Top 10 Qualities Of Effective Teachers: #7: Effective Conflict Mediation Skills
Our teachers at Shady Oak are committed to effectiveness. Parents—the first and most consistent teachers their children know—can cultivate like qualities in themselves.
Mediocre teachers see only one means of settling conflict: exert their authority to make one or both sides back down. Star teachers are skilled mediators who understand the win–win approach.
As head of a classroom or household, you’ll inevitably be called on to help settle differences of opinion, from one-on-one squabbles to split formal votes. And the classic method of dealing with sibling battles—“Both of you go to your rooms till you’re ready to behave”—doesn’t really teach anyone much. You need the same mediation skills you’d use to help resolve a conflict between adults.
The key principles are:
- Empathy and understanding for everyone;
- Looking at a situation from all points of view;
- Thinking win–win, not right/wrong;
- Making sure everyone understands the actual issues. (It’s amazing how often both sides have totally different ideas of what they’re arguing about.)
Here’s a step-by-step approach that works with most childhood conflicts:
- Flip a coin, or otherwise choose randomly which side will speak first. (Throughout, it’s vital that both sides feel they’re getting an equal and fair hearing.)
- Make it clear that no one is to interrupt while the other party is presenting their point of view. Assure everyone they’ll get the chance to correct any misconceptions regarding their position.
- Give each individual (or a spokesperson for each group) a chance to explain exactly what they want—without placing any blame on the other side. (Ideally, the other side shouldn’t even be mentioned in this stage. Explain the principle of “I” messages vs. “you” messages.)
- After both (or all) sides have had their initial say, each side explains new insights they received from listening to the other, and clarifies their own position as necessary—in that order. Again, take turns without accusing or interrupting.
- Then, ask each side to explain the other’s point of view and the points of common ground. (Make it clear from the beginning that this step will be included. It reminds everyone to listen carefully and not just focus on what they disagree with.)
- Let both sides put their heads together and brainstorm mutually satisfactory solutions (and remember: focusing too quickly on “compromise” makes it harder to see additional options).
- Then, let both sides choose the best solution together. Make the final judgment yourself only as an absolute last resort. If kids get in the habit of looking to a higher authority to “settle things,” they’ll never develop the patience to work out difficult problems on their own, and will probably stay stuck in “win-lose” thinking.
No one likes conflict. But it’s really just a community-level version of the personal struggles essential to learning and development. Under the influence of a skilled mediator, even young children can learn to channel conflict energy into an all-around asset.