Teachers wear many hats: counselor, coach, referee, probation officer.
With the pent-up energy and (later on) the raging hormones wreaking havoc on students’ sanity, conflict is bound to occur in classrooms and on school playgrounds, meaning teachers have to be ready to put on their “mediator” hat at a moment’s notice.
If you’re a young educator and want to have some conflict resolution tricks up your sleeve before you’re thrown into the ring, or you’re an experienced educator looking for some new ideas, we’ve lined up 15 conflict resolution tips to help you win the fight.
- (No Duh) Like your students:
Isn’t it true that we treat people we like differently than people we can’t stand? We’re probably more patient, more understanding, and slower to become angry with them. While you don’t have to love problem kids, finding something likeable in each of your students can help you soften your attitude toward them, which in turn should help kids’ behavior and decrease the number of classroom incidences.
- Teach kids to use “I” statements:
This is a well-known tip that works for everyone from kids to newlyweds. Teaching children to use “I” statements (“I feel angry when you cut in line”) helps keep situations from escalating and also helps students become more attuned to their emotions. It gives them a constructive avenue for creating dialogue about an issue and gives the offending party more motivation to change his or her behavior than simple arguing.
- Just hear them out:
Often, trouble-making kids simply want attention that they aren’t getting at home. If a kid is continually causing problems, you don’t have to immediately tell him why he’s wrong and close the book. It may take a little prodding, but when given a chance to speak his mind he might just begin to improve his behavior.
- Use active listening:
Employing the techniques of active listening proves to kids that you are really hearing them. Restating back to kids what you hear them saying to you will show them you hear them, and won’t seem as much like a “trick” as it might to adults. Listening also gives kids time to work through their problems and practice their own conflict resolution techniques.
- Know your conflict resolution style:
Especially with older students, kids can tell if you’re trying to bluff your way through mediating a problem. If you are a shy and reserved person, your attempts to be brusque and forceful in trying to settle a dispute are going to appear hollow and convince kids you aren’t worth acquiescing to. Take advantage of a conflict resolution style assessment test to learn what your strengths are.
- Set up a “calm spot”:
Maintaining an area that students can go to appropriately reduce their anger level can be a great way to reduce conflict. Depending on their age group, you could put writing or coloring materials, magazines, or stress balls there to help students calm down. Having such an area also conveys to students that anger is an acceptable emotion that simply needs to be handled in the right way.
- Head them off at the pass:
Being on the lookout for potentially problematic situations gives you time to broach the subject with the kids and prepare them for dealing with it ahead of time. For example, if every time it rains the playground gets flooded where only one swing is accessible, warn the kids ahead of time that they will have to share time on that swing. These conversations are much easier to have beforehand than after the fact.
- Count to 10:
This wisdom goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, but it’s still as applicable today as it was then, and seasoned teachers will tell you they’ve employed this trick many times. If an altercation makes you angry, stopping to take a few deep breaths (and maybe pray, if that’s your thing) can prevent you from yanking a student by the arm or engaging in some other physical contact that could threaten your job.
- Say it with a smile:
Apparently there’s an old bit of bad teaching advice that teachers should not smile until Christmas or risk the students not taking them seriously. That’s just creepy. Besides, a smiling teacher creates an atmosphere of happiness that students pick up on. Frown all the time and you can be sure you’ll be constantly putting out fires.
- Create a peaceful environment:
Another trick for reducing instances of conflict before they happen is to turn off those awful fluorescent lights. Nobody likes to work under those things. Buy some cheap lamps at a resale shop and watch your students’ stress levels come down.
- Let them come to the answer on their own:
In the same way telling a crying person “Everything will get better” can feel hollow, in a conflict it’s more effective to guide a student toward the lesson you want him to learn and let him realize it for himself, rather than tell him flat-out, “Here’s how you’re misbehaving.” Gently ask him questions to help steer him toward that realization.
- Take it outside:
Charles Kruger of Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles recommends the “hallway conference” technique for dealing with a student causing problems in the classroom. Slowly walk to the door (so all the kids can see you) and call the student out into the hallway. There, tell him he seems headed toward trouble today, and ask how you can help him avoid that. When you both return, smile broadly and loudly thank the student.
- Be consistent:
It’s not really a trick, but being consistent in the way you settle disagreements is the only way to maintain the respect students have for you. Kids have an amazing ability to remember exactly who got what in the shakeout following a dispute, and if you try to do something different next time, you’ll just be creating another problem.
- Install a “Tattle-Tale Day”:
If the conflict resolution style being employed most frequently by your students is tattling and it’s getting out of hand, limit them to one day a week in which to tattle. Any other day they try to snitch on another student for some little infraction, tell them they have to wait until the appropriate day. Of course major problems should be reported any time, but with this system, the minor ones should be forgotten by the time Tattle-Tale Day rolls around.
- Recognize successful conflict resolution:
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking students shouldn’t have conflicts at all, so they don’t deserve praise when they solve conflicts. Especially if you’re actively teaching students conflict resolution techniques, when they use them to resolve a problem you should make a big deal out of it, sharing with the class what the problem was and how the parties went about solving it.
This is a cross-post from our content partners at Online Degrees.