As teachers, we don't just teach students about math, science, and language, we also teach them how to become functional adults. One of the lessons that we teach on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis is how to get along with others. Conflicts often occur outside at recess or lunch, but the effects spill into the classroom. Even though we might not be present when the conflict occurs, we can help students resolve their problems when they get back to class. Here are a few suggestions for taking conflict and turning it into a learning experience for everyone involved.
The first thing to do is to pull the students involved aside and have them talk to you one at a time to see what happened. If necessary, you may need to call on a reliable third party to get to the bottom of the issue. It is important for each student to tell their side. You can then use your best judgment to figure out what happened, even if the stories don't match. Once you have figured out what happened, you can ask students to explain their actions. They usually come up with one of two explanations for their behavior; either they say they don’t know why they did what they did, or they blame the other person saying they did something mean to them. You can start guiding students to discuss how they could have handled the situation differently. You can ask them why they chose to act that way, and make them see how their actions hurt people’s feelings.
Hopefully, the guilty party or parties apologize. Once this has happened, it is important to discuss how this situation could be handled in the future. Have the students tell you what they should do instead. It’s important that this conversation be student directed and that they come up with their own solutions for these types of problems. In this way they can feel ownership and will feel accountable for what they are doing and saying. After they tell you how they should have acted and will act in the future, you can applaud their ideas, but remember to remind them of the consequences if this behavior happens again. If this type of conflict resolution doesn't work, you may have to resort to a punishment like loss of recess time.
And the last thing to do before sending students back to their seats is to make them shake hands or in some other way signify that the conflict is resolved! I know it may sound silly, but it really makes students feel good and get over what they were mad about very quickly. Once that is over with, you can also assign the students to do some sort of classroom assignment together to create a bond between them. Here are some lessons to do with your class to give them the skills to solve their conflicts.
Conflict Resolution Activities:
Students engage in role plays to show how to resolve conflicts.
Students conduct professional meetings and discuss solving a conflict without being violent. This lesson was written for the secondary classroom, but could be adapted for elementary as well.
Students write about a conflict and share it with their classmates.
In this worksheet, students read about how to be good listeners and how to resolve conflicts calmly between each other.