Conflict Resolution in the Classroom

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Conflict Resolution in the Classroom

Teachers don’t just instruct students or impart information regarding history, math or science. Teachers are also instrumental in modeling behavior and imparting essential life skills for coping socially. As a teacher, you’ve inevitably seen conflict brewing between students or have had ongoing issues with particular students yourself. Conflict resolution can be an important tool in the classroom, not just for keeping the peace and making an optimal learning environment, but as a skill that students can learn and apply to their own lives.

Conflicts between Students
If you have two students were working peacefully on a project together one moment, and the next, you hear arguing, you have several options as a teacher. For the sake of peace and quiet, it might be tempting to jump in and try to quiet the controversy immediately, but it may be better to allow students to work out the problem among themselves and try to find their own solutions. This approach helps them to develop conflict resolution skills without depending on an outside party. As long as the argument is not becoming too acrimonious or disruptive, you could allow the students to try to work it out on their own. If this doesn’t work, you can serve as a mediator.

As a third party, both sides need to see you as fair and impartial. If one party feels that you have a bias, whether this suspicion warranted or not, it may be a good idea to have another party come in and serve as a mediator. In a regular school, the ideal person for this role is a guidance counselor or a substitute teacher.

Teacher and Student Conflicts
It may not be pleasant to admit it, but if you’ve been teaching for any length of time, it is likely that you have had ongoing conflict with a particular student. Before discussing your issues with the principal, you can try conflict resolution techniques to try to nip the problem in the bud. A number of educators recommend learning something about conflict resolution to deal with these kinds of problems. You may pursue ACU’s conflict resolution degree or take some online classes in conflict resolution from Case Western. With or without a degree, you can apply the principles of conflict resolution to your own situation.

First of all, direct communication is important. Make sure that this communication stays respectful and does not dissolve into the student calling you names. You may feel able to handle some unpleasantness, but it is not productive to allow the students get away with the verbal abuse. Both parties should express their positions clearly and be allowed to be heard for an equal amount time. You can then brainstorm solutions that would be advantageous for you and the students. It is important that you accept responsibility if you’ve done something wrong. This does not undermine your authority, but can enhance the respect your students have for you. If the conflicts cannot be resolved by the parties themselves, speak to someone in the administration for third-party assistance between you and the student or a guidance counselor.

Teacher as Student

tumblr_n19nvqQrgQ1r1kqreo1_500.jpgThis is true for teachers too. The next time you are leading your class, why not be open to the idea that some student in the class could teach you something new. If not about the standards you are studying, then about people and children the age of which you teach. We should be listeners as well as pontificators of lessons.

20 Days is 20 Days – Musing on an Upcoming Test

20130111-144253.jpgThe California Standards Test (CST) is banging at the front door. It’s been an arduous year preparing for it and I must admit, it seems like it came faster than ever. But 20 days is 20 Days and a lot can be accomplished when one is focused and prepared based on data. I have a lot of data. I have used assessments to plan my instruction (as well as guide it). There are at least 6 standards I know we have to really get down pat. Beyond that, some need review. This is what we will be doing in my classroom for the next 20 days.

I always wish I would have done more when the test arrives. I think that will always be a constant. Still, I know when we have done enough to improve upon last year. Ultimately that is my goal/partnership goal with every student: improvement. Most kids can be 70% or higher when the teacher and student are dedicated. All kids can improve so that is my classroom goal. We will be focusing on standards as directed by data for 20 days.

What Should we Test in Public Education?

There’s been a lot of talk this past year about standardized testing in public education. To get a teaching degree requires a lot of discussion on this. There are many points being made on the internet and in books about how standardized tests are not the best assessment of the quality of schools. So what should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

Practical job skills are missing in our k12 system now. There are some classes in high schools across the country that attempt this but it should have precedence over all else if we are to prepare our students for a rough economy. Think tanks, collaboration, parent groups, and administration need to come together and brainstorm on this sort of curriculum. Teaching online is proving to be one innovative method toward this. It will have to be a malleable framework since the marketplace changes year to year and sometimes even sooner. One question these think tanks might address is this: “What skills have been universal through the decades in productivity at work.” I think this is the #1 Topic “A” priority item we should address as we reform public education. Teaching to a test gets very few people hired after graduation.

