confronted by a conflict. As Tolle suggests when one brings conscious awareness to the inner pain reaction, it will begin to fade. Then the student can then begin to shift their attention away from the past (where the pain-body wants to keep it) into the present moment (where they will be able to think rationally). Once they feel they are ready to approach the problem constructively, they are ready to go on to the next step and engage with others to problem solve.

Chapter Reflection 15-f: Can you recognize this pain-body reaction within yourself when it arises? We all have a pain-body, and while the triggers may be different (e.g., insecurity for one person, and rejection for another person), the mechanism is rather similar. When the pain-body reaction arises, notice how you actually desire more pain and a perpetuation of the angry emotions. Seeing it within yourself will make you much more effective when you see it arise within your students.

Step 2: Tell what’s bothering you using “I messages.”
When each participant is ready to put her or his energy into listening and problem solving, and is not still acting out of the defensive pain-reaction, they are ready to enter into a process of communication. However, if the words they use send messages that imply blame, attack, or indictment, not only is it likely that this demonstrates that they are coming from the participant’s pain-body, but these types of messages are likely to trigger the other participant’s defensive reaction. The result will be an escalation of pain as each participant engages in the pain-feeding frenzy.On the surface, this may appear like communication, but in reality, it is simple two people using each other to supply their inner pain-mechanism and defend their egos. If we examine it closely, this is what is going on in most arguments.

Therefore, the language in the participants’ communication at this stage needs to work to offer information and clarity, rather than blame.A good technique for accomplishing this is the use of “I statements.” As mentioned earlier in the chapter, I statements are phrases such as “I was waiting my turn and it seemed to be that you stepped in front of me,” or “What I heard you say was ‘I am a fool’ and I did not think it was funny, and I did not appreciate it.” Drew recommends that when making “I” statements it’s important to avoid put-downs, guilt-trips, sarcasm, or negative body language. They need to simply report information and one’s experience. And it is important to remind participants that both events and feelings are useful information at this stage in the process. The students need to maintain a win-win mindset throughout the process. And at this stage, information contributes to solutions, whereas blame, attacks, and victim language contribute to losers within the process.This early step requires a great deal of trust on the part of the participants. They will be tempted to give in to a competitive win-lose mentality.So in the early stages of facilitating this process, you will be required to provide a great deal of encouragement to your students to trust the process and their classmates.

Chapter Reflection 15-g: Thomas Gordon, the inventor of the term I-messages, has developed a great deal of information on what they are and how to use them. His Teacher Effectiveness Training website is full of good ideas in this area.


Step 3: Each person restates what they heard the other person say.
When each participant is required to restate what they heard the other say, it brings both clarity and empathy into the process. Each is important. If there is no clarity, there can be little real understanding, and solutions will likely be superficial. If there is no empathy, it is a lost opportunity for growth. In addition, it is a likely sign that participants do not sincerely desire a win-win outcome. Successfully restating another’s words shows that one is trying to come out of his of her own narrow point of view into a place of shared understanding.

Using the example above, one such statement might be, “I heard you say that you did not think it was funny when I called you are a fool, is that correct?” Do you hear the clarity it introduces to the process, as well as the empathy?


Step 4: Take responsibility.
It is important that participants within the process adopt the attitude that blame and assigning fault are counterproductive, and therefore to be avoided. Blame is external and past oriented. Responsibility is internal and present-to-future oriented. An effective conflict resolution process is an effective tool to promote internal locus of control and consequently what we referred to in chapter 8 as a “success psychology.”

Participants need to embrace the attitude “what can we each do to make things better in the future?” This attitude is in direct contrast to the attitude characterized by the statement “It is not my fault” or “It is your fault.” Again, the skills related to a successful resolution to conflict do not come easily and will take a great deal of encouragement and practice as the concrete experience of success, which can only come with time. The natural tendencies to defend, share one’s pain, or obtain “justice” will be difficult to break. But a powerful resource that you as the facilitator will always have is that taking part in a successful resolution process feels deeply satisfying to the participant. Use this awareness to motivated participants to stick with it, and resist bad habits.

Chapter Reflection 15-h: As you read each of these steps, do you find yourself subtly resisting the ideas? It is natural, and understanding why can be instructive. What about these ideas is threatening? Is there a part of you holding on to the belief that this is all too much work, and that conflict is just natural and inevitable? Is your ego rooting for win-lose conflict resolution rather than win-win? Listen to your inner-voice of resistance. What is it telling you?


Step 5: Brainstorm solutions and come up with one that satisfies both people.
As Drew suggests, “Resolving conflicts is a creative act. There are many solutions to any single problem.” Participants quickly learn that it is not about getting someone in trouble or deciding who is at fault. It is about solutions that will make life better in the future. Sometimes this is a matter of compromise. Sometimes it is a matter of finding a new and better way. Sometimes it is about one person realizing that they need to change a behavior pattern.

