Managing and Resolving Conflicts Effectively in Schools and Classrooms

Day 1: Overview of Conflict Management in Schools

Today we define conflict management in schools. This includes discussions of the philosophy and basic principles involved and reasons why implementation in your school can yield direct and effective results. We also explore the structure and tasks required to establish conflict management programs in schools and districts, looking at several established models for you to use in designing your program. The day includes a review of the four basic conflict management models: Curriculum Infusion, Mediation Programs (including Peer, Truancy, and Special Education mediation), Classroom Strategies, and a Comprehensive Approach to Conflict Management.

The primary goal of this training is to provide you with specific, detailed, and implementation tools to use. To meet this goal, starting on this first day and throughout the course, we introduce methods and concepts for managing and resolving conflicts that have been demonstrated to be effective. We define and understand the underlying structure of those established models and tools, examine how discussions of appropriate solutions to problems can be infused into the daily curriculum, provide a model for conflict management as a Classroom Management/Peaceable Classroom approach and a Comprehensive Approach/Peaceable School Model, discuss data gathering and evaluation. On Day 5 we tie it all together by providing you tools for developing a plan to implement a successful program.


The term conflict management refers to processes and programs that teach individuals concepts and skills for preventing, managing, and resolving conflicts non-violently. Conflict management programs can teach life skills, "win-win" negotiation strategies, mediation skills, and violence prevention strategies. They are implemented in elementary, middle and high schools to help students, teachers, administrators and parents resolve conflicts effectively.


Although conflict management programs may not all look alike, or use identical problem-solving models, they do share several basic philosophical underpinnings.

Basic Principles of Conflict Management

Collaborative approaches to conflict are more likely to protect the relationship.

Conflict is natural. Conflict, to differing degrees, occurs daily in everyone's life. Conflict in and of itself is not necessarily good or bad.

It's the way that conflict is handled that makes the outcome positive or negative. If handled effectively, conflict can create a good learning experience. If handled ineffectively, conflict can quickly escalate, even to physical and emotional violence.

Click here for an activity for a faculty meeting on the nature of conflict.


Basic Principles of Conflict Management in Schools

Conflict management programs can help create safer more supportive learning environments for schools where all students can learn and succeed.  In order to do this, there are some basic principles for schools conflict management programs.

“The greatest risk of conflicts for …young people is that, unaware, they become locked into a pattern of deficient and extreme responses to the inevitable friction they face.  Because conflicts can be very threatening, and because there is little but peer input to understand them, students engage in ritualized posturing and fail to explore other more productive responses.  Because conflicts are so absorbing and important to youth, their experience and interest are resources that can be exploited to learn new ways of behaving.  However, they need help from adults to learn new skills.  Without adult input, it is difficult to develop the vocabulary, concepts, insight, and skills to with conflict in a flexible and constructive way.”  - Susan Opotow, The Risk of Violence

For an excellent example of such a program see the Hannah More School at

Origins of Conflicts*

It is important to help individuals identify their basic needs in a conflict situation because this will help them to analyze their behavior and adopt behavior that will not only end the conflict, but also satisfy their need(s).  William Glasser, Ph.D. states in his book, Control Theory: A New Explanation of How We Control Our Lives, that the behavior of all individuals is the result of an attempt to meet one or more basic needs.  It is important to note that whether behavior is appropriate or inappropriate, it is an attempt to meet at least one need.  By analyzing conflicts in this way, individuals can learn to change inappropriate behaviors to appropriate behaviors to meet the desired need(s). 

There are many appropriate and inappropriate behaviors individuals can choose to meet their psychological needs.  Many times individuals have not learned or considered other more appropriate behaviors.  In these situations, brainstorming a list of potential behaviors is important.  Sometimes individuals may not be given an opportunity to satisfy their basic needs.  In these situations these individuals and their advocates may need to educate and negotiate with others to create appropriate opportunities for the individual to meet their psychological needs. 

The following is a short list of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors that individuals may exhibit to meet their psychological needs.

