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Kappa Delta Pi Record

ISSN: 0022-8958 (Print) 2163-1611 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ukdr20

Meeting in the Middle: Eight Strategies for Conflict

Mediation in Your Classroom

Katherine Landau Wright, Matthew J. Etchells & Nancy T. Watson

To cite this article: Katherine Landau Wright, Matthew J. Etchells & Nancy T. Watson (2018)
Meeting in the Middle: Eight Strategies for Conflict Mediation in Your Classroom, Kappa Delta Pi
Record, 54:1, 30-35, DOI: 10.1080/00228958.2018.1407174

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00228958.2018.1407174

Published online: 02 Jan 2018.

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Kappa Delta Pi Record, 54: 30–35, 2018
Copyright © Kappa Delta Pi
ISSN: 0022-8958 print/2163-1611 online
DOI: 10.1080/00228958.2018.1407174


by Katherine Landau Wright, Matthew J. Etchells, and Nancy T. Watson

tors, mentor teachers, and university instruc-

Abstract tors. Our work has shown us that the anxiety
Use these proven strategies for mediation to maintain a safe, productive I experienced in the Boston Public Schools is
classroom environment, model positive social interactions, and allow common with preservice and novice inservice
students to increase their personal responsibility. teachers. In fact, classroom management is one
Key words: classroom management, conflict resolution

of the top concerns for student teachers and
their mentors (Moore, 2003). While much of
s a student teacher in the classroom management is learned on-the-job,
Boston Public Schools, we can equip new teachers with skills to medi-
I (Katherine Landau ate conflict in their classrooms. This approach
Wright) was not primar- differs greatly from the authoritarian view of
ily concerned about my classroom management, as the goal is to model
content knowledge or mediation practices students can apply to their
ability to create innova- own lives.
tive lessons. What worried me most was how While often used to negotiate difficult dis-
to manage a diverse classroom. I had nearly putes, such as divorce settlements or workplace
completed a master’s degree in education, conflicts, mediation has tenets for facilitating
and much of my coursework had included behavior management and conflict resolution
information on the educational disparities and that are easily applied to working with students.
challenges facing urban students. However, The word mediate, derived from the Latin
what was missing was how to overcome those word medius meaning “the middle” (Watson
challenges to create an inclusive and support- & Watson, 2011a), involves an intermediary or
ive classroom environment. intervention. In this piece, we outline strategies
Since our early classroom teaching experi- from the conflict intervention approach of me-
ences, we (the authors) have filled a plethora of diation that are easily applicable to classroom
practitioner roles, including school administra- practice. Our goal is to provide both novice



and veteran practitioners with innovative ap- Attitude acquisition theory

tells us that how we have
proaches to classroom management focused
on modeling positive social interactions and
creating a supportive learning environment. experienced something in the past has
Mediating Students
a direct impact on how we feel about it
The view of the teacher as an authoritarian in the present.
figure does not fit the needs of 21st-century
school students. When managing current —WRIGHT, ETCHELLS, AND WATSON

