Student: Teacher, Guy called me stupid.
Guy: Only because Student said I was a jerk.
Student: But he took my lunch spot.
Guy: I got to the table first.
Student: No, I got to it first.
Guy: No, I did!
(a quick glance at the lunchroom shows a good 20 empty seats)
Name-calling and petty arguments are the types of conflicts that most commonly occur at my school, and they are difficult for a third party such as myself to resolve. This is because of emotional investment.
For the students involved, one of them is right and one of them is wrong—and by golly, there is no middle ground. Because I happen to be the nearest teacher, I’ve been pulled into their argument and asked to judge it. These are my options:
Option A: I could choose to be the judge and weave through their contradictory versions of what happened and decide which one of them is right (a surefire way to upset one of them).
Option B: I could choose to send them back to whatever they were doing, separately, and then watch them like a hawk to make sure the conflict doesn’t happen again (a surefire way to end the conflict—until tomorrow).
Option C: I refuse to be the judge and tell them to resolve it among themselves (a chance for children to flex and strengthen their conflict-resolution muscles).
Allowing students to resolve their own conflicts is allowing them to develop social coping skills that they will need at home and in life. One of my fellow teachers would hold a weekly classroom meeting that the students ran themselves. They voiced frustrations they’d experienced that week and then the class discussed ways to address them.
I like this type of approach because it puts the power of conflict resolution in the hands of the students. Of course, sometimes teachers have to get involved, such as when certain conflicts keep occurring or aren’t resolved appropriately, or when bullying is taking place. Schools are under the microscope right now to put a stop to bullying, which is I completely agree is important. But I hope that in our fervor to protect students from bullying, we don’t strip them of the opportunity to resolve their own conflicts. We won’t be doing them any favors if we never let them resolve anything on their own.
What do you think? Do you handle every student conflict that comes across your path? How do you determine which conflicts students can and should resolve on their own?