When conflicts arise at school, prevention and solutions

Robert Johnston
When conflicts arise at school, prevention and solutions


  • The conflict in the school area
  • The diversity
  • Types of school conflict
  • Sequence of the conflict
  • Conflict prevention
  • How to resolve a conflict
  • Bibliography

The conflict in the school area

At school, as in other social settings, conflicts are common. However, conflicts should not be considered in a negative way, but in a more positive way since the way to approach them will determine, not only the result that is obtained, but also what is learned from it..

From the different conflicts that we encounter in life, we develop a series of personal, social, communication, relationship skills, etc., which allow us to integrate socially with other people. Through this process, we acquire a series of strategies to solve in a peaceful way the difficulties and problems that appear..

For this reason, it is important to work from school to know and practice different ways to deal with conflicts. For this, it will be necessary to replace the punitive and sanctioning educational perspective prevailing in past times with a cooperative and convivial perspective..

The diversity

Diversity among students, of whatever type, frequently becomes the source of conflicts in the school. Learning difficulties, high abilities, physical or mental deficiencies, and language or cultural differences make students the objects of ridicule, rejection and marginalization. In this way, a relationship conflict is generated between the students.

But, apart from this situation, the difficulties that students may present to adequately follow the teaching process often lead to the appearance of disruptive behaviors in the classroom, demotivation and even absenteeism. And the same happens in the case of students with high abilities, since boredom and lack of motivation give rise to the development of disruptive behaviors in class, which generates a conflict between teachers and students..

Types of school conflict

Conflicts in the educational center can derive from the relationships established between the members of the educational community:

  • Relations between teachers: there may be a divergence of opinions regarding various personal and professional issues, such as the way to approach a subject, the activities planned, the use of time and spaces at the center, etc. It is necessary to increase communication between the teaching team to avoid misunderstandings and develop similar ways of working in the different subjects, if possible.
  • Relations between teacher and student: in the educational system there has been a change in the methodology used and there is an increasing participation of students. However, there may still be teachers who maintain previous methods and develop their classes in a way that is not very attractive to students. This can lead to demotivation and disruption in the group. It is extremely important that teachers use more participatory methods, based on cooperative learning, to motivate students and reduce disruptive behaviors in the classroom. And if this happens, it is convenient to approach them with methods that are not coercive or punitive, but more open and cooperative. This does not mean that the teacher loses his authority in front of the students, but rather that he tries to motivate them to see the center as their own and to get involved with it. In recent times, it has been observed that the increase in conflicts between teachers and students has led to situations of harassment of teachers and has given rise to significant problems of coexistence in educational centers. In order to prevent and address these cases, an educational project highly involved in education in values ​​and in training in social and personal skills that favor adequate coexistence in the classroom is necessary. In addition, it is necessary to involve the family in this process, as we will see later..
  • Relationships between students: relationships between students are those that are mainly marked by various conflicts. The students spend many hours and days together in the school, they establish relations of friendship and enmity, and many conflicts can arise from them. For this reason, it is convenient to address conflicts in classrooms and guide towards a good coexistence.

Sequence of the conflict

Pérez and Pérez (2011) have described the following steps in the development of a conflict:

  • The conflict is latent: those involved are not comfortable, they know that the situation is not the usual one, that something is going to happen at some point.
  • The conflict manifests itself: the situation explodes and the conflict appears. Both parties realize that the time has come to face the situation and different feelings are manifested.
  • Symptoms of tension appear: those involved may present various feelings and emotions in the situation, and therefore modify their verbal and non-verbal behavior.
  • The parties in conflict take positions: each of them initially sets objectives or goals that must be achieved in the resolution of the conflict. Generally, interests are opposed and confrontational behaviors are manifested.
  • Stereotyped behaviors begin: confrontational behaviors affect the relationship between people and their communication, which can make a satisfactory solution to the conflict difficult and have long-term negative consequences.
  • New roles emerge: depending on the symmetric or asymmetric relationship established, different behaviors develop between those involved of equality, superiority or inferiority.
  • Impaired communication: the situation has caused significant alterations in the relationship between people and also in the communication they establish, which will determine the way in which the problem is solved.
  • Inadequate understanding of the facts: misunderstandings or misinterpretations can occur due to the communication problems that we have discussed. This allows the conflict to continue and further deteriorate the relationship between the parties..
  • The coincidences are underestimated: faced with this situation, there seems to be no real possibility of reaching an agreement and when those involved seem to think the same, they tend to distrust.
  • Attitudes that make bonding difficult: certain behaviors may appear that can further complicate the situation, such as authoritarianism, disqualification, discrimination and symbiosis.

In the development of the conflict, it is not mandatory that all the proposed phases occur in this sequence. There may be differences in the process depending on the type of conflict, the relationship between those involved or the resolution process.

Conflict prevention

It is clear that before a conflict arises we must try to prevent it. To do this, we must “teach how to live together”, as Funes and Saint-Mezard (2001) point out..

