‘How may conflict resolution and conflict management approaches be applied in educational settings?’
Abstract This assignment will review the nature of conflict, from psychologist theories to what form it takes in an educational setting. In order to apply conflict resolution and conflict management effectively in an educational setting, it is important to understand the background disciplines of conflict and theories behind how humans behave in social settings. Comprehending how human behaviour initiates is the key stepping stone to resolving and managing conflict behaviour between humans. We will examine what the concept of conflict is and what shape of from it occurs in everyday life. A brief history of what psychologists have founded in their study of conflict, and human behaviour will lead this examination into conflict in educational settings and how they can arise. It is crucial to look at approaches that can be taken towards conflict in an educational setting in order to resolve and manage them effectively to reduce and minimise all forms of conflict.
There are many different theories used when defining conflict. Morton Deutsch is renowned social psychologists (recognisable through research of this review) who has studied and researched conflict within human relations. According to Deutsch, conflict exists whenever incompatible activities occur (Deutsch, 1969, I25:p7) which is a simple and precise way of grasping the concept of conflict. A definition which is more fitting for this review centring conflict in an educational setting is one composed from Hocker and Wilmot : “Conflict is an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scare resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals.” (Hocker, Wilmot; 1995). All definitions focus on the concept of ‘conflict’ being a disagreement, which can occur on different levels.
Conflict can occur within an individual alone, and have no effects from others; this is known as intrapersonal. Interpersonal is conflict between two individuals only. Intragroup conflict occurs in a specific group of people where all or some of the members are unable to meet an agreement or fail to communicate correctly. The group or members usually share common social ideologies in order to be a part of such a group. Intergroup conflict occurs “between groups and combinations of groups, small or large” (Sherif, 1966, p1). Conflict can arise over the tension caused by an individual’s struggle to agree with an opposite opinion to that of their own; or even with internal difficulties. It can be the result of a defence mechanism; individuals or groups defending their opinions and ways of thinking – there are a variety of differences between people that flares up and leads to conflicting situations. Conflict is a natural feature of life. It is something everyone experiences, but not all conflict experiences are the same.
Brief History of Social Psychology: Conflict Theories.
“Psychology is the scientific study of mental processes and behaviour. Psychologists observe and record how people… relate to one another and to the environment” (World Book Encyclopedia, 1993). Psychology has many different fields of study, which are all centred on the functions of the human mind and characteristics of individuals or collective groups. The field of psychology in which is most related to this review is social psychology: “That branch of psychology that concentrates on any and all aspects of human behaviour that involve persons and their relationships with other persons, groups, social institutions and society as a whole”. (Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, 2009, p791). When studying individual or inter relationships of humans, it is important to consider the social environment of each individual in order to understand their interaction. Social psychology examines and researches all behavioural aspects of human relations, but early psychologists ignored the study of conflict and human behaviour. According to Plon, it did not appear in psychological works and literature until 1958, “and even there it is important to notice it arrives on stage timidly” (Plon, 1974, p391). The study of conflict within human relations became popular after the second world war and the “last moments of the cold war” (Plon, 1974, p391), possibly due to psychologists attempting to study the cause of such wars and how humans can behave in such conflicts against others.
