Controlling Conflict in Your Classroom
In an ideal world, you and your students would get along well every day. Your classroom would brim with kindness and mutual respect, giving you the time and energy to focus on instruction. While most classrooms do run smoothly and model respect between teachers and students, some do not. And, while you may have the majority of your class under control, you may find yourself facing one or two difficult students.
Conflict management is an important part of a successful classroom. Studies have shown that classroom conflict can have negative effects on both students and teachers. Lucky for you, there are plenty of ways you can focus on conflict resolution in your classroom. Check out these common types of conflicts you may encounter, as well as conflict resolution strategies.
Common Types of Classroom Conflict
Conflict in your classroom can take many forms. It could look like a student who consistently challenges your authority by asking excessive questions or making inappropriate remarks about your ability as a teacher. It could take the form of a student who interrupts, is chronically late to class, or causes classroom disruptions. Or, your classroom conflict could involve one student who is mean or rude to others in the classroom. While these are just some examples of classroom conflict, they all fall into these common categories:
- Teacher-student conflict: Perhaps the most common type of conflict you’ll encounter as a teacher is one between you and an individual student. With classrooms hosting upwards of 25 students, there’s bound to be one whose personality just doesn’t mesh well with yours. Know that you’re not alone if you have a difficult student (or two!) in your classroom.
- Student-to-student conflict: Your classroom is filled with students from different backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge levels. In fact, the only thing many of your students may have in common is their age. While most children get along with their peers, you may find you have a few who just don’t. Student-to-student conflict can have negative effects on the parties involved, but also on your class as a whole. While student-to-student conflict at the elementary level may include things like bullying or name-calling, it can escalate to much more dangerous levels in upper grades.
- Student-to-self conflict: Your students are growing and learning every day, and while most will navigate the process of growing up without major problems, others will struggle. Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, or other mental-health concerns can cause conflict on an individual basis in your classroom. Although this conflict may be centered on one student individually, it can have ripple effects throughout your classroom.
Managing Conflict in Your Classroom
Understanding what type of conflict you’re facing can go a long way toward resolving that conflict. If you’re facing conflict in your classroom, consider these strategies to manage it:
- Set expectations—and reinforce them. Even well-behaved students will have trouble following the classroom rules if they don’t know what the rules are. Set clear policies about what you expect from your students, along with consequences for not following the rules. Most importantly, follow through on those consequences to show your students you’re serious about your expectations.
- Keep an eye on difficult students. Seat your toughest critics closest to you. Proximity puts pressure on your student to behave, while also giving you quick access if you need to nip bad behavior in the bud.
- Have a cool-down plan. When you see student anger reaching a boiling point, have a plan in place to prevent an explosion. For younger students, it can be as simple as creating a classroom cool-down box. For older students, it might involve coming up with strategies as a class—can students put their head down if they are feeling overwhelmed? Can you set up a small area for five-minute meditation if a student feels his anger rising?
- Get to know your students on a deeper level. To best deal with difficult behavior, it’s important to know the “why” behind the actions. Is there something going on at home? Is the student struggling with the subject matter? Should you refer the student to services in your school for additional support?
- Let your students help each other. You probably have a few go-to students you know you can rely on to help with class projects or serve as peer mentors, but consider looking outside that group. Perhaps your difficult student is doing well in a particular subject. Give her the chance to tutor her classmates who are struggling and see if helping someone else succeed mitigates the bad behavior.
- Make your classroom a peacemaker space. Take a cue from this teacher and focus on peacemaking in your classroom. Teach students about how their actions impact others and create a plan to solve problems together.
- Get help. Rely on your fellow teachers and your administrators for support for conflict resolution. Talk to teachers who have taught a difficult student in previous years and learn what worked—and what didn’t.
- Don’t quit. You took this job because you wanted to make a difference. Don’t let classroom conflict stop you. Use the resources you have to keep trying to get through to your students. You never know when your efforts will sink in, but you do know if you give up, they’ll never pay off.