Conflict Resolution

Jesse Pfaff/ Secondary English Education Major/ ACH Clear Pathways After-School Arts Program Intern

As a student, I have never been one to create conflicts. I was taught to be the perfect student who sat quietly, did all my work, and did not complain. I have always been a successful student who gets good grades. I ask though, at what cost?

Although the after-school program is a different environment than a school classroom, many of the rules and expectations are the same. The biggest difference is there are no grades.  It is hard to motivate some of the students to complete their assigned projects. It is difficult because there is no fear of receiving a bad grade. Ms. Jill, the teacher in the visual arts room in which I spend most of my time, is unsure how to motivate students and discipline them if the need be.

This past week, two different situations occurred that made me pause to reflect on how I plan to implement conflict resolution in my future classroom. The first situation left me frustrated and still searching for answers. One of the students who is among the older kids was not listening or following directions. Ms. Jill prompted him multiple times, reminding him what his options were. His walking around the classroom and talking to his friends was not one of them. Eventually, this student ended up being disrespectful to Ms. Jill. He gave her attitude and left the classroom. Ms. Jill approached me after all of the students had left at the end of the day. “I don’t know what to do about him,” she told me. We discussed how neither of us have ever been very good at conflict or discipline. I thought about different solutions for the next few days. In my head, she had done all of the appropriate interventions. She tried to get the student back on task. She gave the student several different options for appropriate activities. I was at a loss. Luckily, there have been no further issues with this student. He might have had a bad day, and it manifested in the art room. Since, he has been respectful of Ms. Jill and her classroom. We got lucky. The problem fixed itself.

The second scenario involved a five-year-old student. Admittedly, I have little experience with students in this age group. Even less than secondary students. So, I have struggled interacting with some of the younger students. They come from a full day of sitting in school and are expected to participate in structured art projects. It is obvious that young children have shorter attention spans. As we’ve learned in educational psychology, this is scientifically true. We try to keep this in mind when dealing with the younger students. This week, we encountered a situation where we had to coax a student through completing a project. He had to draw noodles as a representation of the letter ‘n’. He had no interest. Then, I started talking to him about what kind of noodles he liked. I talked about how much I like spaghetti. I told him about my fall harvest shaped noodles I plan to put in a hearty soup. This is when I realized that for this specific student, food is the answer. After he drew is noodles in pencil, we asked him to outline in Sharpie and color them. It was immediately a full-blown meltdown. He ran to one of the corners, sat down with his arms across his chest, and pouted. Ms. Jill tried to talk to him, but there is no rationalizing with a hungry five-year-old. This was Ms. Jill’s strategy. She asked him why he didn’t want to use markers, if crayons would work better, or if he wanted it to be in pencil. He just kept yelling “no”. At this point, I had joined the two of them in the corner. I gave him a proposition. That day, each student was given a snack. This particular student had not had his yet. He wanted it desperately. The rule was that the project had to be done to receive the snack. I suggested to him that maybe he pick out his snack. He could have two chips from the bag as a reward for drawing the picture. I told him he could then have the rest of the bag after he colored it. The change was immediate. He got up and ran back to the table he had been drawing at. I gave him two Funyuns and sat with his as he colored the noodles. His demeanor had changed, he was the happy, silly kid we were so used to.

What I’m trying to say is that these are my first encounters with conflict resolution in a classroom. It was stressful and overwhelming for everyone involved. My biggest take away is that there is no one size fits all solution. Every problem is different and so is every student. This is why forming good personal relationships with my students will be so important in my future classroom. I want to be able to get to the same kind of resolution I did with the boy coloring his noodles. I want everyone to win. These experiences are practice in conflict resolution, an area where I know is a weakness.


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