Darwin, Marx and Freud dominated the study of human behaviour in the early years of psychology, including some work which may link slightly to causations of conflict (Deutsch et al., 2006 p13). The main feature of their studies in relation to human behaviour and conflict was based on “competitive struggle” (Deutsch et al., 2006). Darwin believed all humans struggle in order to exist, and those who are the strongest – survive: “survival of the fittest” (Deutsch et al., 2006, p13). Social Darwinism denotes early theories compiled together and attempted to provide reason behind conflicts such as racism, war, sexism and class superiority (Deutsch et al., 2006, p14.). Again their studies were based on the concepts of human struggles, not solely on conflict as we know have it defined in this review. Marx work on struggle stressed that there are different divisions in society according to classes and this creates conflict. Freud is known as being the founding father of psychoanalytic theory and his competitive struggle was the conflict between the Id and the super ego which are two parts of the human personality. Freud’s work is based more on the individual and their experiences with conflict rather than conflicts in society. Freud believed humans were born aggressive and in order to relieve such aggression, humans seek an outlet to displace their aggression. Causing conflict and rivalry with others is one way, or through a more artistic way such as through sport or art. These early psychologists collectively are known as ‘Social Darwinism’. “Social Darwinism and the mode of explaining behaviour in terms of innate, evolutionary, derived instincts were in retreat by the mid-1920s”, but according to Deutsch were the “…precursors to the empirical, social psychological study of conflict” (Deutsch et al., 2006, p15).
Modern social psychology then evolved from these foundations, and in this new saga many psychologists studied the aspects of conflict more specifically. Modern mid-20th century psychologists studied the field of human behaviours: human intelligence and development (‘Lewin’), how humans relate to each other through social influences (‘Deutsch’), carrying out scientific research on the human genetic discipline; research in pro – social behaviour and anti – social behaviour (‘Dawkins – Latané and Darley’) and in depth research of understanding children and adolescent behaviour
within groups (Sherif 1966).
Kurt Lewin’s had a significant interest towards social conflict; how conflict may be created and the search for scientific methods to prevent and resolve them. (Lewin, 200, publishers note, p v). Lewin’s work on theories and scientific research “profoundly affected later work in many areas of social psychology” (Deutsch et al., 2006, p15). Morton Deutsch is a psychologist, who was a student of Lewin (Deutsch et al., 2006, p33) and is well known for research in the field of conflict resolution. In this review, we will explore his work when dealing with conflict resolution in an educational setting. Richard Dawkins is known for his famous writing ‘The Selfish Gene’, which is based on evolution but correlates with social behaviour in humans. From the time of Social Darwinian, the study of social behaviour has adapted and new theories formed. In the Selfish Gene, Dawkins “…takes up the major themes of the new work in social theory: the concepts of altruistic and selfish behaviour, the genetical definition of self – interest, the evolution of aggressive behaviour, kinship theory, sex ratio theory, reciprocal altruism, deceit, and the natural selection of sex differences”(Dawkins, 1979, Foreword, pvii). Dawkins work in the Selfish Gene focuses on the “biology of selfishness and altruism” (Dawkins, 1979, p1) which is key in studying behaviour in the individual under the hypotheses of selfishness and altruism, a fundamental law which Dawkins termed “gene selfishness” (Dawkins, 1979, p7). Dawkins also studied group behaviours, and similarly to the Social Darwinian theory- (Marx) believed humans behaved in order of social grouping. Humans are divided into classes according to beliefs, values or through social resources and favour their own group versus rival groups. This theory can illustrate reason behind conflict within a staff room in an educational setting, as when resource are few – staff will compete for the most resources or even what is merited to them. Equally if beliefs and values vary in an educational setting, conflict can arise. Altruism is another aspect of pro social behaviour in Dawkins work, because we are born with the selfish gene, humans must be taught or develop altruism. People can only develop altruism through their experience and understanding of different social environments. If the feeling of empathy is gained through these experiences and understanding, then a person can be altruistic – they can become unselfish and want to help others without thinking of their own benefits. This is where it can be difficult for one to manage conflict correctly between themselves and others – an individual’s behaviour derives from their best interest for themselves (‘goals’, ‘needs’) but for humans to be altruistic they need to behave according to social norms (‘equality’, ‘rules of an organisation’). We will look at this theory in more detail when discussing how people manage conflict situations and how they can resolve them.
Sources of Conflict in Educational Settings.