Traditional academic skills should still have priority as well. Language arts and math and crucial to surviving and thriving at work. We should keep the standards and standardized test models and use them but at a second priority. As it has been, the standardized test has been given more attention and focus than it merits, in my opinion. It does however give us a measuring stick that can be useful in planning classroom goals and lessons. This should be woven into the practical job skills aforementioned.

Finally, students need to be taught citizenship. As our system goes through the major changes it is going through now in attempt to escape the recession, our students should be prepared to make their contribution to keep the country strong. There is much material out there on teaching citizenship and behavior skills. This should be sorted through and a new “curriculum” of citizenship should be created. Tests of citizenship would do well to model what good citizens do in America. Very soon, our students will be the citizens of America and the world. How will they be prepared if we don’t guide them with our public schools.

To conclude, I do agree with many out there saying standardized testing is not the answer. At the same time, I feel it may be the answer if the test is based on the right priorities. If we focus on the practical first, we will be doing our students and country a much better service as public educators. Just like the road showing how to be a teacher, every child should have a clear path whatever she/he wants to be.

Goals Help Solve the Riddle of Setting up a Classroom

I wrote this post last year upon setting up my classroom. After reading it just a couple weeks before I do the same this year, I found it had some very helpful reminders. Today was my first day setting up my classroom. I made a LOT of planning notes and I am far from done. It was a challenge as always and at times overwhelming. There is so much you COULD be doing that you often get caught up majoring in the minors. I am proud to say I was a success today based on my goals set beforehand. My dad shared with me in my youth the concept of SPIDOG. It stands for “Set priorities in direction of goals.” The theory being that if you have clear and concise goals, your priorities and actions will be predicated upon them. After that, when you review measurable progress toward goals, decide if you are a success or not. Don’t let other people decide if you succeed, only you should determine that.

I recently wrote about my goals for the 2011-2012 school year. I followed them the entire 8 hours I was working. It saved me from time wasting. In fact, according to my goals, I was darn productive if I do say so myself. Below are a couple shots taken on my iPhone. They show first day progress toward consequence based rules, my primary goal this year. I am putting the desks in a “U” so I can walk around easily. I did other actions based on the goal of consequence based rules. Are you setting priorities in direction of goals thi year?

U desk formation left side
U Desk formation Right
Taping names on the desk for calling on random non-volunteers is part of a consequence based rules system

Tell me about your goals for setting up your classroom …

How Much Video Should We Use in a Lesson?

ClipjimideaVideo in education has become a widely used tool but is it as efficient as everyone says? When I was in public school in the 70’s and 80’s there were film strips and movie reels teachers used on rainy days or occasionally to provide better access to the core curriculum. Usually, videos were fillers more than innovation when I went to school. Not that I minded. As a student, where else would I have learned from Jiminy Cricket about “I’m no fool?” Or better yet Johnny Appleseed. With the advent of Teacher Tube and dozens of other well established educational video sites, we can safely see video as a better tool for education than it once was.

Video draws students in.

The culture of Spongebob and Youtube is stimulated by video. Students are reading less and tuning in to video more. I have found that even a quick mention of a character on their favorite show can perk up interest in subjects from the core curriculum. We should use cultural references to hook in interest but that’s another post. Showing kids video before a lesson on volcanoes can capture their attention and make comprehensible input more palatable. This is true with anything you teach. When grownups go to a conference, there is often a video intro for us. It unites us and excites us. Kids are the same way. Some teachers may fear what the Principal or colleagues might think if they see a video playing though. This may have good reason. How much video should we use in a lesson (that is justifiable)?

Video can be misinterpreted and distracting.

