This term has seen some significant changes in my classroom. Due to an almost school-wide reshuffle, my classroom lost 4 students and gained 5 more from another, younger classroom. This was something that my class really struggled to cope with. Prior to the class change-up, room six worked hard to create a close-knit classroom. Everyone was mates, and nobody wanted their mates to leave. At the same time, the new students were coming into an unfamiliar classroom environment - one which had a very close bond. This made the new students feel somewhat unwelcome and apprehensive to join their new classroom.
This term we have had to work hard to work hard to establish a new classroom culture, where both new and original room sixers feel included, safe and happy. This is an honest reflection of the realisations I have come to.
Here are some important things I have discovered when dealing with conflict in the classroom
Getting to the bottom of problems ASAP
As soon as I have gotten wind of a problem, I have made it my priority to deal with it straight away. Sometimes this has meant that I have had to leave the rest of the classroom whilst dealing with a small group. I think this has helped because things were not left to escalate, or become worse by others getting involved.
Two sides to every story
This is something that we all know- but do our students? Before starting a restorative conversation, I have learnt the value of expressing this to my learners. There are two sides to every story, and there are always truths on both sides. Emphasising this fact helped my learners to understand that I was willing to listen and support both parties. As a result, situations were calmed down because both parties knew that I cared and would listen to what they had to say.
I noticed that often the 'big problem' between the two parties was created from many smaller, unrelated problems. Some of these problems involved intentional unkind acts, whilst others were not. I felt that it was really important for the students to see that while there were some instances of meanness, other times it was just misinterpreted and innocent.
As a group we work through each problem in isolation. Initially this is difficult, as students will bring up other issues when trying to deal with the one problem in particular. I needed to remind the group that we would make sure we shared and solved each problem, but it was important to focus on one at a time.
A problem isn't solved unless you get to the root of it, and find out what caused it in the first place. Asking why helped to find out more details, understand the feelings and thoughts behind actions, and also find out how the problem began. It also helped to discover when actions were intentional or just misinterpreted. The more information you ask for, the better you understand the problem and how best to solve it.
Taking time to talk, listen and say sorry (and mean it)
The biggest problem with this is that they never able to move forward because there was never any restorative conversation. Instead, their anger was just left to fester and become much worse. It can be easy to just make children apologise and expect them to move on. However I have seen the value of taking time to allow all learners to share their perspective of what happened, why and how it made them feel. It was much easier to give a genuine apology once they understood the thoughts and feelings behind the actions. Following that comes the joint decision of how to move forward.
Understanding learners cultures and family backgrounds
This is probably the biggest thing I have learnt. Due to their cultural and family backgrounds, children deal with conflict in different ways. At home, some children are free to share their problems. Others are expected to 'suck it up' and never voice their problems. Some children are even punished for speaking their minds. It was pretty naive of me to think that all learners would be able to voice their issues with ease. In fact, this turned out to be a huge barrier to dealing with conflict. This had meant that small issues were left to fester, leaving all parties more upset, angry and confused.
It is really important that students know that they have permission to share what is making them angry, hurt and upset. In saying this, it is also important to acknowledge that all families deal with problems differently, and that is okay. The last thing I would want is to come across disrespectful towards my students families and cultures. While stressing this to my learners, I also explained that at school we need to be able to talk about our problems so we can solve them together and move on.
Everyone always says it, but it is so crucial to know your learner. I have found that if students feel valued and cared for, they are more likely to open up and respond better to restorative conversations. The hardest students to get to talk were the new students to room six. Building rapport takes time to develop but I feel it can make such a difference.
Summing it up
This week has been quite the challenge. I have seen how important it is to deal with problems as soon as they arise. I also have learnt that students home lives and cultures can play a huge roll in how they deal with conflict. This can make it difficult for some learners to openly express their feelings. In saying this, it is super important that students understand that they are encouraged to share what is bothering them. At first it felt personal that my learners were unwilling to share how they were feeling. But taking the time to the right ask questions allowed me to learn so much more about my learners.