Conflict is a great concern in many educational settings in Ireland. Conflict is a characteristic of being human; it is inedible that all humans will experience conflict in their lives. Consequently there will always be conflict in schools, but the types of conflict that occur can be reduced and controlled in the educational settings. Conflict occurs interpersonally and in a inter group setting. Within an educational setting, conflict can be experienced through both of these social circumstances. There are many different conflict situations in education, ranging from interpersonal conflict of any staff member or student. Inter group conflict between staff and staff, staff and pupils, pupils and pupils and even staff and parents or other outside bodies connected to the schooling. It is later we will review how best to resolves such conflicts and manage them in an educational environment.
We first need to research the most common conflicts which occur in educational settings before we attempt to reduce or manage such conflicts. To help analyse such conflicts: “Conflict amongst individuals must be analysed in terms of the needs, beliefs, and attitudes of the specific individuals involved….paying attention to the specific social context in which individual’s behave” (Krech and Crutchfield 1948, p 531/532). Conflict in most working departments is customary among staff as inter group setting. There are many different causes of staff on staff conflict in an educational setting. School staff bodies are made up of individual people, which every individual having a different personality and preferred ways of doing things. The fact that everyone is different can cause a certain amount of disagreement and conflict amongst the staff. Misunderstandings are quite a common factor of conflict within large educational settings, but can escalate through prejudice aspects. Sometimes staff maybe biased towards others in a different department in their school and this causes conflict. Signs of conflict in a staff room or even in the corridors of a school can be hard to identify.
Most conflict amongst staff lies submerged and may not be very visible to all. The visibility of such conflict can be seen through arguments, temper or rows or even through politics of the staff room seating arrangements. Staff being members of different work unions can also create conflicts, as they are represented differently in some aspects of the work force. Even through the limitation of school resources, we can see conflicts arising. Certain resources in education settings can be limited and often staff will fight for the resources they need to do their job. According to Krech and Crutchfield (1948) people’s behaviour “is not initiated by habit or imitation or incorporated social norms; it is initiated through needs and guided goals”(p32). Teachers are in need of vital resources in order to teach adequately, their goals are based around instructing the students correctly in order that they learn. These aspects are what create conflict amongst teachers, more so than incorporated social norms conflict such as different work unions.
Bullying amongst staff members can also be a very common source of conflict. Bullying maybe defined as repeated intimidation of a victim that is intentionally given out by a more powerful person of group in order to cause physical and / or emotional hurt. It is force of abuse and victimisation towards the victim. It can start off as submissive, and creep up before one or anyone outside the conflict are able to appreciate what it is that is making the ill effects. Bullying at work in educational settings is emerging as an alarming widespread phenomenon, according to an ASTI survey in 1999, 68% of teachers reported to have experienced verbal abuse at some point in their careers and also revealed a survey of the effects bullying in their schools had on them, 50% admitting to be tearful and 40% effected with stress. (ASTI, Advice on Bullying at Work).
Bullying is also another source of conflict between pupils. It is also can
be very hard to recognise bullying in students as it can be hidden and only infrequently reported to teachers or parents. Bullying is a huge problem of conflict in schools, according to a Nationwide Study on Bullying Behaviour in Irish Schools carried out in 1997 by Mona O’Moore 31% of primary and 16% of secondary students have experienced being bullied. There are three main types of bullying amongst students: Physical aggression, Verbal bullying and Psychological bullying.
Conflict between students and teachers in the classroom can be a daily recurrence. In most Irish educational settings, the students move from different classrooms to different teachers as their daily routines and with this irregularity of personality conflict is bound to arise. Both teachers and students can be victimised by classroom conflict, depending on the situation the conflict sources form. Classroom conflict can occur from a student being late for class, or even a teacher being late to arrive at their class. If a student or teacher is having a bad day conflict can occur. The misunderstanding of directions giving for students by teachers is very common, causing the student to feel isolated and create conflict within the class. Teachers also may misinterpret students actions or expressions and create conflict in order to establish what they may feel their right in ultimate position of power and control over the class.
Reducing Conflict- in the classroom settings.