If you’ve ever used an analogy to make a point with kids you know some don’t get it. If you tell the story of the tortoise and the hare for example you will have a percentage thinking it’s about how turtles have shells and rabbits don’t. This is magnified with video. There are so many possible interpretations of video. Audio and video combine to lead even disciplined minds astray of the material being taught. I have read a little about the “flipped classroom” but have yet to believe it’s a good model. By teaching through video, you always run the risk of misinterpretation and distraction.

Get the balance right.

In the end, video is a powerful tool. Teachers must accept that it is there if they can use it. At the same time, we must beware that it can waste our class time. Of course every teacher should make she she/he is following their school/district guidelines on using video. As for me, I think a short snippet here and there can be very helpful in giving every child equal access to the core curriculm. Like any othet teaching tool however, you won’t know how effective it is until you try it. The balance for me is a well executed EDI crafted lesson with some audio/visual or realia introduced to interest the kids. A lesson should never be given as 100% video. I know that makes me a bit old fashioned but there it is. Teachers: what do you think?

A Flight Simulator, a Briar Patch to get our Kids Ready

brerrabit3The fear and reverence of Common Core is all around. It permeates education. Kids who are gifted and self-starters will likely welcome the opportunity to answer high level thinking questions on a computer screen. They also will not mind the copying, pasting, bulleting, and other technical aspects of the tests. But for the rest, it’s going to come as a shock. Some kids will just give up and type nonsense into the answer boxes. Others will flutter the screens as they learn to select text and not much more. What can we do for these students? I have a suggestion.

Just like flight students work in a simulator to decrease the affect of flying, so we should put kids in a simulated session of the Common Core test. For us here in California it is called the “Smarter Balanced” or SBAC Practice Test. It’s totally free and akin to the released questions the cde used to offer on their site. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s too bad there is no way to download it in case they ever upgrade or otherwise choose to take it down. I still have all my material the cde put out for the “1997 standards,” or so they are now called. It comes in handy sometimes. But this is more valuable than any of that. It gives the child a chance to click around within the framework and interface of the common core test that will shine before all students’ faces in April/May. If you don’t use this, make sure your test prep includes something like the interface they will be in. Remember Brer Rabbit when he got caught? He cried and cried for them not to throw him into a briar patch. When he escaped, he yelled “I was born in a briar patch!” laughing his way out of sight. We need to get our kids exposed to the common core test. Of course, daily instruction in the standards is the most crucial thing but after that, we need a flight simulator, a briar patch to get our kids ready for success.

What Is College Prep?

Many schools claim to be college preparatory schools, but what does that title really mean? There are multiple definitions for college readiness and they all seem to work. For example, if a school follows a college-preparatory curriculum, does it automatically mean the students are ready to enter and do well in college courses? If a student attends a school that does not define itself as college prep, but the student gets high grades and does well on placement and admission tests, does that mean the student is prepared for college? Some schools such as the Landon School consider all facets of a students’ growth, including course work, character development and learning good values such as honesty and respect are what make a student ready for college.

Start Early

According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonprofit group that advocates policies to increase college level opportunities and achievement, the effort to ready a student for college is a kindergarten through twelfth grade endeavor. The discussion is also driven by statistics that show that almost three-fourths of students who enter college or other postsecondary education, do not finish.

Traditional Wisdom Questioned

In the past, it was thought that if a student passes a specific set of academic courses, they are ready to do college-level work. In some cases, this is true, and some states have modified their curriculum to reflect this for all students whether they are college-bound or not. However, research conducted by ACT Inc., the producer of one of the two major college admission examinations has found that while taking all of the recommended academic courses is beneficial, it does not necessarily ensure successfully completing a college degree. The results may show that the high school courses may not have the right level of rigor. It also shows that along with academic excellence, students need good mental practices when they leave high school and enter college, such as critical thinking and ethical living habits, which provide another example of the Landon experience.