For younger students it can be immensely helpful for the teacher to ask guiding questions to help the process along. The teacher might ask, questions such as “What is it that each of you want?” “What did you do today to try to get what you wanted?” “What happened?” “What could you do tomorrow to get what you want without one person feeling hurt?” As you guide this process, give students time to think after you ask your questions, and resist the temptation to give them answers, unless absolutely necessary.After hearing a workable idea offered, you might ask, “Would that solution work for both of you?”

For older students, it may be effective to have each participant take some time either independently, or if it makes more sense, as a team, and brainstorm a set of ideas on paper. They should be encouraged to think of a series of ideas. As with any brainstorming exercise, students should recognize that items further down the list often end up being most insightful. Participants can then examine each list and agree on a solution that is most acceptable.

It should be noted that the conflict resolution process should be part of the social contract, but does not imply that consequences for contract violations are ignored. For example, in the case of two students involved in a physical altercation, we can assume that we have some form of consequence for hitting. Therefore in a situation where one student hits another, in response to a hurtful comment, a conflict resolution process should be employed, but the consequence for hitting still needs to be implemented. The conflict resolution process will help aid in supporting better decisions in the future and mend the relationship between the students. But the class needs to understand that when they violate the social contract, there are consequence in place.


Step 6: Affirm, forgive, or thank.
After a solution is agreed upon help participants develop the habit of shaking hands, thanking one another, and forgiving one another. Forgiveness, and gratitude are powerful mindsets for participants to close the process with. They say that 1) what was most important about this conflict resolution process was that we all grew a little bit, and 2) the relationship was worth the effort it took to overcome the natural tendency to fight, or withdraw.

Every time the students successfully execute this conflict resolution process their skills for dealing with conflict within and without grow.If they can learn at an early point in life to recognize their defensive pain-driven mental reaction, become responsible for their actions, and to forgive and move on, they will have acquired skills that are as valuable as anything they will learn in their time in school.

As the students become more skilled at this process observe both the social and communal bonds grow. The social bonds will grow, because the students will develop more respectful and effective ways to interact. The communal bonds will grow as they learn to work through difficult situations collaboratively. To have community, we have to need each other. This process brings students out of their emotional isolation into a trusting and needs satisfying place.

As you examine the ways in which this conflict resolution process affects students you might recall our discussion in Chapter 8 related to the formation of a psychology of success.Win-win conflict resolution skills promote each of the factors: internal locus of control, acceptance and belonging, and a mastery orientation to learning. And recalling our exploration of how to promote responsibility in our classes in Chapter 11, it should be apparent how this process can be a powerful tool in the development of a more responsible approach to problems within the class.

Chapter Reflection 15-i: Imagine a school in which students were experts in conflict resolution. They do exist, and the results they achieve are often remarkable when it comes to reducing fighting, bullying, arguments, and all the many conflicts that arise in collective spaces at a school. Consider encouraging your school to take a school-wide approach to conflict resolution modeled after one of the successful schools and the principles outlines above.

Table 15.1 Benefits of a deliberate and effective way of dealing with conflict.

MANAGED CONFLICT

OUT-OF-CONTROL CONFLICT

Strengthens relationships and builds teamwork.

Encourages open communication and cooperative problem-solving.

Resolves disagreements quickly and increases productivity.

Deals with real issues and concentrates on win-win resolution.

Makes allies and diffuses anger.

Airs all sides of an issue in a positive, supportive environment.

Calms and focuses toward results.

Reference: UCSD Human resources div.

Figure 15.2: Possible Phrases for a Wall Chart to Support Conflict Resolution Success

§         Deal with conflict constructively, thoughtfully and deliberately

§         Recognize that conflict comes from thoughts, so we can change our thoughts and end or reduce conflicts when we so choose.

§         Understand that conflicts have solutions if we make the effort to look for them

§         Use conflict as an opportunity to make us better as individuals and as a class

§         See ourselves becoming more skilled at conflict resolution all the time

Dealing with Conflict within the Social Contract

By definition a social contract exists to meet the needs of its members. If it is not meeting its members’ needs, in the most effective and fair manner, then it should be modified. Usually a good sign that it needs to be modified is the presence of conflict. If we experience a persistent problem in the class we may want to go about a system of problem solving and then adopt the new solution into our social contract. For example, if we find the students fighting over who gets to use the computers, it is a sign that we need a better system for computer use. As in all cases related to the development of the social contract, the more democratic the process is, the more sense of ownership of the outcome there will likely be. So when contentious issues arise among members of the class, it may signal the opportunity for a class meeting or at least a brainstorming exercise.

Chapter Reflection 15-j: What is your instinct when conflict arises in your class or within groups that you are leading? Is it to take over or is it to use the conflict as an opportunity for growth and problem solving? If you are attempting to head down the road of being a 1-type teacher, you will want to find an efficient system for conducting class meetings. Recall that they do not need to take more than a few minutes.