Conflict can be either productive of destructive: not all conflicts are bad, and some conflicts are essential for a healthy social environment. Conflict can be useful for clearing a destructive atmosphere in the educational setting giving a chance for those to channel their complaints or feelings of injustice treatment. Conflict when productive can lead to a great deal of discussion amongst the individuals or group involved ensuring that things are adequately analysed and not ignored. Everyone has different views on conflict, and views change depending on experience with conflict situations. Those that view conflict negatively, have issues in dealing with it. If conflict can be viewed in more positive terms, people can be better prepared in dealing with conflict and bring it to a positive resolution. The issue is reaching a positive outcome through resolution which suits both participants. We have looked at sources of conflict within educational settings; here we will look at ways in which we can apply ways to resolve such conflicts. Since conflict is a natural part of a school setting, reducing conflicts is an important approach. Reducing conflict can be carried out in adopting a few techniques instantly. These techniques are not to fully resolve conflict but can help as a short term measure. Majority of conflicts in the daily setting of school life, occur in the classroom between student on student or teacher on student. These conflicts can hold up the lesson objectives of the class, and need to be dealt with sufficiently and quickly in order for the group to progress. Let’s take for example student on student conflict, if two or more students begin to show aggression towards each other within the classroom setting, the teacher can use persuasion in order to reduce the matter. This could be done by showing them the negative effects their arguing is having on the work of the other students, and use positive examples of what can be achieved if they cease.
The teacher could also guide the students towards a goal they would be interested in reaching which may persuade them to stop their disruptive behaviour. This could be a school trip that may be coming up or any incentive in which the student has being aiming for in order to persuade their behaviour momentarily in order to continue the lesson. As Krech and Crutchfield (1948) examined, people’s behaviour can be instructed by intended goals and what they fell is the greater good for them to accomplish. If persuasion does not work to reduce the conflict in the classroom, the teacher will have to apply some short term penalty action in order to be able to continue the lesson but deal with the conflict instantly. The teacher could ask the students to do out extra homework for the next day or penalty sheet depending on the discipline of the school.
In hope the ways to reduce the conflict within the classroom work, the conflict has to be addressed after the lesson in order to reduce it from going any further and in hope to resolve it completely. There are two techniques we can look at here that apply to this conflict resolution: Arbitration and Mediation. If at the end of the class, the teacher can get the individuals involved in the conflict together to present their sides of the argument and then decide which side is in the right. The teacher here is acting as an arbitrator, though they have to be very careful they understand both of the stories really well before making the decision of who is in the wrong. When all accounts are correctly perceived, the teacher decides upon an appropriate resolution for them (Barsky, 2000, p10). The teacher also may be able to act as a mediator, and listen to the arguments of both students and try to get them to understand each other’s point of view. This is also an act of positive resolution, if the students reach an understanding of each other’s point of view, then they may be able to work towards some solution which would benefit both of them. This is a very positive way of reducing or resolving conflict because the students can mutually benefit from the technique and it helps them to be able to become more confident in solving their own conflicts as the teacher does not impact on the process (Barsky, 2000, p7). This is an example for how conflict can be constructive, as long as the desirable outcome can be achieved. We will look at mediation further down the review in different conflict situations. Reducing conflict is beneficial in situations like this one where the conflict needs to be dealt with immediately – but the potential of the conflict happening again is still there. Conflict resolution is more favourable in working towards prevention of conflict.
Conflict resolution – in educational settings.
