MODULE 7: CONFLICT MANAGEMENT
AIM OF THE MODULE
Benefits of the module
The present module on ‘Conflict Management’ provides a restorative approach on peaceful conflict resolution in the school environment. The module will provide education professionals with a restorative method to handle conflicts in the classroom, while promoting the development of students’ critical thinking, in contrast to the restrictive punitive model.
This approach can be implemented in the context of all subjects of the educational curriculum, while promoting critical thinking, expression of opinions, exchange of views and respect of different viewpoints.
The current module provides educators with an innovative approach, as well as resources and materials on how to implement it, aiming at:
- Providing an alternative and efficient approach on handling situations of conflict and crisis in the classroom;
- The creation of a safe and welcoming environment in the classroom;
- Improving interpersonal and inter-group relations;
- Facilitating the reduction of conflicts in the classroom.
- The promotion of students’ understanding and respect of different viewpoints and others;
- The promotion of constructive dialogue amongst students;
- Encouraging students’ active participation in exchanging opinions and promotion of collective efficacy;
- Encouraging students to actively participate in conflict and problem resolution, developing their critical thinking skills, mitigating prejudices and forming rules and the control system of the school community;
- Development of students’ organisation skills, by setting and following the rules of the process;
- Students being more conciliatory, more open-minded in new ideas and approaches, less prejudiced and more open to diversity.
Conflict resolution is a process, by which people resolve a dispute or a conflict, so that their interests are adequately addressed and they are satisfied with the outcome (Association for Conflict Resolution, 2007).
The research conducted in context of the PRACTICE project indicated that, in most cases, students from the participating countries are not willing to participate in discussions and exchange opinions; some tend to express their opinions, but are not willing to listen to an opposite viewpoint. Teachers usually try to resolve conflicts through dialogue and moderated discussions, providing arguments and examples, as well as by encouraging students to look at an issue from an opposite point of view. Nonetheless, education professionals expressed the need of training provision, regarding conflict management and handling of sensitive issues.
Disputes may lead to a climate of imbalance and instability in the classrooms, especially if the educators do not have the right tools and methods to approach students. In addition, this may lead to the adoption of extreme beliefs and violent behaviour. Thus, a concrete, structured procedure is needed for students to peacefully resolve clashes.
Ways the method/approach can contribute to the prevention of radicalisation
Method 1: Peer Mediation
Through (peer) mediation, included parties and observers can exchange ideas and understand each other, within a structured process. This method can facilitate understanding opposite points of view, be more conciliatory, whilst using arguments and justification, and, thus, adopting less extreme opinions, while understanding diversity.
As a process, mediation refers to the development of a structured context for the interaction of the main parties, with the participation of an impartial third party without ‘power’, so that the viewpoints on the incident and the feelings of the parties of the dispute are expressed. The parties of the dispute will, then, propose solutions, which they will commit to follow, aiming to restore the relations and the harm of the victim, as well as to satisfy the sense of justice of the involved parties.
Peer mediation is a process of peaceful resolution of a conflict, in the context of the school life, between two or more disputants with the assistance of a third, impartial student – the mediator, through a structured procedure with specific structure, active participation and direct communication of the parties, aiming at the fruitful resolution of the dispute.
The number of participants and the degree of their participation can be adjusted to the seriousness of the incident. The participants, who were not involved in the incidents, can also express their opinion, as well as their emotions regarding the event. Their presence can facilitate the identification and allocation of the responsibilities of the parties, the sense of remorse and the commitment of the parties to find a solution and follow the required steps to reach it.
Requirements for peer meditation
- Self-imposed participation: students shall participate voluntarily and not be pressured by the mediators, teachers or school staff in any step of the process;
- Impartiality: the mediator always works impartially, avoiding prejudices, stereotypes and anything that can favour one of the parties;
- Avoidance of conflict of interests: the mediator shall avoid any cases they have personal interest;
- Confidence: the mediator has confidence and trust in their skills, competences and knowledge, but without showing ‘power’. In case they cannot implement the method, they have to interrupt the process;
- Confidentiality: whatever is said during the process has to be confidential and this has to be clarified before the sessions begin;
- Quality of the process: the mediator must handle each case with equality, respect and honesty, following the ground rules that were set beforehand;
- Advertising and promotion: the mediator shall promote the process of mediator, but they must not give promises on any specific results of the procedure, as well as not communicate any cases without permission;
- Advancement of mediation practice: the mediator should try to learn from others’ experience, in order to better serve people in conflict and networking with other mediators.
(Artinopoulou, 2010 & Association for Conflict Resolution, 2007)
The steps of (peer) mediation
- Opening of the session and welcoming of the students.
- Presentation of the role and aim of the procedure and its values: the mediator explains the aforementioned values to the students.
