We are off to a great start this school year, and after three days we’ve handled our share of conflict. Inevitably, conflict will arise in our school community. Let’s face it, not everyone will be happy with every decision made by teachers or principals. In this post, we’ll discuss a few key ideas for managing conflict to yield the best results for all involved. For our purposes as a school community we will use the following definition of conflict. Conflict is a form of friction, disagreement, or discord arising within a group or by an individual. While there are many types of conflict, we’ll use that definition as the one to describe most the conflict we see in schools.
Identify the Root of Your Conflict
The first key idea to successful conflict resolution sounds simple; however, many times it is not. Over time every student, parent, or teacher has interactions with others that may feed future conflict. Unresolved conflict from the past will compound the current issues. Before attempting to communicate with the other party, first identify the conflict without allowing the past to impact the current situation. I remember my mom teaching me from a very young age that it was better to handle one situation, or conflict, at a time because if you don’t you’ll only be more emotional when you finally decide to deal with it.
Remove the Emotion
Too many times I have observed adults allow their emotions to be the driving force in communication as they attempt to resolve conflict. If given the opportunity, children respond in this way as well. The second key idea to successful conflict resolution is to get your emotions in check. Whether the situation has made you angry or sad, heightened emotion will only decrease your ability to decide which are the right questions to ask. Only by asking the right questions will you get the information you need in order to move to the next key idea, which is listening to understand.
Listening to Understand
Ok, let’s be honest. This one is really difficult. It may be the most difficult of our key ideas to implement in the process of conflict resolution. Remember, if we’ve made it to this key idea we have identified our issue and removed the emotion we feel in order to ask the right questions. We have a strategy to teach this in schools, and I have included it below. Using I statements, children begin to process their emotions and communicate what it is they want and need from those around them. As adults, we need to ask questions in order to seek answers. Remember, though, that even if we ask the right questions it is for the sole purpose of listening to the answers. Many adults, myself included, are guilty of listening to respond in order to get what they want. Truly listening, especially when we are in conflict, is essential to be able to determine if there are ways to negotiate a solution.
Click below for a strategy for helping children with conflict resolution:
Negotiate a Solution
By the time we make it to this key idea, both parties clearly understand the conflict. It is likely both sides understand the position of the other, and a mutual solution may be clear to all. If there isn’t a clear solution at this time, the conversation may have revealed fundamental differences in your position. If this is the case, it is important to find a win-win compromise when possible.
Will there be times during our school year where you feel as if our concerns weren’t heard? It is our goal to say, “No!” Remember, there are a few principles present in our approach to resolving conflict: be calm, be patient, and have respect. Many times resolving conflict is more about the approach taken than the solution, because when both sides of conflict seek to understand each other many times that mutually agreed solution becomes crystal clear!
How many of you operate on a balanced school calendar? We do, and its no secret how much I love the benefits! That said, there is one – and only one – major drawback.
Our first day of school is July 30th!
You heard me right. July 30th is our first day of school with students. We are fortunate enough to have our teachers with us for two work days prior to the students first day, so they return July 28th. Gone are the days when school began as summer ended. We’ve yet to have a 90 degree day in Indy, but summer is still in full swing. Here are a few tips to use to launch a successful school year, even if you are launching it in the summer:
Get organized – Make a commitment to organize your work flow, whether it is lesson plans or lesson observations. Ensure your environment, a classroom or office, is conducive for maximum productivity. If being organized isn’t something you are naturally driven to do, reach out to colleagues for tips and advice about how to keep one step ahead. This will decrease stress and anxiety!
Establish a classroom/school community – Establish clear expectations and allow students to contribute to the norms in your class. A highly effective teacher teaches children to self monitor choices and behavior while positively impacting those around them. In my experience, posting rules is a path to classroom management disaster. Instead, teach children to set class goals, and then reward them when they meet a goal together. Building classroom communities who make a positive impact upon each other is a way to focus on the development of the whole child and simulates what children are expected to do as they entire our global society.
Build relationships with students and families – Break home and school barriers by building authentic relationships with students and parents. Use your skill and training to help parents understand “school” ,and then give them tips on how to support their children for success in your class. All teachers and schools are a little different. Be clear and communicate with children, and their families, exactly what you expect. From my perspective in the office, many parents are doing the best they can. I have many families tell me exactly that! Once you’ve established a caring and trusting relationship, together you are a partner in helping their child grow and succeed.
There was a teacher I worked with in the past who only communicated negatively about many of her families. While she loved the children, she was judgmental and lacked empathy when speaking of their parents. My question to her was always, what could you recommend they do differently? How can you help them understand they are not helping their child be successful? Of course, there were no answers to these question on the part of this teacher. However, I believe those who do have answers create relationships where an entire family grows from the experiences with that teacher.
Build relationships with colleagues – Get involved in professional organizations and school activities to get to know your colleagues. The “grown ups” at work are those that will be there in happy times and carry you through the tough times. Some may think, “I don’t need friends at work!” Colleagues don’t have to be friends, but with a little mutual respect a professional friendship can be just want you need to grow and feel supported.
Celebrate – Take pride in your accomplishments and those of your students! Start each day asking what is going well and focus on the good. Make a commitment not to get caught up in things that didn’t go your way, and remind yourself that it is through failure when we learn and grow the most. Teach your children about taking risks and promise them you’ll love and support them if they fail. The idea of iteration, which is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result, will help children (and adults) understand that failing is a part of the learning process, and we always have an opportunity to make changes and try again.
Speak up and advocate – Don’t hesitate to tell school critics that you and your colleagues are doing a good job! Refuse to become any part of a conversation, in our out of school, where you aren’t sharing the positive. Negativity can divide an entire group or community, so see yourself as an advocate to spread the good word of our schools. Remember, your voice matters!
Just relax and remember that you are only one person, and you are doing the best you can. Most teachers put a great deal of pressure on themselves to be perfect. Keep that perfectionism in check as it has a tendency to negatively impact you and those around you. Finally, keep a sense of humor! To be most effective an educator has a sense of purpose and a strong passion to reach the goal. However, we lose many great teachers because they forget that play is a part of being successful with your students and colleagues.
Have a great start to your year!
Next Up: Innovative Classroom Instruction