The teaching activity does not consist only in teaching a series of knowledge, but also in promoting the learning of skills, values, social behaviors, etc., that allow the establishment of appropriate, satisfactory and peaceful social relationships.

Teachers can transmit appropriate forms of behavior to ensure a good coexistence inside and outside the classroom. It is not necessary to dedicate specific time to these activities, although it can also be done, but each teacher in the classes dedicated to their subject can approach these aspects in different ways.

It is very important to work on communication, to facilitate an appropriate exchange of messages, which takes into account the verbal and non-verbal aspects. It is about developing fluid communication through the use of active listening, empathy and assertiveness.

Students need to be able to discuss a variety of topics and reach agreements when explaining each point of view. For this, different debates can be held in the classroom that invite reflection, dialogue and the achievement of a common solution.

On the other hand, we can propose some recommendations in the organization of the class:

  • Use the first weeks to define the rules of behavior, the way of working and the objectives that are expected to be achieved. This will ensure that students know what is expected of them and reduce disruption in the classroom..
  • It is important that the teacher maintain consistency in his attitude. You must treat all students equally and not get carried away by the use of labels.
  • It is convenient to make use of certain non-verbal aspects. For example, moving around the class to control the group. In this way, disruptive behaviors are reduced and the existence of classroom rules is remembered.

In addition to this, the teacher can group students according to the activity to be worked on. Thus, it favors interpersonal relationships between them and mutual knowledge.

Finally, it is recommended that the activities are well structured and appropriate to your academic level. In this way, students will be able to do them without problems..

In the process of preventing conflict situations, we must not forget to involve the family, as the main social environment in the development of students, which will contribute to the acquisition and use of appropriate skills and behaviors for a good coexistence. To address the importance of family participation and involvement in the educational center, a specific chapter has been assigned in this manual..

How to resolve a conflict

Díaz-Aguado (2000) defends the need to teach students to resolve conflicts by themselves. To do this, he proposes the following steps:

  • Analyze the conflict: what it consists of, how it developed, etc..
  • Set the goals you want to achieve and prioritize them.
  • Propose alternatives as a solution to the problem and assess its advantages and disadvantages.
  • Select the solution with the best evaluation and develop the steps to be followed.
  • Launch the selected solution.
  • Evaluate the result and possible improvements.

These steps can be used in the resolution of any conflict and can be trained through different activities, dynamics and exercises. However, it is convenient to practice all the steps well, for example through role-playing, to ensure correct learning..

When the problem is more serious and the individual cannot solve it himself, it may be convenient to use other strategies, in which he will have the help of other people. These strategies are:

  • Student assistant: their role is to help their classmates when they require it after having received basic training in the communication and social skills mentioned above and always with the supervision of teaching staff.
  • Mediation: it is used to resolve conflicts between two people who request the help of a third person to guide the process to reach a solution.
  • Negotiation: it is a process similar to the previous one, although it is frequently carried out between the two parties involved in the conflict. Sometimes a third person can intervene as negotiator, the fundamental difference being that in the negotiation that third person, in addition to controlling the dialogue between the parties in conflict, can intervene in the establishment of the agreements to be adopted..
  • Assembly: it is a debate process that seeks group reflection and the establishment of agreements between all those involved.
  • Consensus: it is the same process that we have just discussed, but it differs in that the objective is to reach a unanimous decision.
  • Pikas method: used when harassment or mistreatment occurs between equals. Individual interviews are conducted with the victim and the aggressor to stop the aggression. Later, joint interviews can be proposed if the evolution is positive.
  • Circle of friends: used when a group or a large part of it rejects or marginalizes a student. A meeting with the group is established without the presence of the student to reflect on the situation and reach a commitment to change.

Family participation and involvement may be necessary in resolving a conflict.

The last two strategies will be used only when extremely serious cases occur, as indicated in their description..


Acland, A. F. (1997). How to use mediation to resolve conflicts in organizations. Barcelona: Editorial Paidós.

Díaz-Aguado, M. J. (2000). Prevent violence by teaching conflict resolution and through discipline. In M. J. Díaz- Aguado (Dir.), Prevention of violence in school contexts. Documents of the course taught by the Ibero-American Educational Television.

Fernández, I. (1999). Violence prevention and conflict resolution: the school climate as a quality factor. Madrid: Narcea Editions.

Funes, S. and Saint-Mezard, D. (2001). Conflict and resolution of school conflicts: The experience of school mediation in Spain. XXIII Summer School of the Educational Council of Castilla y León. Retrieved on September 29, 2011 from http://www.concejoeducativo.org

Funes, S., and Saint-Mezard, D. (2009). Guide to effective resources for dealing with conflict situations. In S. Funes (Coor.), Effective management of coexistence in educational centers (p. 75-92). Madrid: Wolters Kluwer.

Munduate, L., Ganaza, J., and Alcaide, M. (1993). Management styles of interpersonal conflict in organizations. Journal of Social Psychology, 8 (1), 47-68.

Pérez, G. and Pérez, M. V. (2011). Learning to live together as an opportunity for knowledge. Madrid: Narcea Editions.

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