Exploring conflict and resolution in the school environment


sheep talking

Conflicts in schools are an everyday occurrence and exist between students and their teachers and between students and students in the classroom, playground, the dining hall and in the school community.  Students talk about conflict with their peers, parents, siblings and extended family members. They talk to me about their different experiences of conflict, their feelings and how these conflicts were resolved or not in some cases.

Teachers talk about conflicts with students whose behaviour and attitude they find difficult to manage in the classroom or other areas of the school.  I often mediate between students and teacher, student and student to resolve long or short conflicts.  It is the individual’s perception of the conflict,  the reasons, causes, who is to blame, how the conflict started, tend to drive the conflict to either to a resolution or a protracted conflict that may last beyond school.   When conflict arises what are the individual options?  They can either chose to continue the conflict, ignore and hope it will go away or to problem-solve.

Helping students to reach an agreement is about helping them to develop positive relationships allowing them to exist peacefully in the school environment.   It is important to facilitate the process in a fair and impartial way. I always make it clear to students that just because I know them I am not about taking sides or to judge, but to listen to each disputant’s side of the story. It is about trying to understand the conflict and working with them to find a solution and reach a working agreement. Students often interact with each other in different lessons, the playground, and friendship groups. Asking questions can become the beginning of a dialogue between individuals to explore and consider resolutions.

  • How did the conflict start?
  • Who/what started the conflict?
  • Who else is involved in the conflict?
  • What was your relationship like before the conflict started?
  • What are the key the issues for each individual?
  • What do you see as a solution?
  • What are the chances of the solution working?
  • What if the solution does not work out?

Resolution can only happen when we begin to develop an understanding of the causes of a conflict.  Experience has taught me those teaching students to resolve minor or major conflicts have a significant positive effect and benefit their relationships and communication skills. Other positive benefits include academic achievement, positive mental and emotional wellbeing, healthy interpersonal and group relationships. Conflict resolution is an important life skill that will help students in their future as adults.






Disruptions in the classroom: What students say.

Concerns about pupil behaviour and discipline in schools are not new. Since the establishment of state schools in the nineteenth century, there has been an ongoing discussion about the purpose of school, the way teachers should manage pupil behaviour in the classroom and ways that students should be disciplined and rewarded.

Education is not just about academic learning, it is also about the practice of obedience, following instructions, conformity to the school system and character building. Since the beginning of the school system, corporal punishment was used as a way of disciplining students. This was abolished in 1987 in state schools and 1998 in private and independent schools.  Teachers had to find other ways to discipline students. Here are a few examples used at  my school:

  • A verbal reprimand,  many times I walk past students getting reprimanded outside or inside the classroom.
  • Standing outside the classroom,  I see students standing outside the classroom door for disrupting lessons. Sometimes I stop and ask them what happened? Why are you out here? Sometimes it is a strategy used to help students “cool down.”
  • Withdrawal of privileges, these can include exclusion from school trips or sporting activity.
  • Time-out to calm down especially if a student is annoyed about something another student said or did to them.
  • Temporary segregation of the individual within the school, the student or students involved will be isolated and sent to a different teacher or head of a subject.
  • A system of demerits,  a student given a number of warnings before getting a demerit. This is noted on their daily behaviour record.
  • Intervention by the Pastoral head or deputy head of year group, this can include withdrawal from normal teaching groups and isolation with a member of the Pastoral team either for a long or short period of time.
  • Detention, informally during the school day, break and lunch times or briefly after school. Detention, with official parental knowledge and consent.
  • ” On report” system whereby behaviour is monitored with or without parental knowledge. Students report to their head of year,  form tutor or head of a subject.
  •  Parental involvement, teacher phone parents in talking about their concerns about behaviour, sometimes known as “a negative phone call home.”
  • Time spent in an internal isolation unit in the school.
  • Temporary exclusion or permanent exclusion.
  • Off-site units of education such as Pupil Referral Units (PRU)

There also strategies to encourage and support good behaviour, some of these include:

  • Verbal reasoning, teachers talking to a student about a particular classroom behaviour, together with the student and the teacher develop strategies aimed at changing the behaviour.
  • Positive reinforcement such as praise, a special treat or a prize.
  • Use of rewards, including a token economy where credits are earned for good behaviour and traded for rewards, such as a school trips,  or a special treat.
  • A system of merits.
  • Services such as counselling, mentoring, peer support, behaviour management, and mindfulness all aimed at behaviour modification.
  • Behaviour plans or contracts with or without parental involvement.
  • Valuing of pupils work, for example through display in a particular department.
  • Letters of commendation or postcards home from  Head of a year or of tutor to parents.
  • A “positive phone call” home to parents.

Government concerns about behaviour and school discipline continue into the twenty-first century, with Secretaries of State for Education commissioning reports aimed at giving schools strategies to manage pupil behaviour and discipline. Some of these are:

  • The Elton Report (1989) Discipline in Schools.
  • Steer Report Learning Behaviour (2005). The Steer committee also published a follow-up report Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned in 2009.
  • House of Commons Education Committee Behaviour and Discipline in Schools  First Report of Session 2010–11.
  • Behaviour and discipline in schools: Advice for headteachers and school staff  January 2016.

The most recent, in  March 2017 is Tom Bennett’s Independent review of behaviour in schools  ‘Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour.’

