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Five Strategies for Managing Conflict in the Classroom

When students don’t get along, it diminishes the potential for success in the classroom. A MAT degree or MSEd degree from an online university like Walden can provide you with the skills to resolve conflict and create a classroom environment of respect and cooperation.

Many students don’t understand how to get along with their peers in a manner of mutual respect and cooperation. When students don’t get along, it diminishes the potential for success in the classroom. Not only are the students involved often unable to concentrate on their work, but teachers must spend valuable classroom time dealing with those in conflict.

Teachers, including those with a master of arts in teaching or master of education degree, need to create a peaceful, caring community within their classroom. This is not always a simple task. First, it is important to understand that during any conflict, two major concerns come into play—achieving our goals, and maintaining an appropriate relationship with the other person.

Five Strategies for Managing Conflict in the Classroom

There are many different scenarios for classroom conflicts, and not all can be resolved in the same manner; however, there are five key conflict resolution strategies that should be understood. Often a topic among teachers in online master’s degree programs, these strategies, when implemented appropriately, can help create a classroom that is more conducive to learning. They also help teach students valuable lessons for conflict resolution that can last a lifetime.

  • Problem-solving negotiations: When both the goal and the relationship are highly important to the students, problem-solving negotiations are initiated to resolve the conflict. Solutions are sought that ensure both students fully achieve their goals and that any tensions or negative feelings between the two are dissipated.
  • Smoothing: When the goal is of little importance, but the relationship is of high importance, one person gives up their goals so that the other person can achieve theirs. This is done to maintain the highest-quality relationship possible. If the teacher detects that one student’s goals or interests in the conflict are much stronger than the other’s, the teacher can facilitate a smoothing of the conflict. Smoothing should be done with good humor!
  • Forcing or win-lose negotiations: When the goal is very important but the relationship is not, students will seek to achieve their own goals at the expense of the other person’s goals. They do so by forcing or persuading the other person to yield. They are competing for a win.
  • Compromising: When both the goal and the relationship are moderately important, and it appears that neither person can have their way, the students will need to give up part of their goals, and possibly sacrifice part of the relationship, in order to reach an agreement. Compromising may involve meeting in the middle or flipping a coin. Compromising is often used when students wish to engage in problem-solving negotiations but do not have the time to do so.
  • Withdrawing: When the goal is not important to the student and neither is the relationship, a student may wish to give up their goal completely and avoid the issue with the person. Sometimes it is good for both students to withdraw from the conflict until they have calmed down and are in control of their feelings.

Each of the five strategies is appropriate under a particular set of circumstances. To be truly effective in managing conflicts, teachers must engage competently in each strategy. This takes practice.

If you are seeking a master’s degree, such as a master of arts in teaching or master of education, consider Walden University. Walden’s online master’s degree programs for teachers can prepare you the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in any classroom.

Canter® is a Walden University educational partner and the strategies outlined in this article are part of the Canter course, Teaching Students to Get Along®.

Canter® Course: Teaching Students to Get Along®, Resources Section 2.

Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, R. (2005). Teaching Students To Be Peacemakers (4th Edition). Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

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