Managing conflict in the classroom isn’t necessarily something that TAs learn in their course requirements, but it is a topic that pops up in all of our classrooms. From how to deal with students and cell phones to larger issues of heated arguments, we often learn about how to manage conflict by living it out. We learn what to do after the fact.
When DTAR put together the workshop, a major priority was connecting TAs to the information they would need in order to better understand their places in the university and what resources were available to help develop as teachers more capable of handling the conflicts in the classrooms in ways that were legal, ethical, and safe. For this reason, the workshop brought in the expertise of Heidi Kennedy, Director of Academic Program Management; DuJuan Smith, Assistant Dean of Students; and Thomandra Sam, Psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services.
Heidi Kennedy began the workshop with a brief Conflict Management Styles Quiz, a quiz that began with TA reflection on individual preferences for conflict management. After taking the quiz, participants scored their answers to determine whether there styles were Collaborating, Competing/Controlling, Avoiding, Harmonizing/Accommodating, or Compromising. Attached to each style were both the pros and cons. Kennedy stressed that it was important to know what our strengths were with managing conflict and when we might need to get help from others.
In addressing conflict types, Kennedy mentioned that she considers conflict on a scale of green, yellow, and red – much like a stoplight. Green conflicts are conflicts that allow for the time to solve them. Yellow conflicts include more pressure from an immediate concern. And red conflicts are urgent and need immediate attention. She offered that her experiences support that teachers tend to see more green conflicts in the classroom, with yellow and red being less seen.
Thomandra Sam followed with a presentation about helping students by re-thinking approaches to managing the classroom. She offered three pieces of advice for teachers, advice that she thinks helps prevent major conflicts from occurring. First we can give students a way to feel like they have control in a situation by engaging them in conversation. Second, we can offer ways to make the student feel valued, even when dealing with conflict. She encouraged participants to let students explain their perspectives and follow that with statements like, “This is what I heard you say.” The moment of summarizing can help bridge communication and avoid any hasty reactions from teachers. Third, she encouraged consistent behaviors. She said that students who think that there is favoritism are more likely to increase tensions in a classroom.
She stressed that a lot of conflict can be avoided if teachers are reflective about their conflict styles as well as how they approach the classroom environment, and she hoped that her information gave the audience a tool kit of material to work from. She also directed the audience to a CAPS pamphlet titled “Helping Students of Concern.”
DuJuan Smith offered information geared toward what to do when a conflict has escalated, specifically in relation to the Dean of Students Office. He encouraged teachers to review the Student Handbook and use that as an active part of the classroom conversation about conflict management because the handbook does explain material related to disruption in the classroom. He introduced the audience to the process used by his office, noting that teachers can file incident reporting forms as well as email the office. He told the audience that it was important to document everything relating to conflict, and that we could email his office as a beginning step in documentation, especially if we didn’t want to fill out the forms that students can later read.
As he closed he offered four pieces of advice for teachers: 1) document everything, 2) avoid conflict in front of other students, 3) be a role model for the behaviors we want to see in our students, and 4) set high expectations from the beginning.
To end the panel, Heidi Kennedy returned to emphasize the importance of what the other panelists had said and how it might help. She spoke to the need for forgiveness in the event that students crossed a line with us, that we needed to consider what we would do the next day. And she reminded people that they are allowed to ask for the time needed to make decisions, especially about complicated moments of conflict. At the close of the session, the three panelists reminded participants that they can come to specific campus offices for help.
The workshop ended with small-group reflections on three conflict scenarios provided by Kennedy. During the group conversations, participants discussed solutions to the conflicts based on what the panelists had said. In scenario one, a student was upset and distracted in class, and this is the result of a recent break-up. In scenario two, a physical conflict erupted in another classroom. And in scenario three, a student had been not participating for the last two months, fixated on a particular online discussion board posting, and then left class one day, yelling negative comments. The small group discussions were lively as the members worked through what could be done in response as well as noting that scenario three was something that needed more immediate attention sooner.
Academic Affairs — Academic Program Management Contacts
Dean of Students — Main Page
Counseling and Psychological Services — Main Page
Participation in DTAR workshops is one requirement for the CTE Certificate of University Training for graduate teachers. For more information on the certificate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The last DTAR workshop for the semester (which focuses on developing the online teaching portfolio and does not count toward the certification) will be held on Friday 3 May 2013 at 12:30 p.m. in 212 Building #499 (where the Writing Center is).
What might diversity mean for our classroom? How do we approach learning situations affected by diversity? How might we be most effectively sensitive to the needs of our diverse classrooms?
On 14 February, DTAR hosted the first TA workshop of the semester, exploring the topic of diversity at U of H. The DTAR workshop accorded participants, which included both TAs and TA supervisors, a chance to begin a discussion on teaching in diverse environments. This was a discussion aimed at beginning a career-long conversation with other faculty, university services, and published research.