Power Struggles

As we examine the idea of potential power struggle situations with students. It is important to keep in mind that the social contract is the framework from which we are working. In many cases, what is occurring during a power struggle is the student testing the integrity of the social contract. The are saying in essence “No!” to our class agreement.When a student defies us openly, we are naturally going to feel angry and offended, and our tendency (encouraged by our own defensive pain-body reaction) would then be to exert our power and show the student who was boss. While this may feel satisfying in the moment, it produces a number of undesirable effects, including:

  1. Engages us in a power struggle. There is no power struggle until we buy into the challenge.
  2. Losing sight of the point. The point is that the student needs to be responsible and fulfill their commitment to the contract they have agreed.
  3. Sending the message to all the other students that the teacher can get hooked into a power struggle.
  4. Sending the message to the other students that when a student says “No!” to the contract, they are just given some short-term pain, but they are not held responsible in a meaningful manner (Recall chapter 12).

Chapter Reflection 15-k: What is your tendency when students challenge you? What happens when we take the challenge and engage the student?

So what do we do when a student challenges us instead of reacting to the personal offense with reactivity or some kind? Cuwin and Mendler offer a process for dealing with a power struggle successfully.It provides a coherent and sensible approach to dealing with student-teacher conflict that will save us a lot of pain and suffering. And as we consider it within the context of the social contract it has the following effects:

  1. Strengthening the social contract, by reinforcing it.
  2. Placing the responsibility on the student
  3. Indirectly teaching (social learning model) that living up to our commitment to the social contract takes precedence over selfishness (i.e., the student’s tantrum or the teacher’s power trip)
  4. Teaching that a good game or emotional hook is not going to work to change the rules that are outlined by the social contract.

Dealing with a power struggle

Curwin and Mendler offer the following 7-steps to success when confronted by a student who attempts to engage us in a power struggle.

  1. Do not manufacture power struggles by the way you teach.

By and large power struggles are a result of a student’s attempt to satisfy an unmet need.Students who feel a sense of power and control, are making progress toward their goals, are supported by the teacher, have avenues to share concerns, and are given choices and not backed into corners by harsh directives will be much less likely to feel the need to engage the teacher in a power struggle.


  1. Move into a private (and out of a public) encounter.

If the encounter begins publicly, quickly move it into a private, one-to-one interaction.A public stage will put the student in a position where they must defend their image, and put you in a position that you feel the need to demonstrate your power.

Chapter Reflection 15-l: Recall the social learning model here. What does a public implementation create? What does the “audience factor” affect the student’s thinking?

  1. Avoid being “hooked in” by the student.

If the student tries to hook you in by making you feel guilty or responsible for their inappropriate behavior, simply ignore the hook and give the responsibility back to the student.A hook is intended to shift the focus externally to you or another factor. They act to shift blame and pull you in. If you become drawn in on a personal level, the student is then in control.

Chapter Reflection 15-m: What hooks have you heard students use? Share your story with your colleagues or classmates? Reflect on what hooks are trying to do, and why it is so tempting to play into them.

Figure 15.3: Common power struggle hooks can include the following phrases:

  • You are not a good teacher
  • You do not like me
  • No one likes me
  • You are prejudice
  • Other teachers let me do this
  • You let everyone else do it
  • I can see why people say you are such a jerk
  • School is a waste of time, especially this class
  • I promise not to do it again, just leave me alone

  1. Calmly acknowledge the power struggle.

It is counterproductive to show anger or to “flex your muscle.”Instead, with a calm voice, acknowledge to the student that things appear to be heading toward a power struggle, which would surely make any eventual outcome worse.Ask the student to consider how the situation could end up in a “win-win” scenario.

  1. Validate the student’s feelings and concerns.

Use phrases such as, “I understand that you feel the way you do, but that does not mean that it excuses what you did,”“Those feelings make sense, I can see why you think that, but . . .“ Feelings are important and valued, but they are aside from the essential point. Throughout the process we need to project an unconditional positive regard for the student. We need to side with their feelings and concerns, but at the same time maintain a clear understanding that they are accountable. If we go negative, they will lose sight of the intervention being about their responsibility and see it as a punishment that is coming from an external agent (i.e., us).

  1. Keep the focus on the student’s choice, and simply state the consequence (repeating if necessary).

No matter what “hook” the student tries to use, keep the focus on the fact that the student made a choice to violate the rule/social contract (i.e., “I understand that you feel this is unfair, but you made the choice to ____ and the consequence we decided on for that is ____.”)They chose to act in the way they did, and therefore they need to accept responsibility.If the student does not want to accept the logical or agreed upon consequence, then they can make the choice to accept a more significant consequence, such as losing the opportunity to be part of the class/activity.Calmly repeating the agreement or being a “broken record” can reinforce the point to the student that the next things that needs to happen is that they need to make a choice or take responsible action. The rest of the conversation is secondary. But be careful not to badger the student. A calm or encouraging affect can each be effective, but aggressiveness will be counterproductive. There is no need to act powerful – the reality is that you have the real power of the social contract and your rights as a teacher.

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