Power (feeling important, being respected)
Appropriate behavior: Inappropriate behavior:

Cooperative leader

Discipline  Punishment
Talking about problems Hitting
Include others Exclude others
Respect other cultures Prejudice
Belonging (loving, sharing, cooperating, fitting in with others)
Appropriate behavior: Inappropriate behavior:

Participating in athletics

Joining gangs
Sharing interests and hobbies Stealing clothes or other items to be cool
Appreciating differences Excluding others by name calling, avoiding, etc.
Freedom (making choices)
Appropriate behavior: Inappropriate behavior:

Choosing elective classes

Skipping classes
Choosing part-time job Deciding not to study
Deciding to see a movie or video Violating curfew or family or school rules
Fun (laughing, playing, finding joy in life)
Appropriate behavior: Inappropriate behavior:

Participating in sports

Use of alcohol or other drugs
Going to the mall Damaging property
Security (feeling safe from put downs, ridicule, physical abuse)
Appropriate behavior: Inappropriate behavior:

Communicating effectively

Bullying or hitting others
Using conflict management skills Using put downs for others
Talking to a trusted adult Isolating one's self physically or emotionally

*Reprinted with permission copyright 1995 by Terrence Wheeler, Center for Dispute Resolution, Capital University Law School, and Anita Whitely, O.S.U., Ursuline Academy. 

Click here for an activity for a faculty meeting on the role of human needs in conflict.



Effective implementation of conflict management strategies requires various skills and abilities for addressing conflict.  Training in the various skills sets below will assist individuals in more effectively managing these types of encounters.  The core abilities and skills include:

Orientation skills include values, beliefs and attitudes that are compatible with effective conflict management. Orientation abilities include:

Perception skills include the understanding that conflict lies not in objective reality, but in the perceptions that individuals have of that situation, circumstance, or event.  Perception abilities include:

Click here for more information on perceptions.


Emotional skills include behaviors to manage emotions and feelings such as anger, frustration, hurt, fear, confusion and other emotions effectively. Emotional abilities include:

Click here for more information on understanding how emotions influence conflict.


“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Communication skills include listening and speaking which allows for more effective exchange of facts and feelings.  Communication abilities include:

Click here for more information on communication skills.


Creative-thinking skills enable individuals to find new ways to view and address challenges as they arise.  Creative thinking skills include:

Ability to create new options and perspectives

Critical-thinking skills (problem-solving) include analyzing, hypothesizing, predicting, strategizing, comparing,  and evaluating options. Critical-thinking abilities include:

More information will be provided in Day 2 on Curricular Infusion on how these skills can be integrated into the various school curriculum subject areas.

Basics of Problem Solving

Two goals of a school conflict management program are preventing unnecessary conflicts and trying to achieve mutually agreed upon solutions when conflicts do occur.  Having considered skills necessary for conflict management, processes to put these skills to use can be explored.  Employing conflict management skills along with these structured processes can lead members of the school community beyond simple compromise solutions to agreements that are mutually satisfying to all parties. 

Conflict Management Styles

Every individual has the ability to choose a conflict management style when confronted with a conflict situation.  Some individuals rely on their favorite conflict management style to react to most conflicts.  Other individuals analyze the conflict and make a conscious decision about what conflict management style to use for the specific conflict.  The key to preventing, managing and resolving conflict effectively is the ability to respond appropriately to the situation. 

Five conflict management styles have been identified by researchers: accommodating, avoiding, cooperative problem-solving, (also referred to as collaborating or consensus building) compromising, and competing.  All five of these styles are appropriate at times and all five styles are inappropriate at times.  Individuals must choose the style that is appropriate for the conflict situation.  An individual’s choice of style in a conflict situation will vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the relationship between the disputants and the importance of the subject of the conflict to each individual. 

Click here for an activity for a faculty meeting on choosing a conflict management response.