- Development of reliability and trust between the parties and towards the procedure: students agree upon the rules and values of the procedure.
- Collecting information: the problem is identified by all included parties and is described by the mediators, so that students understand that they have understood the problem.
- Set of aims and of viewpoints: each party describes the elements that are important to them.
- Expression of feelings: each party explains how the incidents/situation made them feel, as well as how they feel about the other party, following the value of respect.
- Finding a common ground: the mediator facilitates the procedure, so that both parties find and focus on what they have in common. This will be the base of the negotiation that will lead to an agreed solution. It is important that the mediator will only facilitate the procedure and will not propose solutions themselves. In case the participants are not able to work together to find a solution, the mediator may proceed to a proposition, providing that the parties will evaluate it themselves, and it will not be ‘imposed’ to either party.
- Evaluation of the proposed solutions and conclusion to the final agreement: both parties evaluate the solutions they found together and work to find what is best for both of them. The solution they will conclude to, has to be suitable and benefit both parties.
- Composition of a written agreement and closure: it is better for the parties to agree upon a resolution on paper, so that they are more committed to stick to the agreed plan. They should also agree on a second session, in order to provide feedback on their progress. The mediator congratulates them for their effort and closes the session.
Method 2: Restorative Circle
In addition to the method of peer mediation, peacemaking Circles is another restorative justice approach that can be implemented in the classroom. Circles are ideal for conflict resolution, involving more than two students and can also contribute to the development of a safe space in the classroom, in order for everyone to reflect and participate in problem solving. In contrast to peer mediation, circles do not only involve the two immediate parties of the conflict, but also the entire community who may have been affected by the dispute and can support those in conflict.
The aim of the proposed method is for all students to reflect on the conflict, exchange their views, share their perspectives and dialogue as equals. Furthermore, the current practice facilitates community building.
Restorative Circles require:
- Voluntary participation of all students;
- A facilitator, who will not intervene in the process, but will only facilitate it;
- A talking piece, carefully selected, that will give permission to the person holding it to speak, while everyone else listens to them without interrupting;
The steps of restorative circles:
- The facilitator invites all students that want to participate in the process to sit in a circle, in order to create a sense of community and selects a talking piece appropriate for all participants. They explain to the students that the talking piece gives the holder the opportunity to speak and express themselves, while it provides the chance to the other participants to listen to the speaker, without the need to respond. Then, they ask all participants whether they agree to respect the talking piece. If all students agree, the procedure begins. In case there are objections, the facilitator hands them the talking piece and asks them to express their objections and discusses them;
- The circle keeper begins the conversation, while holding the talking piece. They share their perspective and introduce the students to the procedure and the conflict that has arisen: e.g. ‘Today, we will share our thoughts and feelings about [the problem that has arisen] and try to create a plan on how to show our respect to everyone. I would like to invite everyone to speak from their heart, share their insights and to be open to the ideas and perspectives that are shared in the circle’. The facilitator expresses themselves (e.g. on ways we can show respect to other people) and gives the talking piece to the person sitting next to them
- They can ask the following questions:
The talking piece passes from everyone in turns, so as to have the chance to express themselves, answering some of the aforementioned questioned;
- What were you thinking at the time?
- What did you think when you realized what happened?
- What have you thought about since?
- Who do you think has been affected?
- What impact has this had on you and others?
- What has been the hardest thing for you?
- Then discussion begins, exchanging opinions, in order to find solutions. The facilitator can ask some of the following questions:
- What do you think needs to happen to make things right?
- What could anyone do to help these harms?
- What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
- What are the steps we agree to take as a group and what is our timeline?
- The circle closes and the facilitator summarises the most important decisions that were taken.
Student Piece Alliance (N.D.)
Method 3: D.E.A.R.
The Describe-Express-Ask-Result (DEAR) method is a technique based on assertiveness. It provides students with a structured procedure, through which they can express their feelings towards a specific incident/conflict and facilitate a resolution plan, in the presence of a facilitator (teacher).
The steps of D.E.A.R.:
|D||DESCRIBE||The student describes the exact incident that resulted in a conflict. They should use neutral wording and small sentences. They also have to keep their focus on the incident and not on the other person involved. The aim is to clearly identify the incident that triggered the conflict, in order to limit relevant situations in the future. For example Student A: ‘When you called me gay and laughed in front of the other students…’|
|E||EXPRESS||At this stage, the student expresses their feelings regarding the conflict/incident, talking in first person. For example Student A: ‘…I felt embarrassed and humiliated…’|
|A||ASK||After expressing their feelings, the student clearly states what they wish the other involved party would do, in order to avoid similar incidents in the future and restore the harm caused; the expressing student should refrain from using an imperative tone. For example Student A: ‘…I appreciate if you stopped mocking me about my sexuality…’|
|R||RESULT||During this step, the expressing student provides a positive or negative outcome, should the conflicted party chooses to follow or not to follow the request respectively. For example Student A: ‘…That way we can all hang out together and help each other in school. Otherwise, I will have to speak to the principal’.|
After the first student has expressed themselves, following the above mentioned steps, the other student follows the same stages in order to express their perception/viewpoint, identifying the points of agreement/disagreement and try to built up on the agreement and resolve the disagreement. For example:
- D: ‘When you told me how you felt…’
- E: ‘…I felt a little ashamed because it was meant to be a joke…’
- A: ‘…I appreciate it if you always told me what bothers you, but also not take everything to heart…’
- R: ‘…That way we can all have fun.’