In relation to Barsky work, conflict resolution refers to the numerous ways in which people deal with social conflict (Barsky, 2000, p2). When looking at conflict resolution in an educational setting, the first aspect to be aware of is that all people respond to conflict very differently. There is a five stage model which one can use when attempting to resolve conflict (Dr. Minton, 11/12 PDE, Lecture 4). The first stage of conflict resolution is Identification: who is involved in the conflict, what are the causes for concern within the conflict on those involved. Assessment: The second stage is to assess what is the problem that the people involved have, the issues of the conflict must be acknowledged here in order to resolve why it happened in the next stage. Formulation: The third stage is to figure out the cause of the conflict, why it commenced. It is important by this stage that those involved in the conflict have stressed their opinions and views of their side of the conflict. Intervention: The fourth stage is finding ways to deal with the problem, how it may be solved. Here it is vital that the best solutions are looked at for all involved, and that they are brought together in deciding the best outcome for the problem to be resolved. Evaluation: The final stage is to evaluate the conflict, how do the people involved feel they have being treated, did the intervention help come to a solution for the conflict. Resolving conflict is considered a short term approach. There are five styles in which people retort to when solving conflict (Lulofs, Cahn,2000, p101) : Competition, Avoidance, Accommodation, Compromise and Collaboration. It is important to try and understand these styles when trying to resolve differences among individuals in a group setting, as consequently they relate to the five stage model of resolution. An individual who approaches conflict through the competition style attempts to satisfy their own needs at the expense of others. This can create hostility but can be used effectively where there is no apparent resolution to the conflict. For example if a student is constantly disregarding the school rules and misbehaving continuously in all classes, class teachers could report the student to the principle and board of management in hope of a more direct action to be taken to resolve the conflict. The avoidance style can neglect the interests of both individuals involved by postponing a decision on resolving the conflict. This may be common in the classroom setting when a teacher is trying to complete and get through their lesson. If a conflict within two students in the class arises, the teacher may not be well prepared to deal in responding as they are concentrating on their lesson and choose to avoid trying to resolve the situation. It can cause frustration to the students involved if it is a serious matter, though if it’s just a matter of the students needing to cool down it can work effectively. Accommodation style of handling conflict is a style used more so between two individuals.
This could be student on student or staff on staff or even student on staff member. It is most likely a style used between adults, so in an educational setting it could be used between staff on staff. The accommodator satisfies the other persons’ concerns while neglecting their own. It is in an attempt to preserve harmony and avoid conflict. This is often present in the educational setting when a new staff member begins and is being dominated by a senior member of staff. The new member becomes an accommodator as they wish not to make a scene, but there is fear they become taking advantaged off. When both individuals compromise as a resolution to solve their problem, they achieve a short term solution. Both sacrifice what they may feel strongly about in order to be able to work together. This solution on the surface works well as neither individual really ‘wins’, both can walk away feeling unsatisfied (Lulofs, Cahn,. 2000, p102). This can be used well if in a classroom setting and time is limited in order to resolve a conflict between students through mediation, as it requires a short – term solution. Collaborating is probably the most beneficial conflict style as it aims to satisfy the needs and concerns of all those involved. This is best suited in resolving a classroom conflict if the teacher has time to become the collaborator. The teacher can create goals for the students to focus on in order to receive an outcome of settlement. This involves both students being active and equally involved as they both put forward their interests in how the conflict can be settled and how they can reach this. The teacher can provide objective criteria for the students to mutually reach for, for example if they play sports they may miss the next team game if they both don’t try and work out their issues. Both students will want to reach their goal so will work harder in solving their issues and can result in a win – win situation.
Such styles of managing and dealing with conflict (five styles aforementioned) can be observed by examining Figure 1, which was received from an online website (www.dcswift.com) cited from the Handbook of Industrial & Organization Psychology (Dunnette, 1983, A figure dealing with Conflict by Ken Thomas p900).
The following techniques can be beneficial in facilitating staff members on dealing with conflict management in educational settings: Setting ground rules and gathering facts, facilitating the expression of feelings, using effective language and taking charge of negative emotions. We will look at each technique in detail in order to see how they can be applied in the educational setting. From a conflict resolution situation, rules or agreements are put in place to act as a basis to manage the conflict effectively, in hope of reducing a reoccurrence of the matter again. (Dr. Minton, 11/12 PDE, Lecture 4 slides).
