Conflicts are a part of life. No matter how much we try to live in peace and harmony with others, conflicts will naturally arise. It is said that the quality of our life is usually dependent on our ability to deal with conflicts. So how do we deal with them? More importantly, how do we teach our children to deal with them?
According to the US Department of Education, teachers spend 35-60% of class time intervening in student conflicts and managing disruptive behavior. It is, in fact, unimaginable how teachers cope with the demands of their job amidst such realities.
But like the conflicts we face in life, communication is key. As we learn to deal with conflicts by communicating what we think and feel, so is teaching our students the use of good communication techniques important to enable them to deal with conflicts effectively.
Like anything else, miscommunication is one of the more common reasons for conflicts in school. As most teachers know and practice, it is good to talk individually to the involved parties first. This is a way of gathering some information about the conflict before the involved parties are asked to come together. And when they do come together, it is important that students are not forced or if they do not feel ready or are uncomfortable.
If they are willing on the other hand, it is good to be reminded that since each one will be given a chance to speak, they need to wait for their turn. Whoever is speaking must not be interrupted as students need to learn how to listen and respect each other’s opinion. Moreover, it is necessary to tell students that the focus of their discussion should be on their own experience and not something they just heard from someone else.
An important lesson on communication is teaching students how to give and listen to “I-You messages”. This provides an environment of respect where they are free to voice out their opinion and still feel safe and confident that they will be understood. Reflective listening enables students to learn the process of respectful interaction. Aside from learning how to listen, students develop sensitivity for other people’s feelings. This builds trust and respect for others while increasing their self-esteem. Most importantly, it nurtures fairness and tolerance for views that may be different from their own.
Numerous kinds of conflict situations arise in our schools. As such, there is no one general way to resolve them. There are, however, some general guidelines based on methods often used in counseling that may prove helpful. Naomi Drew, a recognized expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking, suggests these guidelines in six basic steps:
Step 1: Cool off
- Conflicts cannot be solved when one is angry or in a foul mood
- It is important to pause for a while before talking about the problem
Step 2: Tell what’s bothering you using “I messages”
- Using “I messages” help students express how they feel without blaming the other person
- Students learn to take responsibility for the problem when they use “I”
Step 3: Each person restates what they heard the other person say
- Help students listen to what their classmate is saying and not only on their own point of view
- Listening fosters empathy
Step 4: Take responsibility
- Avoid blaming. Teach students to take responsibility for their own actions
- By taking responsibility, students realize that resolving their conflict is possible
Step 5: Brainstorm solutions and come up with one that satisfies everyone concerned
- Brainstorming makes students realize that there are many possible solutions to a problem
- Make sure that all parties are committed to the chosen solution
Step 6: Affirm, forgive, or thank
- A handshake, a hug, or a kind word apart from showing gratitude, also confirms that the conflict has been resolved
- To forgive means the parties concerned are free to be friends again
Despite different strategies that help teachers resolve their conflicts, it is always better to prevent a conflict from happening than to have to deal with it.
Conflicts are a fact of life. But the more we teach our students how to resolve their conflicts, the more learning they will accomplish and the more prepared they will be for the world outside.