Process Steps in Problem Solving:
Conflict Management programs should include the basic philosophy and skills of conflict management and some form of a problem solving process (which may include formal models such as negotiation, mediation, or consensus decision-making).  There are a general set of steps that may be used by individuals in conflict to identify their positions and interests (a position is what someone wants, an interest is why someone wants it) and to work cooperatively to meet those interests.  The various stages were designed in order to assist the disputants in focusing on the problem verses the person and to find a mutually agreed upon solution.  Quality conflict management programs include extensive staff development and student training and practice using the skills of conflict management and a problem solving process.

Additional information on how these problem solving processes are integrated into the various school conflict management models will be included in Days 2 and 3.


Over the past twenty years, research has shown compelling reasons for every school to implement a program to teach adults and youth in schools the skills of conflict management.   A conflict management program can assist schools in improving academic achievement not only by providing more time spent on teaching verses on dealing with discipline challenges; but also through the teaching of important life skills such as critical thinking skills and problem solving necessary for improved academic performance.   The current research suggests that conflict management programs are very effective in achieving the following goals.

Enhances Students’ Social and Emotional Development

Creates a Safe Learning Environment

Create a Constructive Learning Environment

Because of these results, many States have decided to utilize conflict management models and processes state-wide. Most states in the United States have some form of legislation, mandates or standards related to conflict management.  The implementation and goals vary by state but may include integration into the curriculum for pre-service teachers such as in North Carolina, a grant training package for staff development focused on staff development and curriculum integration in Ohio, staff development and curriculum integration in Tennessee, and the use of special education mediation in all 50 states. 

There are several places that you may find information related to the legislation, mandates or standards and programming related to conflict management that  are being implemented in your state. You may find this information on your state safe school center’s Web site, on your state Department of Education’s Web site, or by visiting the following two web sites:

The best way to achieve optimal results is to design and to implement a comprehensive approach to conflict management.  More information is provided in Day 3 on how to design a comprehensive program in your school.  More information on research and evaluation is provided on Day 4. 

Conflict Management Models

There are four basic approaches to conflict management programs in the United States which we will be reviewed in depth on Days 2 and 3 of this course.  Traditionally, student peer mediation programs have been the most popular form of conflict management.  However, teachers are increasingly recognizing the importance of implementing programs that use conflict management skills to address classroom management challenges and to enhance the teaching of core academics.   These four models include:

  1. Curriculum Infusion
  2. Mediation Programs
  3. Conflict Management as a Classroom Management Strategy
  4. A Comprehensive Conflict Management Approach

Curriculum Infusion

Curriculum infusion is the process of taking any subject area and learning opportunity to teach the conflict concepts and conflict management lessons in that material.

Teachers include conflict management principles and skill-building activities into the curriculum to provide students with the opportunity to learn to: understand and analyze conflict; recognize the role of perceptions and biases; identify feelings; identify factors that cause escalation; handle anger and other feelings appropriately; improve verbal communication skills; improve listening skills, identify common interests; brainstorm multiple solutions; evaluate the consequences of different options; and agree on win-win solutions. Teachers can include these skills in all subjects including art, health, language arts, reading, speech, writing, math, music, physical education, science, and social studies.

Curriculum Infusion materials have been developed for specific areas like language arts (the Stories Project from Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR) and in science (Workable Peace from MIT).  They may include negotiation Skills (e.g., Program for Young Negotiators), Bullying Prevention (e.g., Steps to Respect), and Social and Emotional Learning and Conflict Management (Second Step).  Teachers report that the inclusion of conflict resolution principles in the classroom helps students obtain a better understanding of the relationship between academics and the real world. Conflict management skills are basic life skills that young people need to master in order to perform well academically and understand complex social issues in the 21st century.

Mediation Programs

These programs use mediation as the primary conflict resolution process. Mediation is commonly described as a voluntary process in which a neutral third party, without any power to impose a resolution, works with the disputing parties to help them reach a mutually acceptable resolution of their dispute.  These may include:

In order to achieve the most optimal results in one’s school when incorporating a peer mediation program, the national standards for peer mediation should be followed.  A copy of these standards can be obtained by going to the National Association for Conflict Resolution’s website at:  These standards were devised by expert educators, researchers and practitioners across the U.S. based on lessons learned through research and evaluation of these programs over the last two decades. 