The Value of Mentoring

When teachers connect with students on more levels than classroom teaching, the students have a better chance to develop a healthy mindset. Teachers are mentors and coaches when they help students learn beyond the classroom such as on playing fields, in art galleries and libraries and in performing arts centers and learn to understand and explore all aspects of life. Mentors have the opportunity to model the principles of teamwork, perseverance, practice and fair play.

Other Qualities

Along with academic success and good ethical standards, students also need to develop problem solving skills, analytical thinking, inquisitiveness and the willingness to accept critical feedback graciously. They should also know how to use feedback to improve themselves, but be ready to fail at times also. In the digital age, ways of thinking may be as important or more important than content knowledge according to the study Standards for Success conducted at the University of Oregon.

Students who cannot cope with college level work often take remedial courses for which they get no credit. According to research, these students are unlikely to graduate. It is no wonder that there are different opinions on what constitutes college preparedness. The views of kindergarten through twelfth grade teachers and college professors vary widely.

Common Core and Typing Skills

tumblr_mtibaspb9k1ssyq3bo1_500When I was in school, typing was not as universally required as it is today. The students of today must type in their answers to standardized tests like Common Core. As a teacher, I have to help my students type in their usernames and passwords all the time for reading and math tests as well as other learning websites they are required to use. In the case of some, it takes 20 minutes just to log in. That’s why my school site purchased a typing program for the kids. As tech, my job was to upload the student information to the game. I did so and I think using this game is going to really infuse self-assurance and speed into their typing. In turn, I hope it enables them to test more accurately. Continue reading Common Core and Typing Skills

Dealing With Fighting in Schools: Are we Helping Our Kids?


Walking home from school or playing on the playground as a kid, were you bullied? Flip that around now: were YOU the bully? As a public school teacher in an inner-city demographic, I deal with the issue of kids fighting M-F (not Sa-Su thank goodness). I can attest that it is a real issue for parents and teachers. I am a big proponent of teaching things outside academics that are so necessary as life skills like teaching music and conflict resolution for example. Unfortunately, even the democrats have become polarized on language and math only so it may be a few years.

So if that is true, why is it I hear nearly all parents of kids involved in fights say they give their child permission to fight? (especially us dads) Of course, we invoke the “self-defense” clause of all that’s common sense about humanity … I would never argue with that. But, there is something they don’t know … something they don’t see. You might refer to it as “the fallen nature” if you are a Christian. Or, you might call it the law of the jungle if you’re an atheist. However you label the data, it’s there and it is kids beating the crud out of each other daily and blaming it on dear old mom and dad.

Last week there was a kid in my summer school class who pummeled another kid right in front of me. (incidentally, if you want to read a hilarious story about a similar student I had my first year, click here) This kid doing the pummeling was about 80 pounds give or take and the kid he was hitting was maybe 40, 45 tops I’d say. After going through all the steps and paperwork that we teachers must to in order to avoid being sued, I met with his dad and his dad said these exact words:

“I tell my son to defend himself because the school don’t do nothing.”

Poetry to this teachers’ ears (not). This isn’t an isolated case. I have even seen kids aggravate smaller kids until the small ones take a swing … then they move in fast for the, well in keeping with the idiom … the kill.

So what’s my point? I’d like parents to clear their minds of needless fears in much the same way you would get a Orovo detox or something physical like that. My school strives to be safe. It’s in the worst part of the High Desert. If any of you out there know Adelanto, it’s in “Old Adelanto.” I doubt many will see a picture in their head. It’s way off any tourist path. Still we keep it safe, and I know many other schools where they strive to do the same. Counsel your kids to NOT punch or hit, even in self-defense. Most the time, to avoid one parent suing the school, if any blows are thrown for any reason, both kids get suspended. There is a fine line between defending oneself and opening a can of whoop-ass. I wish more parents would have that discussion at the dinner table every night until their kids’ are 18. Let’s go beyond our animal urges and look at the psychology of what we tell our kids.