The Ultimate Guide to School Conflict Resolution

Student-To-Student Conflict Resolution

While distressingly common in this day and age, conflicts between students have an increasingly negative impact on teachers, classmates, and the overall culture of your school. No matter the grade level or age, student conflict is a reality, from elementary to high school. As a teacher, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll find yourself entangled in a conflict between your students sooner or later. To mitigate these disputes and help prevent them in the future, it’s essential to understand the causes of student conflict, how to manage it, and what you can promote in your classroom to help lower the odds of a spark turning into a wildfire. 

Reasons for Student to Student Conflict

Understanding some of the common causes of disputes between students is a crucial factor in mitigating conflict and preventing it from happening in the first place. Classroom conflict can be sparked by a variety of causes, from cases of bullying or harassment, a rivalry over test grades, or just plain boredom. When young minds are developing, it’s all too easy for emotions to take the front seat and cause poor behavior in students. 

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Bullying and Harassment

When you envision student conflict, bullying is probably one of the first things that come to mind. While bullying and harassment are unacceptable behaviors, there is no way to prevent them from occurring entirely. In fact, despite an intense focus on prevention in recent years, as many as 49% of students between grades 4 to 12 have reported being bullied at least once during their time at school. As distressingly common as it is becoming, bullying is a significant cause of conflict in schools worldwide.

Differing Opinions of Other Students

For adults with developed emotional skills, having a difference of opinion with a friend or coworker is an accepted fact of life and can even be considered a good thing. It invites an opportunity to learn a new perspective and grow as an individual. However, for children with developing minds, different opinions can all too quickly become a cause of conflict. Snap judgments, insults, and a lack of understanding from either side can all contribute to hurt feelings and a developing dispute.

Competition Between Students

Competition plays a huge role in school environments, from sporting events to test scores. Whether students are racing for the fastest mile or aiming for the highest grade on a difficult test or assignment, with competition comes a potential for conflict.

Classroom Disruptions

Disruptions in the classroom can come in many forms. Students may be loud, noisy, frequently late with entrances designed to draw attention, overly reactive, or unprepared for class. All of these disruptions can breed resentment, frustration, and anger in their classmates, creating a perfect storm for tempers to boil over and flash into an argument or confrontation. While this may be the kind of attention the student in question is seeking, it is detrimental to the rest of the class and should be addressed as soon as possible.

Lack of Student Engagement

When students are made to sit still, listen quietly, and take notes all day long, it’s only natural for them to lose their sense of engagement and seek other methods of distraction or entertainment. Encouraging students to engage more fully with the course material in meaningful ways that demand their full attention can do wonders for eliminating this potential source of conflict.

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Ways to Deal with Student to Student Conflict

Handling conflict is a stressful and challenging process that requires a lot of emotional and problem-solving skills, often during moments of high emotion or tension. Have no fear, however; you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Several different strategies can help you resolve conflict situations in your classroom and possibly turn disputes into teachable moments. It’s important to remember that the focus of student conflict resolution is to help students learn from their actions and improve themselves, not punish them into making the same mistakes over and over again.

Building Community within the Classroom

Creating and maintaining a community of students working towards the same goal in your classroom is challenging but well worth the effort. Take the time to teach your students vital emotional and problem-solving skills like active listening, finding a compromise, negotiation, and cooperation – all skills that will help them navigate their disputes and prevent them from becoming more significant issues. Remember that, for many students, school may be the largest source of interpersonal interaction they may have. Teaching these students the value of a close community may have a life-altering effect on many of them.

Teaching Empathy and Understanding

It’s easy to forget that emotional skills have to be taught and developed just like physical skills do. Just like you wouldn’t be shocked if a child who has never ridden a bike takes a fall on their first solo ride, it should come as no surprise that a child who hasn’t been taught to be empathetic and understanding in the face of conflict will not be able to do so. Make it a point to introduce and reinforce these skills whenever they are relevant.

Conduct a Group Classroom Discussion Early On

To help foster a community based on the same principles within your classroom, hold a group discussion with your students early on in the year. Establish your ground rules and expectations for how everyone in the class will interact with each other, and continue to hold your students accountable throughout the school year.

When Conflict Arises between Students, Do Not Ignore It

The essential first step in resolving student conflicts when they occur is to acknowledge them. Avoiding or acting as though an issue isn’t present will only allow it to worsen and potentially develop into something much more serious. When conflict rears its head in your classroom, take the time to think SOAR:

  • Stop
  • Observe
  • Assess
  • React

Don’t react to student disputes in a knee-jerk manner; stay calm, address the problem instead of the students, and do your best to encourage an effective dialogue that solves problems and aims everyone involved towards a compromise or solution.

Stay Calm and Address the Students Separately

One of the worst responses teachers can have to student conflict is an over-reaction. With so much else going on, it’s tempting to try to stop conflict in its tracks by shouting it down or (metaphorically) throwing the book at your students. Instead, take the time to work through the conflict with everyone involved. Remember that, out of any given number of students, each of them may have a different perspective that could help lead the conflict to a resolution. Find out the core issue, paraphrase it back to each of the students, so everyone is on the same page, and try to find a compromise that will best meet everyone’s needs.

Pick a Time and Place to Have Effective Dialogue

The middle of a lesson isn’t necessarily the most conducive time to settle a dispute. Often, the time and place a conflict resolution conversation is held can significantly impact the outcome of the dispute. Conduct your talks in a comfortable setting that doesn’t put peer pressure or other stressors on your students.

Bring in Administration or a Third-Party if Necessary

Sometimes, the nature of a conflict is beyond your or your peers’ individual ability to resolve. Don’t be afraid to rely on your schools’ administrative staff – this is part of why they’re there. Your colleagues, building principal, and district superintendent are resources that you can reach out to for help resolving severe conflict. Know when to ask for help; don’t let your pride or over-confidence slow conflict resolution down. Remember that the goal is to minimize disruptions in the learning process and help every one of your students to succeed. If a dispute is too big or serious to resolve on your own, reach out for help!

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Creating a Safe and Effective Learning Environment

A safe and effective learning environment isn’t necessarily conflict-free; few places truly are. Instead, a peaceable classroom focuses on creating a group of students that are willing and able to resolve conflicts and help mitigate them before they turn into more significant issues. Build this concept into your classroom from day one by ensuring that your space is safe, comfortable, and inclusive to every student in it.

Promoting a Peaceable Classroom

A peaceable classroom is a model of classroom management that encourages harmony, peace, comfort, and good habits for every student. It emphasizes clear rules, an inclusive culture, and a sense of community amongst students that can help prevent conflict from occurring and keep it manageable when it does.

Focusing on an Inclusive School Culture

An inclusive culture on campus can play a significant part in helping reduce and mitigate conflict across the board. When students feel like participants in their education, rather than spectators, they’re much more likely to want to work together with their classmates to create a learning environment that is safe, comfortable, and productive.

Contact TEEN TRUTH for More Resources on Student Conflict

Interpersonal conflicts are complex and often challenging to navigate. Unfortunately, they come with the territory of being an educator. However, there are plenty of resources and strategies you can work with to become better able to sail these choppy waters. For more help on handling and mitigating student conflict, contact TEEN TRUTH today.

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