Conflict Resolution

When I was in school, “conflict resolution” took the form of teacher-shuts-it-down-with-threats/punishments to keep class time lesson-focused.

As I studied progressive and alternative forms of education, I came across many approaches to dealing with conflicts between students. There were “J.C.s” (Judicial Committees) comprised of students, essentially local courts. There were teacher trainings on using non-violent communication, with the idea that the teacher then intervenes to mediate/manage conflicts. There were programs where students were trained as mediators and then designated as support people for their classmates to request help from. All kinds of things…

The ALC-NYC program came out of a Change Up meeting, with the intention from staff of shifting responsibility for culture creation further from staff onto students. We have the steps posted on a door in our hallway, and the form (keep reading) available on our website. Here’s the process:

Roar! I’m having a conflict!*

*or I notice a cultural pattern I’d like to upgrade/address

STEP 1: Breath. Decide how you would like to communicate to the person you are in conflict with. Attempt to communicate with them. If this doesn’t work, continue to…

STEP 2: Ask for support. Find someone to help you communicate with the person you are in a conflict with. [implicit: staff are available, but they will probably encourage you to ask another student first :)] If this still doesn’t work, continue to…

STEP 3: Log onto the website and fill out a Culture Committee [CC] form. An email will be sent to students and staff who have agreed to serve as the CC. They will schedule a meeting (usually immediately or the next day) to discuss the situation and determine what next steps are appropriate. At least three CC members must be present for the meeting. The CC discusses the form–usually with the person who filed it–and decides what/how they want to respond before bringing in the others involved in the conflict.

Just having the process set up has meant that most conflicts are resolved by kids during STEP 2. As is to be expected, facilitators initially had to stay mindful to break their pattern of responding to conflicts and instead remind students of the process (then leave them space to use it). The process ONLY works if it’s used consistently and taken seriously (not a problem at ALC-NYC, but it could potentially be if not implemented with student support). Also worth noting is a pattern: some new kids may get multiple CCs convened on them while they are acculturating. They may respond defensively to their first CC (relating it to shamings/punishments at conventional school and so not expecting their peers to discuss how to compassionately and responsibly support them). They may call a couple of CCs when they first realize that they have the power to do so. All these things are fairly normal (and predictable).

A [long] video from what I found to be a powerful and thoughtful CC is posted here. The meeting was convened when a student with a history of disrupting meetings, ignoring the stop-rule, and failing to respect others’ boundaries had worn the group’s patience thin one day. The consequence the CC determined proved to be effective (the student’s behavior improved after he realized the consequence was not just an empty threat), though other students later showed that they (surprise!) needed different consequences for similar decisions (which our super-agile CC was able to address).

Now if only society offered such platforms for us to address concerns about our culture…

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