According to Bennett:

‘Behaviour remains a serious concern in the UK school system. As the 2014 Ofsted report Below the radar8 report’ said:
‘A YouGov survey show that pupils are potentially losing up to an hour of learning each day in English schools because of disruption in classrooms. This is equivalent to 38 days of teaching lost per year. A large number of pupils, therefore, are being denied a significant amount of valuable learning time. Many teachers have come to accept some low-level disruption as a part of everyday life in the classroom. One fifth of the teachers surveyed indicated that they ignored low-level disruption and just ‘tried to carry on’. However, this behaviour disturbs the learning of the perpetrators as well as that of others. According to the teachers themselves, an average secondary school might contain five or six teachers who lose at least 10 minutes of learning time per lesson as they struggle to maintain good order.’ Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour. (p20)

I have talked to teachers who feel relieved when a  student who is difficult or disruptive during their lesson is booked for a counselling session.  There is a difference in the dynamics of the class when the disruptive student is not there. Students are aware of rewards and sanctions for lack of compliance and conformity to school rules. there.  Some will push the boundaries and will disrupt their learning and that of others by engaging with low-level disruption such as answering back, annoying other students by making personal comments or name calling, this can eventually cause conflict between those involved.

What are students perception of others who disrupt their lessons?

In my conversations with students, they talk about the behaviour of other students in the classroom. They describe students who are disruptive by being rude to teachers, those who are consistently sent out of lessons,  others who start conflicts with other students by calling them names, attention seekers who think they are witty, to name a few. One student describes her experience.

“People who distract lessons are annoying, they are not funny, they get us in trouble. They are really not funny they are just trying to impress but they are ruining the lesson and the teacher gives us a class detention, this is not fair. I didn’t do anything why should I get a detention I want to learn.  Some students are rude to everyone, teachers and students they just don’t care. Every class has its clown or two who play off each other, when they are sent out I learn better.”

Another student said “When someone starts to mess about  I get angry, especially if they are not funny. If they are funny, they just make me laugh.”

Another student expressed her feelings about a student in her tutor group who often misbehaves during tutor time.  “He really annoys me, he always answers back and starts an argument with the teacher. Sometimes it’s like the teacher can’t control him, it’s better when he is not there.”

Why are some students disruptive?

There is not one answer to this question, there are a number of reasons.  Behaviour is caused by what is inside of us, it is about how we perceive, think,  feel and our response to these emotions. As individuals, we sometimes make snap judgements and decisions about a given situation, these are based on our evaluations, expectations about the self and other individuals.  The same can be said about teacher- student or student-student interactions.  It is the students rather than teachers that set the atmosphere of the classroom. I have talked to students who find a particular subject or a teacher difficult so sometimes they are disruptive. Playground disagreements or student-student conflict that have not been resolved can also have an impact on the classroom atmosphere.

In my conversations with students, they give different reasons for changes in behaviour or attitude.  For example, students who have family problems at home bring these into the school, they come into school worried about what may be going on at home. Some students have an immediate dislike of a particular teacher “I just find him/her annoying they can’t teach.”  Feelings of victimization by a particular teacher  “that teacher is always picking on me.”   Dislike of a particular subject, conflict with another student in the same class.

 Some questions I ask students

What behaviours are you choosing?
Why are you choosing these behaviours?
What are your past experiences with this teacher/student?
What could be the possible outcomes if you continue this behaviour?
What do you really want?
How realistic is this?
What are the chances of this happening?
What do you need to do to make this happen?
It is important to explore the root cause of individual behaviours. Getting an understanding of their  perception of the problem, thinking and feelings; can help students to  develop their understanding of the decisions, choices and responses they make daily.

Life with alcoholic parent (s)

‘I loved her and hated her with equal measure.’ When I read this story in the  Guardian    describing the  experience of living with an alcoholic parent, it reminded me of  recent conversations I have  with students whose experience echoes that of the writer . Last week a student talked  about her mother’s erratic behaviour when she is drunk, she talked about witnessing domestic violence, the way her parents behaved when they were both drunk and feeling protective towards her younger siblings. She seemed mature beyond her years, yet  inside she is still a child wanting things to be different.  It occurred to me that this was the real reason behind her attempt to self-harm some months ago when she was first  referred for counselling. I asked her if this was the case. ‘yes’, she replied but I couldn’t tell you that at the time.

This week another student talked about the love hate relationship he had with his alcoholic mother and how for many years he felt protective towards her, he described some of the incidents he had witnessed, the lies he told to protect her. More recently he is starting to feel angry when he reflects on his childhood experiences, he is feeling angry  has decided that he does not want to talk to her or see her. He needs a break to sort out his own future.


There are many children living a with alcoholic parents who perhaps feel ashamed to talk to anyone about what is going on at home, they live in fear of going home at the end of the school day. They will be the parents for their siblings, they live in fear of violence and abuse because of their parents alcoholism. All they want is to be safe, loved and to be children. My conversations with these students will continue. Thank you for writing this story.

Teacher -Student Connection?

How important is the teacher-student relationship? 

This week in counselling a student said to me…

“I think teachers should have a connection with their student’s miss”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, I think that a teacher should have a sense of who the child is, teachers don’t really know you.”

“What do you think they should know”?

“Well, they should know your strengths and weaknesses at least that way they would be able to help you.  A  teacher said to me that she is not here to build relationships, she is just here to teach”.

“Did you respond when she said that?”

“I just thought if she doesn’t want to understand me how is she going to help me if I am having a hard time with her subject or anything else? “I didn’t like it.”




Try this useful  resource for teachers from Amjad Ali (@ASTsupportAAli) March 30, 2015

New Toolkit Post- I wish my teacher knew… http://t.co/5YM9PjWMiQ