Conflict resolution is one of those non-negotiable topics for classroom guidance. It always pops up on teacher needs assessments, so it’s a high priority for programming. But sometimes classroom guidance lessons aren’t enough. Oftentimes, I found myself teaching basic steps to conflict resolution and finding that many students were lacking the foundational skills necessary for successful, peaceful conflict resolution.
To better serve these students who were lacking foundational skills, I started a conflict resolution small group… but I didn’t talk about the actual conflict resolution until at least week 4. Why? Because we spent the first 4 weeks talking about the strong emotions we experience and how we recognize them in our bodies. Then we practiced strategies for calming our bodies and our minds so that we could enter into a conversation about a conflict with a calm demeanor rather than reacting in the moment. We even practiced listening and reflecting skills (this made my counselor heart so happy) so that students could learn how to listen and how to show people that they were listening.
Teaching students to share their feelings with one another is, of course, important for conflict resolution. But what about those students who don’t yet know how to even recognize their feelings? You see, I found myself teaching with the assumption that students were able to recognize and label their feelings, and for some students, this just wasn’t the case. Even though I had covered this in other classroom guidance lessons, several students were missing this important skill that would put them on the right foot for eventually resolving conflicts.
These students who were struggling to understand their own feelings were often the same students who were reacting explosively and engaging in screaming matches when there was any type of conflict. They not only needed direct instruction on understanding their feelings but also desperately needed time to identify and develop calming strategies to use before engaging with others to discuss conflicts.
So, we worked on first recognizing facial expressions and naming emotions. Then, we talked about physiological clues that tell us we’re feeling a certain way. Helping students to recognize signs of anger or frustration in their bodies is incredibly empowering for students who have previously been unable to label these feelings!
Once students were well-versed in their own emotions, we talked about and practiced calming strategies they could use when experiencing strong emotions. We talked about how it’s perfectly okay to take some time to calm our bodies and minds before we address a conflict to prevent angry outbursts or harsh words we might regret later.
Then, we talked about how to effectively express our emotions after we have 1) identified our own feelings and 2) taken time to calm our bodies and finds. We practice this with conflict scenarios and using the simple “I feel… when…” formula.
Listening and Reflecting
Other students were struggling to 1) listen to others when they shared their feelings and 2) understand what they could do with this information. The ability to empathize with others is integral to positive conflict resolution, and I knew I needed to directly teach these skills in a more focused program. So, we practiced intently focusing on other people’s “I feel…when…” statements with the intention of listening rather than replying. Then, we practiced reflecting those feelings back to the other person to show we were listening.
Once these foundational skills were beginning to develop, we were able to begin the work of talking about healthy and unhealthy ways to respond to conflict. Students self-assessed to consider questions such as, “Do I avoid conflict altogether?” or “Do I react with yelling or name calling when there’s a conflict?” We looked at these unhealthy approaches and discussed healthier alternatives.
By the time we reached week 5 or 6, we were ready to finally start focusing on brainstorming and finding win-win solutions. It was amazing how easily this came to those students who now knew how to consider their own feelings, calm their bodies and minds, and then actually express those feelings in a calm way!
The group counseling setting is perfect for diving in deep to explore and develop those foundation skills necessary for successful conflict resolution. Targeted skill building is so necessary for these students who aren’t on a level playing field with their peers who are already able to recognize and express feelings in positive ways. How are you helping your students who are struggling to resolve conflicts positively? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!