After both students have expressed themselves, repeat the steps until a common resolution has been found. For example:
- D: ‘When you told me your perspective…’
- E: ‘…I felt a little relieved, since your intention was not to hurt me…’
- A: ‘…I appreciate that we all continue to joke together, but this is still a sensitive matter…’
- R: ‘…By avoiding joking on sensitive topics, we can all laugh, without anyone being hurt.’
Tips for the teacher:
- When firstly applying the method, the teacher should introduce this procedure to the students, as well as the aim of the technique.
- The teacher should facilitate the discussion, without intervening. They should encourage the two or more parties of the dispute to use this method to understand each other’s boundaries and find a common ground.
- The teacher gives students some time to organise their thoughts and encourages them to speak in turns.
Adapted from Michel, F & Fursland, A (2008). ‘How to behave more assertively’.
- The Association for Conflict Resolution (2007). Recommended Standards for School-Based Peer Mediation Programmes 2007. Available at: https://cdn.ymaws.com/acrnet.org/resource/resmgr/docs/Recommended_Standards_for_Sc.pdf
- The stages of mediation:
- Peer mediation in simple words:
- Mock Peer Mediation Session, outside the classroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynBhMQDT7Kw
- Bintliff, A. (2014). Talking Circles: For Restorative Justice and Beyond. Teaching Tolerance. Available at:
- Embrace Restorative Justice (RJ) in Schools Collaborative. Community Building Circles:
- Clifford, A. (N.D.). Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles. Center for Restorative Process. Available at:
- Restorative Circles: Creating a Safe Environment for Students to Reflect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-RZYSTJAAo
CHALLENGES AND TIPS FOR IMPLEMENTATION IN DIFFERENT CLASSROOMS CONTEXTS
The following challenges may arise:
- Lack of organisation. Students and teachers shall work together to set suitable ground rules, that all will agree with.
- Unwillingness of following the ground rules. Ground rules have to be set before the session begins and both parties have to accept and agree to follow them.
- The parties do not respect each other. One of the main values of this process is All parties need to understand that, upon their agreement to participate, they have to respect each other and follow the ground rules, some of which is not interrupting the other parties, while expressing their opinions, letting them explain their point of view and feelings and trying to understand them, in order to find a solution, suitable for all parties involved.
- Students may find it difficult to get involved in such a procedure. Teachers have to provide constant support to the students, whilst they should be present in each mediator’s first sessions. It should also be useful for teachers to implement the procedure, in order to set an example and so that students will be able to see some sessions being implemented.
- The mediator may have the urge to offer parties a solution. It must be clear that the mediator must not intervene in terms of proposing solutions, as the procedure is based on the fact that the two parties will agree on a solution that is suitable for both and is a product of their dialogue.
TIPS FOR APPLYING THE METHODS TO DIFFERENT SUBJECTS
The concept of mediation can be implemented in the context and during different subjects and with a flexible number of participants; however, it can also take place during a dedicated hour. It can also be used, not only for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, but also for the improvement of relations.
Cambridge Dictionary. Definition of ‘conflict’. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/conflict
Michel, F & Fursland, A (2008). ‘How to behave more assertively’. Available at: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Consumer%20Modules/Assert%20Yourself/Assert%20Yourself%20-%2004%20-%20How%20to%20Behave%20More%20Assertively.pdf
Students Piece Alliance (N.D.). Restorative Justice Training: Peace Circles – A guide to facilitating and utilizing Peace Circles. Available at: http://www.studentpeacealliance.org/uploads/2/9/4/4/29446231/peace_circles-3.pdf+
The Association for Conflict Resolution (2007). Recommended Standards for School-Based Peer Mediation Programes 2007. Available at: https://cdn.ymaws.com/acrnet.org/resource/resmgr/docs/Recommended_Standards_for_Sc.pdf
Artinopoulou, V. (2010). Η Σχολική Διαμεσολάβηση: Εκπαιδεύοντας τους μαθητές στη διαχείριση της βίας και του εκφοβισμού. Αθήνα: Νομική Βιβλιοθήκη.
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Coordinator – Centro per lo Sviluppo Creativo Danilo Dolci – Italy