Any instance where 30 or more children or teens are working in one room can have the potential to ignite a conflict. An educator’s initial instinct may be to immediately extinguish the fire, which in some cases, is absolutely necessary. However, another approach to address conflict is to highlight and dissect the moment. Speaking through a conflict certainly involves tact; however, the practice will benefit future interactions in the classroom.
Address the issue headfirst: A surefire way to allow conflicts in the classroom to escalate is to sweep them under the rug. When students feel unheard or misunderstood, frustrations build. As uncomfortable as a discussion may seem, the conflict will not dissipate until it is brought to light.
Set the expectation: As the adult in the room, it is vital that the teacher creates a safe space for conflict resolution to take place. Students need validation and acknowledgment of their feelings and opinions. Educators must practice impartiality and fairness for all students involved. If students do not trust the situation, they will not open the door to allow honest conversations.
Encourage introspection: Ask students to identify exactly what emotions they are experiencing—there is a big difference between frustration and resentment. Motivate students to think about the root of the conflict. Oftentimes, conflicts arise out of misinterpreted messages. Ask students to speak honestly and directly about what they are thinking and experiencing.
Seek common ground: Frame the conversation around end goals and ask students what they would like to see as a result of this mediation. How are the students’ desires alike? How can the group compromise to ensure that everyone is heard? Highlight the fact that both students have similar feelings—just different opinions of the situation.
Curiosity kills the conflict: Effect change in students’ mindsets by encouraging everyone involved to remain curious and open-minded. Headstrong stubbornness will only help to facilitate the conflict; it’s fuel to the fire, so to speak. Keeping an open mind and truly listening to the other person allows barriers and egos to come down. When students are genuinely curious about the other person’s perspective, empathy, understanding, and resolutions will begin to smother the fiery conflict.
Conflict in the classroom is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Quite conversely, conflicts can be catalysts for learning opportunities and social and emotional growth. Embrace the teachable moments and know that every tough instance is an opportunity to advance our understanding of communication.