Peaceable Classroom (Conflict Management as Classroom Management Technique)

Conflict management can also be part of a teachers’ classroom management style.  The effective resolution of many classroom conflicts does not require the active involvement of teachers.  In these situations, students can solve their own disputes provided that they have been taught basic problem-solving skills.  Teachers can use age appropriate problem-solving models to teach all students in their classrooms how to use these skills on their own to resolve simple disputes.  If students experience a non-threatening classroom environment where cooperation is encouraged, trust is promoted and group interaction is frequent, they will have more opportunities to practice and reasons to choose non-violent conflict resolution strategies over aggression and violence. 

One approach for using conflict resolution in the classroom is the “Conflict Resolution Corner” model.  This model suggests that as conflicts arise, teachers can refer disputing students to a designated location within the classroom that contains information that reminds the students of the ground rules and steps for effective problem solving.  Age appropriate negotiation models can be used. 

Another approach is to establish a classroom mediation program.  This approach requires the teacher to teach all students conflict management skills, to choose a specific conflict management process, and set up a system for using these skills to resolve classroom conflicts.  If peer mediation does not resolve the conflict, the teachers determine to appropriate next steps for resolution of the issue. 

Class meetings:  Time is set aside in class – generally 20-30 minutes, for a classroom discussion involving students on important decisions such as: bullying, teasing, cheating, etc. This helps students become more involved in constructive decision-making in their classrooms and schools, and helps educators build a climate of trust and respect while helping students contribute to the school environment in a significant way leading to more attachment to school.

Advisories are a form of classroom meeting to build student/teacher connections and create a sense of community within secondary schools.  Advisories can be conducted in a variety of ways and are usually combined with time in students' home room.  They are conducted to foster better understanding among students and/or to address specific issues.  To learn more about Advisories, Educators for Social Responsibility have published a book by this title.  See

Curriculum Infusion is a fundamental component of a peaceable classroom.  This may include integrating theory and skills of conflict management across subject areas for all students and/or conflict management infusion into co-curricular activities.

Peaceable School Programs (also known as Comprehensive Conflict Management Programs in Schools)
The most effective school conflict management program is comprehensive, which means the entire school community is knowledgeable about and regularly use “win/win” approaches when attempting to address conflicts.  A comprehensive program offers members of the whole school community the opportunity to learn, practice, and model effective conflict management skills. 

The peaceable school approach includes the use of mediation, curricular infusion, the peaceable classroom, as well as the entire school community being trained in and utilizing the concepts and skills of conflict management in the daily operations of the school. 

The peaceable school approach is complementary to other types of safe and supportive learning environment programs such as restorative justice and bullying prevention.  Restorative Justice models consist of a whole school process that is based upon the philosophy based on the use of reconciliation rather than punishment. The Olweus program, as well as other bullying prevention programs, stress the need for the entire school to be involved in establishing bullying prevention and eliminating bullying cultures.

These four models of school conflict management will be described in detail on Day 2 and 3 of the course.  An overview of various mediation models and the curricular infusion approach is provided in Day 2 and the peaceable classroom and peaceable school approach is described in Day 3. Each approach is described in detail, along with examples of how an educators might implement it in their school, sample best practices, and a sample action plan with next steps are provided. 

Discussion Questions

Discussion QuestionsPlease think about the questions below and share your responses with colleagues.

  1. What are the skills needed to solve conflicts effectively?
  2. Where do you see these skills fitting naturally into the subjects that you already have to teach? 
  3. What are the four basic models of conflict management in schools?
  4. Think of the types of conflicts that you have seen in your school– between staff, between students, between staff and parents?  What programs or procedures has your school implemented to address these conflicts?  What worked?