Misunderstandings between students are common in school and college. However, conflict situations may happen not only because of students but also when teachers disagree with each other, or when parents disagree with the school. There are many issues that may cause emotional outbursts because we all have different views, values, and needs. Therefore, schools need to manage conflicts effectively, maintaining a positive environment for students, and enabling the involved sides to learn from their conflict.
What Mediation Is
When it comes to conflict management, schools use different strategies, including conflict training and co-operative processes aimed to resolve conflict situations in the classroom. One of the most effective strategies is mediation — an empowering approach based on problem-solving. Mediation is a positive process that can help prevent minor misunderstandings from becoming too destructive, focusing on a realistic analysis of options and looking for mutually acceptable or beneficial solutions.
Given that mediation allows both parties to re-establish positive relationships and they are directly involved in negotiating their agreement, this approach is often used in legal practice. As for the conflicts among students, they are usually less serious that legal cases but no less challenging for a mediator. A mediator must be able to not only assist the two parties in negotiations but also to come up with suggestions that will likely lead to a quick settlement.
Here are the ten important steps that will help you resolve conflicts in the classroom effectively so that both parties can be satisfied with the outcome. Some of these tips will also help you make sure that the same conflicts will not happen in the future.
10 Steps for Effective Mediation
- Don’t underestimate small conflicts
First of all, it’s important to understand that small conflicts can quickly escalate so you should always try to resolve conflicts at the very beginning. According to research, most conflicts that lead to violence start as minor disputes. For example, a student using another student’s property without permission can lead to a serious conflict that escalates rapidly.
Keep in mind that the purpose of violent acts is retribution. Most often, violent acts are caused not by the lack of values but by values that accept violence. In this situation, it’s especially important to search for common ground.
- Examine assumptions
When one of the parties involved in a conflict supports their opinion, they often use assumptions. For example, when somebody wants to pay lower taxes, they may assume that the government doesn’t use money effectively. A mediator must be able to question the validity of assumptions and to analyze them critically.
For example, a student may tell you that there’s no sense in talking to another party because they get angry and don’t listen. In this case, the assumption is that a person cannot be angry and listen at the same time, which is not always true.
- Use role-playing
Role-playing can be a very effective approach that helps resolve conflicts. You have to place students in opposing roles, imitating situations from their everyday life. This way, they’ll be able to focus on empathy and to consider conflict from different perspectives. This method also allows students to determine the moment where the conflict started.
- Work with reasoning
When people defend their point of view, they use supporting reasons. You should always evaluate the validity of these reasons and be ready to challenge them in a way that will be understandable for the person who provides such reasoning. It’s also important to not only consider the reasons but also to think of why a person has a certain position. You should determine what matters to this person and explore their interests to be able to come up with an effective solution.
- Teach students to track conflicts
Create an assignment so that students will need to observe conflicts around them and track them in a journal. Students must focus less on identities and more on a conflict situation itself and reactions of the parties involved. Ask your students to look for situations where conflict resolution is necessary so that they can understand how severe conflicts can be.
Students should share their observations with each other and discuss them, focusing on reactions. Such practice will not only help students better understand the nature of conflicts but also enable you to better understand what happens in your classroom when you’re not around.
- Be aware of manipulation and avoidance
Successful mediation requires you to know when someone tries to manipulate others, spins the truth, or avoids the main difficulties. If you recognize these things, you’ll be able to help your students focus not on the distractions but on the argument itself.
Parties involved in a conflict may try to make it about something else, which is avoidance. They may also manipulate by playing the victim. Quite often, you may hear passive language (“the problem was caused”) that helps avoid responsibility. You should not only be able to identify manipulation and avoidance but also to teach students to identify them.
- Teach students to listen
Many conflicts begin because of miscommunication. Quite often, you may hear from students that another party “wouldn’t listen” or “doesn’t understand” them. It will be easier for you to resolve conflicts if you teach students to listen.
Students should practice active listening, asking questions but not giving their advice. They should maintain eye contact and be able not to interrupt the speaker. Another approach is to repeat what you hear in your own words to make sure that you understand everything correctly.
- Challenge beliefs and values
Our beliefs and traditions often influence our point of view and may make us come to certain conclusions based not on critical thinking, but on these beliefs. If someone mentions traditions, values, or beliefs to justify their point of view, it’s important to understand that it’s not the end of a conversation.
There’s nothing wrong with asking why a person holds such beliefs and whether another interpretation of them may help avoid conflict. Challenging beliefs is not about bullying and intolerance but about exploring possible ways to interpret beliefs, using them to resolve the conflict.
- Writing about a conflict
Writing is a great sort of training that can help students reflect on various conflicts. Ask your students to write an essay. For example, they may write about things they would do differently if they had other options. Writing will help students distance themselves from a conflict for a while, reflecting on it in a proactive way.
To help students understand what their writing should look like, you can provide them with examples. Check out Online Writers Rating so that you can get good examples of essays on conflicts written by professional writers.
- Recognizing consequences
Students must understand that conflicts don’t happen in a vacuum. They may have a significant impact on their future, establishing certain associations and leading to some conclusions that will influence their decisions in the future. A good example is childhood experiences that may influence someone’s adult life. Students should understand how important effective conflict management is.
Mediation implies resolving conflicts confidentially, based on an exchange of information. A mediator’s goal is to achieve mutual respect and understanding, focusing on problem-solving and eliminating blame. The main difference between mediation and other methods of conflict management is that a decision or solution is formulated by the parties involved and not imposed upon them by a third party.
A successful mediation process must be well-structured and based on clear goals. We hope that our actionable tips will help you resolve conflicts between students effectively so that they can learn from their experiences and better understand each other.