As a society we normally encounter conflicts but have not normalized a way to navigate through them to everyone’s mutual satisfaction. Massachusetts resident and Author of ‘America’s Educational Crossroads,’ Julie Coles, shares a conflict resolution model she designed to assist her high school students address grievances. This post will discuss Julie’s thoughts about the purpose and benefits of her 9-Rs for resolving conflicts model. The steps outlined place responsibility for resolving disputes with students guided by the support of a mediator to facilitate students through the nine steps. The overarching goal of the 9-R’s model is to assist all students involved achieve a fair and mutually beneficial outcome.
School staff expect conflicts among students and their peers. Yet, as learning institutions, schools generally do not teach students strategies for addressing and resolving conflicts. Given the broad range of social development issues students encounter in schools, Julie proposes broadening the scope of every school’s responsibilities to include instructing students about how to resolve conflicts. All staff members in classrooms, school cafeterias, libraries, playgrounds and school bus drivers have had to address skirmishes between students; too often to very little success. Physically separating students and allowing time to cool down is usually the end goal. The practice of physically separating students involved in altercation is just the first step in the 9-R’s Conflict Resolution Model. Schools need trained mediation facilitators to guide and teach students constructive ways to resolve issues. Ultimately middle and high school students can learn how to become peer mediators. The 9-R’s model is a process adults can teach to cohorts of students. Trained students can then facilitate mediation sessions to assist their peers resolve conflicts.
Training School Mediators
Academics are the core responsibility of every teacher, but the time devoted to resolving conflicts in their classrooms impedes their ability to proceed with instruction. Typically when conflicts erupt, the problem gets moved from the classroom to another designated area. But moving the problem is not the same as solving it. Conflicts are among the most common challenges in every school. During her years as school leader, it took Julie some time to recognize the ineffective practice of removing students from classes or school without addressing the root causes that led to conflicts. No longer wanting to interrupt the education of students, the policy of removing students from school was discontinued. Her preference was to explore alternatives that focused on assisting students address and resolve their grievances. Viewing conflicts through a different lens allowed Julie to place less emphasis on punitive consequences and redirect students’ attention on how to take responsibility for their decisions. A new trend began to emerge. The 9-R’s model resulted in a high rate of success for all participants who felt their concerns were taken seriously. The goal of achieving fair and mutually satisfactory outcomes was met due to a decision to resolve conflicts in a meaningful way, and by perceiving them as teachable moments .
Julie Coles, Author, and former educational professional, decided the first step in resolving a conflict is to review the situation. Allowing all persons involved in a conflict time to step back to assess what happened is essential. But in order for the process to arrive at a fair and just outcome, the first step requires one important non-negotiable condition; honesty. Everyone has to be willing to own their role in whatever occurred.
Once students have had time to calmly review the situation, the next step in the process is to reflect on why the conflict happened. If you were the person who instigated the incident, what were the reasons for your conduct? So often the reoccurrence of incidents is due to persistent denials of having done something wrong or accusing victims of making false accusations. If the truth is never acknowledged conflicts are not only likely to fester; they may recur over and over again. Honest reflection is when students learn how to take responsibility for their actions. Taking ownership requires taking down walls. However, learning how to become defensive is a common default posture. Unlearning that as our first instinct, so we can arrive at the truth, takes time, patience and trust. Trust can be earned by creating an atmosphere that conveys there being greater interest in getting to the truth than judging what one did. Assurances of listening without judging is a helpful attribute mediators need to possess. It’s a useful skill for lowering levels of resistance.
Redressing incidents from a different perspective starts with inquiring how those responsible for the problem would have reacted if they were in the other person’s shoes. It’s an important step because instigators are asked to switch places with the victim. The point of the entire 9-R’s exercise is help instigators see, and appreciate the perspective of those on the receiving end of disrespectful words or behaviors. It’s where empathy is introduced. Mediators facilitating sessions need to allow time and grace for students to filter through the concept of trading places with victims. It is not an easy transition for many, but it is necessary before proceeding to the next step.
