Schools rarely spent time and energy studying student quarrels and conflicts, but students in conflict are developing and learning.

By Stephen Camilleri – Relationships are Forever Foundation

Schools: places where children spend a lot of time

At school children learn how to socialize with their peers and with adults. This involves making friends, working with others, exchanging ideas and resolving conflicts.
Schools however rarely spend time and energy studying student quarrels and conflicts, rarely adopt strategies for dealing with student conflicts constructively and tend to deal with conflicts in a disciplinary manner.

However, students in conflict are in the process of developing and learning. Trying to take away their conflicts or taking over their conflicts would mean taking away an opportunity for them to grow and learn.

Programs to address conflict at schools

Conflict resolution programs seek to create opportunities for students and other members of the school community to recognize that conflict is a natural part of life and that different people respond differently to conflict.

The programs also seek to create a context where students feel safe to express their emotions, understand those of others and thus be able to deal with conflicts in an amicable and positive way.
During conflicts emotional regulation or expression is viewed as an opportunity for students to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and others and process their emotions and those of others effectively.

A comprehensive conflict resolution programme helps students to learn how to control their behavior, make better choices and empower them to solve their own issues.

The conflict pyramid

Cohen theoretically visualizes the ideal system of conflict resolution school environments as a pyramid with four levels: conflict prevention, conflict management, third party support and, finally, stopping destructive conflicts by means of arbitration. The lines dividing the four levels are not distinct lines; none of them is ‘water-proof’, although meaningful when describing the dominant focus of each level.

This system implies that when schools create a positive and democratic school climate, and a comprehensive conflict resolution programme, potential conflicts do not occur.

Other conflicts that might occur would be settled by the students themselves without any intervention from adults. Those conflicts that are not resolved by students could go into mediation either by a student or a teacher.
The last level of the pyramid indicates that there are conflicts that cannot be tackled by students themselves or by mediation and therefore the senior management team of the school has to intervene either through disciplinary actions or through arbitration.

Conflict resolution processes

According to Cohen there are three main conflict resolution processes: negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. These three processes build upon each other, however, as one proceeds from negotiation to arbitration, the students become less empowered. When students negotiate between themselves, they are in complete control and have to use various skills (eg. decision making skills, negotiation skills, empathy and others) to deal with the conflict on their own. When an arbitrator is introduced, they have no control over the process and on the outcome.