The COVID-19 pandemic has changed numerous areas of our lives, including education. Both teachers and students were forced to leave their regular classroom environment and switch to distance learning. Fortunately, apps like Zoom and many other solutions make it possible for students and teachers to collaborate and talk to each other in real-time. Therefore, virtual classrooms enable students to learn effectively. However, online classes also introduce certain challenges.
For instance, no matter whether class activities take place in the real world or online, there is always a possibility of conflict. Conflicts may happen in any classroom, and virtual classrooms are no exception. Therefore, teachers should embrace their mediation role, being able to choose the right solution in each particular situation. Besides, it’s important to understand the nature of the conflict and know the difference between productive and unproductive conflicts.
Productive vs. Unproductive Conflicts
First of all, if you want to be an effective mediator, you should understand what kind of conflict you’re dealing with and whether or not you should intervene. Besides, if you realize that you must intervene, you should choose the direction in which you’re going to lead both parties. Not all disagreements and controversies are necessarily destructive. Sometimes, conflicts may not divide people but bring them together and encourage collaboration.
Productive conflicts focus on issues and solutions rather than people and blame. Quite often, unproductive conflicts are rooted in the past, while productive conflicts focus on the future. This is also a reason why productive conflicts can unite people: participants cooperate to clarify the issue and come up with solutions instead of blaming each other and arguing about who caused the conflict. Depending on the type of conflict you’re dealing with, you may determine whether or not you should intervene and act as a mediator.
Challenges of Virtual Classrooms
Misbehavior among students didn’t disappear with the introduction of distance learning. The environment of a virtual classroom can be quite complicated, and teachers often find it difficult to maintain discipline because their traditional approaches may not work as effectively as they do in a real classroom. Teachers continue to use expulsions and suspensions when students misbehave, even though it may not happen as often as in the traditional setting.
Because of the lockdown, schools needed to put a lot of effort into setting up the learning process and making sure that teachers could reach students, with students having access to all the necessary materials. Because of the difficulty of such a transition to the new educational environment, educators couldn’t dedicate enough attention to establishing the standards and policies for maintaining school discipline. Students are able to access these top sites of online resources to help them with the online environment.
Perhaps, the main problem is that most teachers are used to clear sequences of actions that work well in the traditional setting. Being unable to use the same approaches in a virtual classroom, teachers may not know what to do, even though solutions might be simple. For instance, even though teachers are unable to send students to a suspension room or principal’s office, they can turn off a student’s video or audio. Besides, teachers can create a “break-out room” on Zoom.
Of course, such actions might not be recorded as regular suspensions, but teachers can remove misbehaving students from the educational environment and restore discipline. However, an inability to record such disciplinary measures makes it impossible for educators to evaluate the overall disciplinary situation associated with distance learning. Besides, the lack of statistics makes it difficult to hold schools accountable for discrepancies in expulsion and suspension rates.
Online Discipline Is Different
Another difficulty is that, when dealing with harassment and cyberbullying, a suspension may not be an effective solution. For instance, the implementation of an anti-bullying policy in San Bernardino demonstrated that peer pressure changes bullies’ behavior much more effectively than traditional disciplinary practices. Therefore, the best approach is to publicly support victims.
When students study from home, educators may deal with different types of misbehavior, and in some cases, educators may come to wrong conclusions because they don’t know the whole story behind the things they see on the screen. For example, in Colorado, teachers called the police on a black seventh-grader who held a toy gun because they thought that the gun was real, and similar cases also happened in New Jersey and Louisiana.
Distance learning makes it difficult for teachers to recognize certain types of misbehavior, such as cyberbullying, dress code violations, and cheating. When students submit their papers, teachers can check them for originality and analyze the writing style to determine whether or not the paper was written by the student. When it comes to cyberbullying and harassment, the situation gets more difficult because cyberbullies may target their victims outside the Zoom session and continue offensive behavior on social media.
Although teachers cannot control such situations, they can still prevent them. Teachers must be effective classroom mediators so they should understand what situations require them to intervene. Here are some tips that will help you understand what you should do when facing a conflict.
Should You Intervene?
When dealing with conflicts in the classroom, teachers should keep in mind that the content of some conflicts enables a mediator to suggest a common ground and reconnect the participants. We recommend that you answer the following questions.
Can students work it out without your help?
Any class is a small society, and members of this society may work out the conflict themselves. If you see the possibility of a conflict arising, you may wait for the right moment to intervene when the conflict becomes unproductive.
What are the possible consequences of this conversation?
Some differences in opinion are completely natural, and they might help students develop their critical thinking. Students should be able to have some conversations without the teacher controlling them. However, if the teacher notices misconduct, they should quickly reiterate the expectations. We also recommend that you check out these 10 mediation steps for resolving conflicts in the classroom.
Can students learn from the conflict?
Being a mediator in a conversation, you can help students clarify some information or resolve a conflict. Sometimes, you can use a conflict as an opportunity to model a certain situation and teach students how such conflicts can be resolved.
Do you have enough time to properly address the issue?
You should also keep in mind that, if you want to fully address some issues in the classroom, you may need a lot of time. If you see that the class starts an engaged discussion, think of how important the topic is for the content of the course, and how emotionally attached to it students are. Sometimes, you may simply suggest that students reflect on the issue after the class or create a discussion board dedicated specifically to the issue that divides the class.
Virtual classrooms introduce some challenges for teachers who are used to dealing with conflicts in the offline setting. However, even when students study from home, teachers can still be effective mediators. The main thing is to recognize situations that actually require your active involvement. Some conflicts enable students to learn how to mitigate conflicts in different situations, and some conflicts can bring students together, motivating them to look for solutions.
Of course, there are also many situations in which teachers should intervene and help resolve the conflict. Therefore, teachers should carefully monitor students’ online behavior, being able to choose the right moment for intervention. Teachers should also embrace the fact that they are responsible for the safety of their virtual classrooms and maintaining a productive learning environment.