Successful Conflict Resolution for Special Education Students: Carolyn's Story
Conflict Resolution Teaching Strategies
Carolyn has been off task in her 4th grade class all week. Mr. Thurman is ready to throw in the towel and call her parent for a conference with her counselor and IEP (Individual Education Plan) team to have her placed in a self-contained classroom for Level 4 students with behavioral difficulties. He has decided that Friday after school, he will do something that he has avoided doing during the week: meet with Carolyn and the Principal privately in the Principals' conference room.
On Friday, Mr. Thurman had already called Carolyn's parents to inform them about his scheduled meeting to figure out why she's been misbehaving all week. Carolyn's mother thought it was a great idea and only asked for a brief meeting when she came to pick up her daughter. In meeting with Carolyn and the Principal, Mr. Thurman used the following strategies on his list to get to the heart of her misbehavior in class.
- Provide a confidential meeting space that is visible by other staff during the course of the meeting. The Principal's conference room had windows that allowed for the Principal to attend part of the meeting, view the duration of the meeting and have the main office staff to attend the meeting with student and teacher during his absence from parts of the meeting.
- Never meet with a student alone. Make sure that parents, Administrators, main office staff and colleagues know that you are meeting with a student and need to have another adult present during the meeting. Keep the doors open and yourself visible in your classroom or in the Principal's conference room.
- Keep the meeting to a brief time-frame that is adequate to the child's cognitive level and their age level. As a nine year old, Carolyn has a limited attention span, so Mr. Thurman has limited the meeting to 10 minutes.
- By creating a safe environment and showing concern, Mr. Thurman is setting the conference stage to help Carolyn open up about her feelings and misbehaviour with her peers.
- In questioning Carolyn about her behavior during the week, Mr. Thurman uses open ended questions such as "Carolyn can you help me understand what's happening in the classroom for you?" By asking the question in a way that not accusatory, but open to understanding Carolyn's behavior, Mr. Thurman is providing a constructive forum for conversation and conflict resolution.
- Meet with parent following the meeting and provide resolution and strategies to deal with the student's conflictual behavior. Ask the parent for feedback and support. Form a parent-teacher partnership in creating behavioral goals and outcomes for their student.
In the next section, Carolyn will respond to Mr. Thurman's questions and reveal some interesting feedback that will lead to a change in her behavior and in Mr. Thurman's conflict resolution teaching strategies for future behaviors.
When Mr. Thurman entered the Principal's conference room, Carolyn was working on a math worksheet assigned to the class earlier in the day. She was busy doing problem computations long-hand at the bottom of the paper and writing in the correct answer next to the problem. Mr. Thurman stopped startled in the doorway and watched a student who hadn't completed one assignment all week working feverishly on a math assignment. Carolyn looked up from her assignment and smiled at him.
"Hey, Mr. T," she said smiling showing a missing front tooth.
"Uh, Hi Carolyn," Mr. Thurman said clearing his throat and grabbing a chair at the table.
"Here, Mr. T, done. I'll finish up the other math homework over the weekend and turn everything in on Monday," she said sweetly handing him her completed work.
After a quick glance noting that she had received a 100% on the work, Mr. Thurman began the conversation, "So Carolyn, it appears that you've been having a rough week in class," he started. "Can you tell me what's been going on for you this week?"
She jumped right in, "Well, Robert is my best friend and Cindy is my best friend. The three of us do everything together until Robert started doing things with Cindy this week. They both left me out. I was upset Mr. T. I'm sorry that I acted out in class. I just felt like I had lost my two best friends," Carolyn said wiping away a tear.
Mr. Thurman was left speechless and unsure of what direction to take after Carolyn's disclosure. He remembered his conflict resolution strategies, but it appeared that Carolyn had already resolved her conflict issues.
"So Carolyn is there something that I could have done differently for you this week that could have helped redirect your behavior?" Mr. Thurman asked her as he tried to figure out what conflict strategies his student had used.
"Uh hum, you could have had a conference with me and asked me what was wrong. I would have told you," she responded looking directly at him.
"Well, I thought that I was conferencing with you by asking you to get back on task," Mr. Thurman responded almost defensively.
"Not the same, Mr. T. I thought you were mad at me and when you kept yelling at me, I just gave you something to yell about," Carolyn said smugly. "I used the conflict stuff you taught us last week and solved my own problems, since you seemed so busy with your own."
Mr. Thurman ended the conversation telling Carolyn what a good student she was and how happy he was to have her in his class. She left after giving him a high-five and a mega-watt smile. For Mr. Thurman, strategies for conflict resolution began with active listening and talking with his student.
Teaching strategies are effective in conflict resolution when both teachers and students know what they are and how to use them during a conflict. In this scenario, Carolyn used the strategies to self-problem solve even though she still got sent to the Principal's office for behavioral issues in Mr. Thurman's classroom. The importance of Carolyn's story is that she knew what needed to be done to de-escalate her conflict and she implemented the correct strategies. Being sent to the Principal's office in her case was not a punishment, but a time-out to get some work done in a quieter learning environment.