Managing Classroom Conflicts: What to Do When Students Don't Get Along
All good teachers spend time setting expectations for student behavior at the start of the school year. This is necessary to create a smooth flow to your class and foster an environment where all children can learn.
But no matter how hard you try, from time to time you’ll have children who simply don’t get along. It’s usually because of a personality clash between children, issues between families or a friendship that has soured. Ignoring this situation may feel like the best way to go, but that’s not setting a strong example for a child’s future behavior.
Not paying attention to a simmering problem will only lead to it eventually boiling over. And then things will be a real mess. Here’s how to avoid that:
Don’t go it alone
Your school should have a support structure beyond your classroom walls. Make some time to speak with the guidance office or your vice principal to review the situation.
Not only are you letting your desire to address the situation be known, but you’re also tapping into knowledge and experience that go beyond yours. This is especially important if you are new to teaching. Another great resource is veteran teachers who have managed similar situations.
Picking a side must be absolutely avoided. Your professional role is to be there for all of your students, and while it may be tempting to offer support to one half of the conflict, you must remain impartial.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have honest and private conversations with the children involved, but you should never scold or correct one child in front of another. This may worsen the situation by empowering the other child because you have given that child your unofficial blessing in the conflict. This, in turn, leads to conflict with families who may want to drag you into the middle.
Don’t force them to become friends
A common — but misguided — strategy to mend fences between students is to have them become friends. This includes having them sit together in class or work collaboratively, or arranging for one-on-one playtime during recess.
Unfortunately, all this accomplishes is drawing attention to the issues that drive them apart. At best you’ll succeed in creating a forced and fragile connection. Sometimes children who don’t get along simply need to spend less time together and to learn to treat each other with respect when they do connect.
Listen to parents, but don’t agree with them
Parents will reach out to you during these situations. Don’t be surprised if they try to get you to agree that their child is right and the other child is wrong.
To remain professional and impartial, listen to both families’ version of the situation but avoid agreeing with either of them. If you appear to give their concerns credence, you run the risk of them misrepresenting you to the public. Keep yourself impartial and remind them that’s exactly where you’re going to stay. Don’t let them speak poorly of the other child, and remind them that you are a professional and expect them to respect that.
Insist on equal treatment
You may find that one child is far more in the wrong than the other one. Regardless of who is wrong or right, it is important that you expect them to treat each other the same no matter what.
Expecting the same high standards of behavior is key to setting a tone of equity in the classroom. You need to be on the side of both children to set a positive example. This is especially important if you feel yourself getting emotionally pulled into the situation.