school classrooms, teachers must have two end

goals in mind: (a) maintaining safe, productive Be Mindful of Mental Models and
environments where all students can learn; Emotions
and (b) providing models to support students’ Attitude acquisition theory tells us that how
personal development as empowered individu- we have experienced something in the past has
als. A mediation framework accomplishes both a direct impact on how we feel about it in the
these goals by lessening the power distance present (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). Together, our
between student and teacher so the student past experiences and our attitudes toward them
may learn from the teacher’s actions and as- are one piece of our mental models, which are
sume greater personal responsibility (Watson, our internal understandings of external events
Watson, & Stanley, 2016). that help to dictate how we react to situations
Implementing a mediation framework (Rook, 2013). Every individual develops personal
inherently means students should be learning mental models. For instance, if a teacher formed
from their teacher’s use of classroom manage- a strong relationship with a particular student, the
ment strategies. Absent the framework, there teacher is likely to feel favorably toward another Katherine Landau Wright
may be a gap between what students are able student who is reminiscent of the first student. is an Assistant Professor
of Literacy Education and
to do now and what they will be expected to While these mental models help us to make sense
Director of the Literacy Lab
do as adults. Social constructionist theories of of the world, they also can impact how teachers at Boise State University.
learning posit that, through social interactions, perceive student behaviors. Her research focuses on
individuals can achieve more than they would strategies for engaging
Students enter the classroom with their own
middle and high school
be able to on their own as well as learn from the set of experiences and values, and understanding readers and writers in their
process (Tracey & Morrow, 2012). Frequently, that these can lead individuals to have mental content-area classes. Email:
this scaffolding will be provided in the form of models different from those of the teacher is katherinewright@boisestate.
interactions with a More Knowledgeable Other essential to creating a positive classroom envi-
(MKO; Vygotsky, 1980). Through a mediation ronment. A mental model that differs from the Matthew J. Etchells
framework, the teacher becomes the MKO and teacher’s is not necessarily wrong, but it can cre- is a doctoral student of
Curriculum and Instruction
models conflict management and resolution ate conflict if not recognized. Therefore, teachers
at Texas A&M University.
strategies for the student. Furthermore, the need to be extremely cognizant of the values they His research focuses on
teacher can provide opportunities for students hold in order to acknowledge when a student’s tutoring, shadow education,
to practice these skills in authentic situations, teacher preparation,
may differ from their own.
comparative education, and
allowing students to develop self-efficacy abili- Often when the mental models of students conflict resolution. Email:
ties to mediate conflicts independently. and teachers are at odds, emotions can run high. matthewetchells79@tamu.
This is where the teacher needs to take the pro- edu
Eight Strategies for Using verbial high road and model for the student how Nancy T. Watson is
Mediation in Classroom to recognize feelings and how to keep them from President of The Center
Management dictating actions. Sometimes this is as simple as for Change and Conflict
Resolution (CCCR), and a
While certainly not an exhaustive list, the fol- saying, “I am feeling very upset right now, so I do
Clinical Associate Professor at
lowing strategies will support both novice and not want to make any important decisions right Texas A&M University. Email:
veteran teachers in mediating their classrooms. at this moment,” or retrospectively acknowledg- n.watson@tamu.edu



ing when emotions such as anger impaired the may infuriate a teacher, but often the student
teacher’s judgments. This level of awareness not is not even fully aware of this subconscious
only helps the teacher to better manage conflict behavior. Telling the student to stop sighing
in the classroom, but also models for the student will likely only escalate the conflict. However,
how adults can be respectful of one another even explaining to the student the message he or
in high-stress situations. she is sending—for example, When I hear you
sigh, I feel what I am saying is not important to
Model the Use of I-Statements you, and I don’t think that is what you are trying
Training students to use I-statements is to tell me—is more likely to continue a produc-
vital in promoting positive communication tive conversation, while giving the student an
and reducing instances of conflict between opportunity to develop his or her awareness of
students who misinterpret each other (Um- body language.
breit, 1997). I-statements enable the speaker
and listener to focus on feelings and content, Identify Positions Versus Interests and
and decrease the likelihood of either party Needs
becoming defensive. A simple format can be Students’ behaviors do not occur in a vacu-
followed to facilitate effective I-statements um; to understand why a student may be acting
(underlined words indicate standard compo- out, teachers need to examine the reasons for
nents of an I-statement): the behaviors. However, often the reason that
Teacher: When you interrupt me while is most easily identified is also misleading. This
I am teaching, I feel frustrated. I would is because, when faced with conflict, humans
like you to wait until I am finished giv- tend to outwardly express their position without
ing instructions before you ask to use identifying their deeper interest or need.
the restroom. In conflict mediation, a position is what
someone wants in a negotiation or conversation.
Pay Attention to Body Language An interest or need, by contrast, explains why
The need for teachers to understand body someone has taken that specific position. Interests
language and have their body language under- and needs underlie what we say we want and can
stood by students is critical, especially because reveal deeper hopes, values, and beliefs (Watson
developing students may communicate more & Watson, 2011b). When working with students,
with their body language than their oral lan- the outward position will likely be identifiable—
guage. While all teachers will try to choose their perhaps the student does not want to work with
words carefully when addressing a classroom a certain peer on a group project. These students
conflict, school students are acutely adept at will often have a deeper interest or need they
noticing subtle cues that may contradict the themselves may not be completely aware exists.
teacher’s verbal message. Bush and Pope (2002) If a conversation with the teacher can guide the
suggested that during disputes, “body language student to identify his or her needs, it is more
is as important as the actual words spoken” (p. likely that an acceptable solution for both teacher
88). Therefore, it is essential teachers have a and student can be found. If a student does not
heightened awareness of their own body lan- want to work with a specific individual, the reason
guage and the messages they are conveying to may be he or she does not believe the team will
students. succeed, or perhaps an individual has mistreated
Similarly, students need to be cognizant of the student in the past. Once this issue has been
how their own body language is perceived by identified, the teacher can not only resolve the
others. Teachers can use the aforementioned immediate conflict and facilitate a positive part-
I-statements to explain the messages their body nership between the two students, but also help
language is implicitly sending. For instance, the student solve the underlying problem and
a student sighing when being reprimanded avoid future conflicts.