This depends on the people involved in the setting and how well they participate towards the new set of rules. To reach a compromise on most conflict situations is very difficult. The staff or students should meet to discuss exactly what rules or goals they feel are needed and generate a list of objectives which they think they should fulfil. A complete list of these objectives that are put forward by all should be compiled. The staff or students then should decide what they feel they can all do to achieve their goals. Standards can be established to enable to assess whether all members are following the rules. This technique can be used in trying to combat bullying amongst students or reduce general conflicts in the classroom and on school grounds. If all students can put together an anti-bullying campaign and all agree they wish to achieve a school free of bullying, they can all work together in designing ground rules for students to obey and hopefully will achieve their goal. It can also help towards reaching a good staff moral in the school setting. To help manage conflict effectively, the person managing the issue needs to consider the expression of feelings from the conflicting parties. Attending to the individual/s needs is a priority and to do so active listening is required. (Dr. Minton, 11/12, PDE, Lecture 4). Listening carefully to the needs and arguments of either parties or individual helps the mediator / conflict manager understand clearly what is happening. It also shows that they are being treated with respect and not in a passive way. Respect is mandatory in order to facilitate what they are going to and to admire their openness and feelings. Looking at the reactions of those involved discretely helps facilitate the individuals feelings as how they perceive each other during their disagreement so if there are any misunderstandings, they can be cleared up in time saving the conflict from escalating. Using effective language through managing conflict delivers the message clear and strong. Using “I” messages rather than “You” messages is an effective approach to deliver a calm tone as well as delivering an honest message. To put your point across early speeds up the process of managing the conflict and the receivers get a direct message. Use simple language and short messages to get the point across, avoid unnecessary stories that may be linked in some way to the conflict.
If criticism is need towards a member, direct it in a constructive way and be sensitive to their feelings. This technique can work well in dealing one on one teacher student conflict at the end of a lesson. The teacher can deliver clearly what it is they expect of the student, and not to knock their confidence but stick to the issue and what it is they are doing wrong which causes the conflict. The teacher should be open with the student in what it is they want them to achieve. Taking charge of negative emotions is the first skill needed on the scene of a conflict arising. This technique is specifically for the individual to learn in managing their own conflict. When one gets into conflict, they must challenge their negative feelings and thoughts on to something positive. To achieve this one could ask if they can go away and cool off then return to manage the problem. This would involve encouragement from the other party for co-operation, but can be achieved if there is a calm atmosphere. Modelling positive behaviour can aid achieving a calm atmosphere. Taken responsibility of ones actions is essential to managing conflict appropriately.
From historic theories on human behaviour, conflict is a necessary part of life. Necessary in that it can have positive outcomes and effects on people when resolved and managed correctly. Conflict in schools is also a natural part of the education setting, but how it is dealt with improves the learning and atmosphere for all members. As reviewed, humans’ behaviour develops from the want of the individual to reach their full potential and have the greater good of what’s available to them. Humans behave in all aspects initially to their benefit; in order for their needs and goals to cultivate. Humans are born with this selfishness in their genes, in order to survive. This aspiration to be fit and survive causes conflict in our surroundings. Everyone is different therefore everyone has different motives for reaching their goals. When social groups form, no matter what setting, conflict will arise and resolving these conflicts can be challenging. In an educational setting, there are many different conflicts that can occur as there is such a mix of social group members. Bullying can be seen as the most compelling source of conflict in education, and has an enormous effect on all involved. If time and word count was not of an issue with this review, it would have being very interesting to go into the conflict source of bullying solely within the educational setting. Ireland is drastically stepping up to the challenge of bullying in our schools, and Pat Courtney who is the anti-bullying co coordinator in instructing schools across Ireland on how to manage and resolve the conflict of bullying through the ‘Cool School Programme’ and lesson resources to help achieve the school goals of combatting bullying. For now the aforementioned approaches are adaptable for resolving and managing all sources of conflict imaginable in an educational setting.
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