Conflicts in a classroom can be significant or minor, but need to be addressed and extinguished. Experienced teachers are able to anticipate minor conflicts and attend to them before they become a distraction. Other more serious problems need an organized mediation system. Schools with chronic serious conflicts often have a peer mediation curriculum in place, and components of that system can be added to any classroom or school. Making the classroom free of distraction is a necessity for learning. Many students are rarely or never involved in conflict situations and all need a safe and secure learning environment.
Keywords Classroom Management; Conflict Resolution; Crime; Disciplinary; Disruptive Behavior; Fighting; Mediation; Peer Mediation; Self-discipline; Street Law Mediation
It is a sure bet that every day in every school and classroom in our country, teachers are not only teaching, but are mediating small disputes and larger conflicts among students. It doesn't matter where a school is located or the age of its students - conflicts will be present. It seems to follow that putting students together in a classroom for hours every day will produce the perfect conditions for conflict between them (Leatzow, Newhauser, & Wilmes, 1983).
In many classrooms, the disruptive behavior of students is the norm rather than an exception, and teachers are not always prepared to mediate all types of problems. They often don't have enough formal training to effectively deal with unacceptable and sometimes serious and harmful student behavior in the classroom (Leatzow, Newhauser, & Wilmes, 1983). Handling and mediating conflicts quickly and efficiently is important to keeping order in the classroom, and the school.
For learning to take place, it is important for all students to be able to operate freely within places and situations they may not be completely comfortable and familiar with, and with peers they may not know well or understand. The classroom should guide students to acceptable behavior and self-discipline so they can operate effectively in the outside world (Clark, Erway, & Beltzer, 1971).
There are a few definitions and interpretations of what discipline means. For our purposes, discipline means helping students acquire and develop self-control so their behavior is socially acceptable and doesn't cause distractions in the classroom or the school, or elsewhere in their lives. Discipline also means the measures taken to bring this type of self-control about. In school, discipline implies active participation on the part of both the teacher and the student, and it is ongoing with all students. Helping students develop and work toward self-control is something teachers should be trained in as much as they are trained to teach academic courses (Drayer, 1979).
Even though a teacher's job is mainly to teach students the academic subjects, and counselors work with students as they establish and maintain social relations, both components of a student's life will mesh at certain times (Hanna, 1988). Most good teachers know and accept that helping their students develop self-discipline is the ultimate goal of all their work with classroom and school behavior (Sylvester, 1971).
Self-discipline is usually best achieved through a series of consistent but gentle nudges and interactions than with dramatic, sweeping behavior controls that usually only serve to embarrass the student, not motivate him or her to change how they are acting (Sylvester, 1971). To that end, it is important for teachers to establish rules at the beginning of the school year. Problems are often best handled in a calm setting, and depending on the child's age, lessons about compromising, tolerating others, and exercising self-control are ways to develop human relations components (Hanna, 1988).
Conflicts That May Arise in School
Early in students' school careers, they become familiar with behavior control methods and how and when they are used. The student comes to expect that particular types of behavior are not acceptable in the classroom and that teachers will move to mediate certain situations before they escalate. This type of conflict mediation is accepted and understood by teachers and students and students are comfortable with the process even though they may not welcome it (Sylvester, 1971). Those teachers who are most effective with managing their classroom are those who are able to skillfully use their classroom management techniques so students aren't really aware that their behavior is being controlled (Sylvester, 1971). However, this doesn't always work.
Behavior problems and conflicts can vary in both nature and severity. Some disputes are merely distractions in the classroom, while others may put students in danger (Sylvester, 1971). Conflicts in school will often be similar to the types of conflicts found in society. These can include problems such as actual crime to another student or within the school, racial injustice, and perceived or actual unequal treatment of males and females (Bickmore, 2001). Conflicts can be physical fighting between students, arguing among students, one student giving another the silent treatment, students calling each other inappropriate names, students starting rumors about each other, and students ganging up to turn other students against another student (Williamson, et. al. 1999). These are all serious problems and all must be mediated and extinguished as quickly as possible, so as to not cause a distraction or danger to the rest of the students in the classroom and school.
Common Teacher Interventions
Depending on the severity of a particular situation, teachers and administrators will decide how best to handle the situation. In some less serious cases, it is easiest and best to simply ignore the behaviors. For example, some students may be using their actions to elicit attention for themselves. By not acknowledging the behavior, it may be more easily extinguished (Sylvester, 1971).
Most teachers are aware that other problems can escalate if they are not dealt with effectively and immediately, or if they are not managed correctly. Compounding this, in most classrooms there are a few students - usually just one or two - who the teacher knows will require special attention throughout the school day. The teacher is usually aware from the beginning of the school year that he or she will have to exert plenty of ingenuity to anticipate conflicts in the classroom and mediate them quickly and effectively. Most experienced teachers will regard these types of students and situations as a challenge instead of as a source of anxiety (Drayer, 1979).
There are students, for example, that must be closely monitored because of particular medical or health problems which sometimes include behavior issues. These problems may often require them to take medication, and those students who haven't taken the appropriate dosage at the correct time may need reminders about when to take it rather than punishment when their behavior escalates and becomes unacceptable in the classroom. Teachers should be able to recognize the difference and handle each situation individually (Hanna, 1988).
Other students may feel they are misunderstood, and also that they are misunderstanding their peers. This can cause stress for the student, which can invite conflict. The anxiety felt by the student may sometimes help him to work through his feelings of unclear communication on his own, but most of the time it contributes to the student's poor self-image. The student's thoughts can be disorganized or distorted, and emotions and values may be confused, too. These all may often lead to disruption and conflict at school (Hanna, 1988).
The classroom can be an excellent laboratory for students' development of lifelong skills for communication, interacting and getting along with others. Since many different types of problems can occur in the classroom, students can observe and take part in tactics to limit the amount of negative reactions to certain types of communication. They may be able to contemplate the consequences of some types of behaviors as they observe other students and situations as they are taking place. Students can work on problem-solving skills in a structured environment and learn...
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