Figure 1. Monthly Costs


Encourage Perspective Taking Figure 1.

When students find themselves in a conflict, The “Drama Triangle”
they will likely be emotionally charged and un-
able to see different points of view. However, to
resolve these conflicts, students must be able to
understand the perspective of another person.
Social awareness, a component of social and
emotional learning (SEL), requires individuals to
Believes he or she
take the perspective of and empathize with others
is being oppressed
(Payton et al., 2000). Encouraging perspective
taking will help students understand the root of
a conflict and support their abilities to mediate
the situation.
Anyone who has ever had a disagreement
knows it is difficult to slow down the conversa-
tion enough to really consider different perspec-
tives; so this skill must be explicitly taught and
modeled. When two students are in conflict, the Rescuer Persecuter
teacher can have children take turns clarifying Wants to “save the day” May or may not actually be
their feelings. The first child states his or her feel- persecuting the victim
ings, followed by the other child restating what
was communicated in his or her own words. This Whereas many teachers might summarize
process forces each student to truly stop and think a student’s perspective by saying, “I know you
about how the other is feeling. Once one student feel upset because . . .,” even if the statement
finishes his or her restatement, the other student that follows is correct, the teacher is essentially
can be asked whether that summary was accurate telling the student how he or she feels. Providing
and, if not, they can be given the opportunity the student an opportunity to confirm that his
to clarify thoughts and feelings. This process is or her feelings have been accurately represented
repeated until both students feel their perspective validates the student’s thoughts and feelings as
has been heard and understood. well as models how to ensure you understand
When facing a one-on-one conflict with a another’s perspective.
student, teachers can model this same behavior.
If a student expresses being upset or frustrated, Escape the “Drama Triangle”
the teacher can model perspective taking, as is The “drama triangle,” depicted in Figure 1,
demonstrated in the following interaction: is a social model describing the relationship be-
Teacher: John, what I hear you saying is tween personal responsibility and power in con-
that you are upset because you were un- flicts, as well as the destructive and shifting roles
able to finish your assignment on time people play (Karpman, 1968). As long as teachers
because of something out of your control, and students continue to play out the roles in this
and you do not feel it is fair that you lost triangle, they will struggle to form positive and
points. Is that accurate? productive relationships in the classroom.
John: Yes. I didn’t know I was going to go In the “drama triangle,” the victim is not
to my dad’s house, so I didn’t bring my always an actual victim, but rather someone
textbook home. who is feeling or acting like a victim. The victim,
Teacher: Okay, can you please explain if not actually being persecuted, will seek out a
what you are hearing me saying so that persecutor, or someone to blame for his or her
I know you understand my point of view troubles, such as a classmate or an adult with
as well? some authority. Consider a typical school scenario



As educators, we often Honor Conflict Styles

face this dilemma between
Beyond fight or flight are more complex
behaviors of competing, collaborating, compro-
choosing to be the rescuer, mising, accommodating, and avoiding (Watson

especially in a school environment, & Watson, 2011a). By understanding our own

and enabling students to take

behaviors and those of our students in times of
conflict, we can better understand how conflict
responsibility and accountability for styles can impact our desire to be assertive and

