5 Simple strategies for resolving conflict in your classroom
Teachers I meet say that classroom management is one of their greatest concerns. So, what is an effective way to manage conflict between students in a classroom? I found that teaching students simple, consistent strategies - like the moves you would use in a game of chess - works best.
Each morning, my class began with a brief reflection of what happened the previous day, what to expect for the day ahead, and what to do when we encounter conflicts in class. This daily ritual set a positive tone for the day’s classroom interaction. And while we discussed what to do if we had conflict, we often used the example of chess as a metaphor. Chess allows students to think critically and strategically, and to ask, “How does this move affect me?” and “What can I do in this move that sets me up for success?” It is a nonthreatening way to consider conflict, and it made our classroom discussions much more meaningful.
My students learned that, while conflict is a natural part of interaction, it must be addressed in a thoughtful, methodical way. I explicitly taught them how to use and test each of the following conflict resolution moves:
Conflict is difficult, and students need our support. For more information about classroom management and conflict resolution, go to conditionsforlearning.com. We have compiled free, helpful tips and strategies for teachers based on real classroom experiences.
When I was 10, my dad asked me if I wanted to learn how to play chess. I asked, “Is it as easy as playing checkers?” “No,” he said. “No thank you”, I replied.
Many years later, I realized that I made a terrible mistake. A friend of mine had taught me how to play, and I immediately saw the beauty and strategic thinking embedded in the game.
In 1999, I started a chess club in my 6th grade classroom. Chess became not only a game that showcased my students’ critical thinking and problem solving abilities, but it also became a metaphor for a way to navigate conflict. Chess pieces move in different yet predictable ways. So do people.
“Conflict is natural. It’s all around us,” I would tell my students. “Think of a baby brother or sister that is learning to walk. They are constantly struggling against the forces of gravity. The battle begins from the moment we are born. We learn to overcome conflict of the natural world."
"Now think of the conflicts you have with other people. What if there was a game you could play that would help you with your disputes between friends, or brothers and sisters? Chess, my friends, is that game.”
The students were hooked.
Chess pieces move in distinct patterns. People also have patterns and tendencies.The goal is to help students recognize these patterns and choose which conflict strategy works best based on what the conflict is and who is involved. My students' ideas about conflict began to shift.
Seventeen years later, I’ve dusted of the chess sets and introduced the game to a new generation of students. Working with the amazing staff at Leataata Floyd Elementary School in Sacramento California, we have started our own chess club. Rain or shine, three days a week, students rush from lunch in the cafeteria to play chess in our club.
While the students simply enjoy their games, I have noticed the level of camaraderie and respect grow among them. Win or lose, each player thanks their opponent after every match, and they carry that positive community spirit back to their classrooms.
So pick up a few sets and give chess a try in your classroom.
Classrooms are complex ecosystems which are immune to quick fix mandates.
The narrow, yet very important focus of increasing student achievement must be expanded to include the conditions that affect the way in which classrooms operate. Critical to the success of schooling in urban settings is the emphasis on increasing the retention of teachers and reducing the numbers of student referrals and suspensions—two factors that plague the success of students in urban schools.
Many teachers who leave urban schools cite "lack of support" and "poor working conditions." Teacher attrition is further compounded by challenges related to student behavior. In fact, many educators in urban schools end their teaching careers within the first three to five years. As chronic teacher turnover rates persist, the underachievement and epidemic dropout levels of African American and Latino students will continue to escalate.
When examining the enrollment and suspension rates of students, one can clearly see the discrepancies relative to student behavior that exist with regard to some students:
Nationally, African American students make up 17 percent of the national enrollment but constitute 36 percent of suspensions and 32 percent of expulsions. Conversely, White students represent 59 percent of the population make up 44 percent of suspensions and expulsions.
These statistics clearly illustrate the essential need for a fundamental shift in our approach to supporting teachers and educating urban youth. A recent study conducted by the Center for Teacher Quality emphasizes this point:
81 percent of teachers stated that they became educators to "Make a difference for children and society." Additionally, 71 percent of educators cited "The desire to work with children or adolescents." 
Why do teachers, who are so passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people, demonstrate such arbitrary disciplinary practices and leave urban classrooms at such an alarming rate?
The enthusiasm for teaching becomes extinguished when educators encounter the day-to-day challenges of working in urban schools. To reverse this trend, we must provide extensive and lasting support for teachers in creating and sustaining classroom environments that promote students' academic and social development.
An emphasis must be placed on creating engaging, responsive, and inspiring classrooms where students are responsible, respectful, and have a vested interest in learning and working together. Urban schools truly have the potential to be what we all hope for, and what all children deserve, if we leverage the passion and commitment of teachers and broaden the scope of education for our youth.
Does your school focus on strategies that supports students' academic and social development? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.
Alliance For Excellent Education, Teacher Attrition: A Costly Loss to the Nation and to the States, 2005
Suspension and Expulsion At-A-Glance, UCLA, Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, Karen Hunter Quartz, 2006
A Possible Dream, Retaining California Teachers So All Students Learn, Ken Futernick, 2007