Achieving an understanding of the other person’s perspective is essential in preparing for the next level of the conflict resolution session. Instigators will be joined by those victimized by their actions. Preparing instigators and victims to meet with one another is a priority. Facilitators of the 9-R’s Conflict Resolution process represent neutrality, but must be sensitive to the conditions needed for students to feel safe in letting down their defenses. Asking participants if they are ready and willing to meet and hear what each person has to say empowers them to make decisions that reflect their level of comfort. If one or both say they are not ready to proceed, pause the process and meet with those who resist to allow them to voice their reasons. Providing an overview of steps that have transpired and the purpose of the remaining steps may help to ease their apprehension. The model does require the instigator to lead the reconciliation stage of the meeting. Tasked with the responsibility of offering a sincere apology when the other person arrives will help set the tone of the meeting. But the apology is not just about uttering the words, “I’m sorry.”. It carries a greater weight of sincerity when stated as, “I’m sorry for what I did,” and immediately naming what it was they did. As a special education teacher for third and fourth graders Julie taught her students helpful phrases like, “I did it. It was a mistake. I apologize.” as the first step in students learning how to take responsibility. For the 9-R’s model, apologies by instigators are followed with an explanation about seeing the situation from the other person’s perspective and why they understand the way the other person responded in the manner they did. Such explanations will make the apology more impactful. The instigator then is in a position to extend an olive branch; assuring the victim that they are committed to making sure it never happens again. The response to the apology and assurance is needed in order to proceed to finding a resolution acceptable to both parties.
Reconciliation requires a willingness by all participants to bring the conflict to an end. Ending conflicts cannot be decided by only one of the parties. Both have to show signs a desire to proceed toward achieving a mutual resolution. While the instigator is usually the one to be the first to ask for forgiveness, those who have been aggrieved must also be willing to accept the other’s request to be forgiven. Achieving compromise from both sides requires relinquishing control. Communicating your needs will help achieve the outcome needed to insure all are comfortable with the final resolution. Mutual investment in bringing the matter to an end, followed by a promise to maintain commited to the conditions agreed upon by all parties is the goal needed to achieve closure.
Once reconciliation has been achieved both parties discuss recommendations for moving forward. Hearing assurances from both persons to mutually commit to let go of the conflict is a reassuring sign of progress.
Julie Coles, Author, explains about the need to be careful of expectations after an apology; especially for close friendships severed by a conflict. Everyone needs time and space to recover. Emotional wounds take time to heal. Healing times differ among all of us.
In schools, the stage of repairing generally leads to affirmation of what all parties agree to. Reaching mutual assurances to move forward and peacefully coexist is the preferred outcome. In any conflict, where people struggle to let go, due to lingering or unresolved feelings, it is not unusual for someone to request an additional session. Sometimes more clarity is needed. It would be in the best interest of both parties to include a mediator to facilitate any and all further discussions needed. As long as progress is continually being made the quantity of sessions is less important than the quality of accomplishments achieved. Until some mutually agreed upon outcome is reached, and to the satisfaction of both parties, unresolved conflicts can have a feeling of continued uncertainty for one or both people. That uncertainty is the determining factor of whether or not an issue has been fully resolved.
While The 9-R’s Conflict Resolution Process, was designed to support students resolve their grievances and achieve mutual agreement; learning how to resolve conflicts has more far reaching implications beyond school. If students learn conflict resolution strategies in school, they will carry those successful practices into their adult lives. We have to teach students how to handle and recover from conflicts so they can return to their normal routines and healthy lives. Understanding they have ways to survive conflicts will make them less fearful of encountering certain situations. But schools cannot be the only place that teaches lessons on how to survive conflicts. Parents, mentors and other adults are also role models students look to. When they witness the adults they care about work through challenges in calm and respectful ways and then overtime return to some form of normalcy they see examples of successful resolutions to conflicts that are a part of everyone’s life.