their actions. satisfy our own concerns, or to be cooperative

and satisfy the concerns of others.
Regardless of style, it is important to remem-
ber that not all conflicts require engagement—
sometimes the best thing a teacher can model is
where one student is excluded from an activity. the ability to ignore or avoid a situation. When
The explanation may be logical and without deciding whether or not to engage in a classroom
malice—perhaps only those involved with a conflict, ask yourself the following questions
group such as student council were invited; how- (Watson & Watson, 2011a):
ever, the excluded child may look for someone to • How important is the issue to you? For ex-
blame, and that individual might be the teacher ample, is the problem negatively impacting
in charge of the activity or another student. the classroom environment or might it have
The victim also looks for a rescuer, often a negative impact in the future?
a teacher, to save the day. While the rescuer’s • Do you currently have the energy to engage
intention is to help the victim, he or she may per- in this conflict?
petuate the victim’s negative feelings (Karpman, • What are the potential consequences of
1968). If the excluded student in the preceding engaging in this conflict? Are you ready for
scenario approached an adult unrelated to the the consequences?
situation to be the rescuer and fix the problem, • What are the consequences if you do not
any action the rescuer takes will validate the vic- engage in the conflict?
tim’s perception of having been wronged.
Rescuing also has negative effects because By answering these questions before engag-
it keeps the victim dependent on the rescuer; ing in conflict within classrooms, teachers can
and the victim, consciously or unconsciously, reduce stress levels for all parties and model
gives up personal power. When a student gives positive behavior. As adults, we are most likely to
up personal power, he or she is also giving up handle conflict in a manner we saw modeled as
personal responsibility and accountability. As children (Watson & Watson, 2011a). Therefore,
educators, we often face this dilemma between as teachers, it is critical we approach conflict
choosing to be the rescuer, especially in a school management with an understanding of our own
environment, and enabling students to take re- behavior as well as the knowledge that how we
sponsibility and accountability for their actions. handle conflict now will directly impact how our
Referring back to the excluded student, rather students manage conflict in the future.
than trying to intervene and fix the problem, the
teacher could encourage the student to consider Create a Classroom Conflict
why he or she was not invited, or perhaps to Mediation Plan
have a calm conversation with the person in Once teachers understand their conflict styles
charge. By being aware of this model, teachers and those of their students, they can develop a
are more able to be cognizant and proactive fa- Classroom Conflict Mediation Plan. By creating
cilitators instead of enabling students to remain this plan prior to being involved in a conflict, the
within the triangle. teacher can (a) thoughtfully create a productive



intervention plan, and (b) intentionally imple- Table 1. Steps for Developing and Implementing a
ment the plan when in conflict (see Table 1). A Classroom Conflict Mediation Plan
Classroom Conflict Mediation Plan is simply a set
of sequential steps to follow when conflicts arise Developing a plan Using the plan
in the classroom. This proactive measure can help
the teacher to remember to mediate, rather than
1. Resolve that effectively me- 1. Use your plan every time
diating classroom conflicts is you have a conflict in the
just manage, the conflict. This ready-made plan
important. classroom.
is especially important toward the end of the
2. Refine and learn communica- 2. Review and modify your
year, when energy levels are down and conflict tion skills you view as essen- plan as you grow and
can escalate more rapidly. Having a plan can save tial to managing classroom change as a teacher.
time and relationships, and supports the develop- conflict. 3. Adapt your plan to best
ment of students as socially responsible people. 3. Determine the physical, support each situation.
Think of the Classroom Conflict Mediation Plan emotional, and cognitive ex- 4. Celebrate when you use
like the version 2.0 of counting to 10 or taking periences you currently have your plan and see the
a deep breath. when engaged in a classroom productive outcomes
conflict. for you, your classroom
Supporting Students’ 4. Determine when a classroom environment, and your
Mediation Skills conflict is yours personally or students.
one you need to help others
To foster a developmentally responsive class-
room, teachers must identify students’ conflict
5. Determine and write down
mediation abilities, work with students at their specific steps you will use
current levels, and support their development (typically 4–8 steps) each
into strong conflict mediators (Vygotsky, 1980). time you engage in a class-
Every child is going to enter the classroom room conflict.
with different experiences and mental models;
therefore, it cannot be assumed that all students
will react the same way to conflict. Being devel-
opmentally responsive means the teacher must References
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meet the student at his or her current skill level interaction: The principles and practice of transformative media-
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behavior: An introduction to theory and research. Reading, MA:
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vice teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 54(1), 31–42.
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the ideal situation is a teacher who wins and a Tompsett, C. J., & Weissberg, R. P. (2000). Social and emotional
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how we, as educators, understand our relation- troduction for individuals and organizations. Bryan, TX: The Center
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