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For Teachers Updated April 6, 2018

4 Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies in the Classroom

By The Room 241 Team February 4, 2013

This post has been updated as of December 2017.

In your classroom, you’re bound to come across conflict—it’s virtually unavoidable. Fortunately, there are lots of approaches to resolving conflict between your students (and keeping your stress levels down in the process!).

We’ve outlined four effective conflict resolutions for the classroom. Try one (or all) of these strategies to see what works best. But first, something to note about conflict.

A big conflict can begin small

A paper co-authored by Donna Crawford, Director of the National Center for Conflict Resolution Education (NCCRE) and Richard Bodine, NCCRE’s Training Director, details some interesting research about how conflict begins—and that the largest number of conflicts that result in violence often start as relatively minor incidences.

Actions like a student using another student’s property without permission or unprovoked contact, for example, can actually lead to major conflict. This indicates that few initial contacts are predatory, but conflict escalates rapidly.

Their report also followed with the fact that most incidents occurred at home or at school, and the majority occurred between individuals who knew each other.

Finally, Crawford and Bodine elaborate on the premise that the common goal of violent acts involve retribution. What is interesting is that the research indicates violent acts are not the result of absence of values, but according to the authors, are from a value system that accepts violence. Keep this in mind as you explore the conflict resolution strategies below.

Role playing

Role playing can bring a level of levity to conflict resolution. When students are placed in opposing roles than what they may play in a real life situation, it teaches them empathy and forces them to look at actions from another point of view.

Role playing also provides insight into where the conflict started. Rather than having conflicts rise with statements like “Well, how would you like it if I did this to you?” your students can look at conflict from a more objective standpoint by acting it out.

This is a very effective method of helping your students manage conflict, and should be something to consider trying in your own classroom. Not only will your students learn how to solve whatever conflict they’re in, but they’ll learn how to be more empathetic toward others.

Tracking

As an assignment, have students observe and track various conflicts that they either witness or are involved in over a period of time. These can be tracked in a journal and  written without specifically identifying other students. The identities are not as important as the activity they witness and the reaction of those involved.

Encourage students to be on the lookout for situations where conflict resolution can help. This will also set a baseline for how severe a problem may be.

At some point, students should voluntarily share their observations in their journals and discuss the positives and negatives of the involved students’ reactions. This allows students to discuss specific incidents, without “outing” offenders.

This activity can be completed multiple times over the school year, ensuring that your students are paying attention to their surroundings. This will also give you a better idea of what’s going on in your classroom and how you can help and better implement conflict resolution strategies.

Listening

Many conflicts start because of misunderstandings and miscommunication. Teaching students good listening habits can be an important tool.

Start with a classroom discussion about recent student conflicts. You are likely to hear things like “He wouldn’t listen” or “They didn’t understand what I was saying.”

This is a good opportunity to let students realize the power of listening. It also lends itself to teaching “how” to listen.

Teach them to:

  • Look directly at the speaker and make eye contact.
  • Let the speaker talk without interruption.
  • Ask questions.
  • Do not give advice or offer suggestions.
  • Give the speaker positive reinforcement by nodding or smiling.
  • Repeat what you have heard in your own words.

Writing about the conflict

If there are conflicts in the classroom, having the involved students sit down to write about it serves a couple of purposes. First, it serves as a time-out or a cooling off period. It also makes them reflect on the incident in an academic, proactive way.

When you have students write about the conflict, have them include how it made them feel, and what other, better choices they should have made during the conflict. Offer them suggestions like “list 3 things that you would do differently now that you’ve had a chance to think about better options.”

Writing makes students self reflect—a powerful tool that will help them become more self aware in your classroom and beyond.

Do you use any different strategies to keep conflict at a minimum in your classroom? We’d love to hear—join us on Facebook whenever you want to share ideas with other educators.

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