How Can Students Move Forward After Conflict?
The steps above are a great starting point for resolving conflict, but they are not the only way to resolve a dispute. There are many ways to resolve a conflict, and finding what works best for you really matters. The important thing is knowing you don’t have to struggle to resolve conflicts on your own. There truly are many resources available to help you. Here are a few suggestions.
You can talk to a trusted friend or family member about the conflict. Talking with others can be a great way to get some perspective on the situation. You can also speak to a counselor or therapist.
Julie Coles, Author of ‘America’s Educational Crossroads,’ explains that reading books or researching articles about conflict resolution can also be helpful. There are many different strategies that you can learn about. But most often trained mediators, who can be found on internet searches, are skillful problem solvers if you are struggling with an issue and finding it difficult to move on or let go.
Julie believes we all need opportunities to air our grievances in safe and constructive ways. But all persons have to be willing to invest in resolving issues. Creating the “safety” conditions to allow everyone to feel comfortable with being honest may help participants be more open to accepting accountability without becoming defensive. Any attempt at resolving conflicts requires a well thought out plan to surround all participants in a culture of safety and comfort. If we expect one another to expose our vulnerabilities some preparation is needed to create safe and comfortable conditions.
Mediation done well requires a lot of forethought. Avoiding any attempts to deviate from the steps identified in the 9-R’s process should bring the session to an immediate pause. Digressions that lead to argumentative outbursts are counterproductive; even in moments when instigators hearing someone describe the pain endured from hurtful comments or actions they were subjected to are uncomfortable. Listening without interruption and communicating respectfully will help the process of resolving conflicts proceed in a respectful manner. In schools peaceful coexistence is the desired outcome. But achieving that outcome will need a process that is carried out under calm, respectful and peaceful conditions.
Never Be Afraid to Ask for Help…. Yes, happy endings are appealing, but occasionally resources like those in the 9-R’s Conflict Resolution process simply are not appropriate to respond to more serious circumstances. And it’s why Julie feels it would be irresponsible of her to not acknowledge that some conflicts need a different and more serious form of attention. When in need, people of all ages should seek the help of qualified therapists who possess a deeper understanding of personal issues. Schools can support the resolution of conflicts, but on many occasions the services of those trained to help people cope with more serious issues are needed. More importantly, Julie advises that we all build the habit of asking for help when needed. If we routinely request help, it serves to normalize the habit of requesting help. Julie hopes that overtime we can normalize asking for help in the early stages of problems before they evolve into a crisis. Her theory is that the normalization of requesting help will eventually benefit everyone. Julie is hoping that we can grow sensitivity antennas that allow us to recognize when someone is showing signs of needing help. But we will also need to learn communication skills to develop being comfortable with inquiring about another person’s emotional or psychological well-being. Currently it’s an uncomfortable, and at times awkward, situation most of us prefer to avoid. However, acquiring non- judgemental and sensitive communications skills to inquire about one another’s well-being with empathy can create the conditions that make it safe for everyone to take risks when we see evident signs of someone who may be signaling distress. When we learn and routinely use skills to detect signs of someone in need of assistance, we can become comfortable with approaching others. Simply inquiring if people we care about are okay and explaining why you asked, is an act of kindness. We as a society have to work collectively to remove the stigma associated with mental and emotional well-being issues. Julie echoes the sentiment of others who have expressed that we need to make it okay to admit when we are not okay.
We should destigmatize reaching out to request support with holding it together when things feel like they are falling apart. It is the most humanitarian act of kindness people can do for one another. We need to create the conditions that will put everyone at ease with acknowledging when things are not okay. It can help us all to travel through life less burned by stigmas. In fact, Julie believes if we adopt the habit of asking for help when needed it will be a transformational experience. She likes to imagine a time when we will be liberated from the burden of hiding our occasional need for support; which she views as a normal occurrence in the lives of all human beings.