Handling Disagreements Between Students

Author: Michael Foust

Eventually, Problems Arise

Every year, teachers enter the classroom on the first day with hope and optimism. After all, it’s a new class. It’s also a new mixture of students–each one with their own set of aspirations for the future. On the first day of school, anything seems possible. It’s about fresh starts and new beginnings.

Students arguing

Eventually, though, problems arise. Minor divisions among students often turn into squabbles and then arguments and fights. Sometimes, students can even get physical.

So, how should a teacher handle disagreements in the classroom?

First, it’s important to remember that your reaction to the situation will be observed and judged by all the students–including students who are not involved. For this reason, many teachers use the helpful acronym SOAR as a mnemonic device: Stop, Observe, Access, Respond. Take a deep breath and, if possible, briefly watch the situation and gather the facts in your mind before intervening. If the situation has become physical, consider asking a co-worker for help.

Second, maintain a calm, positive tone. Your goal is not only peace in your classroom but also restoration among the parties. Children and teens can be quick to forgive. Who knows? Once the situation is solved, the two students who are fighting may become best friends. Arguments and fights can turn into teachable moments. You are teaching students how to solve problems not only in the classroom but also in the real world. Ask yourself: How are my words and my body language impacting the situation?

Third, acknowledge the problem. Clarify and state the concerns of the students. Set ground rules for both sides. Among the ground rules:

1) listen first,
2) don’t interrupt,
3) respect each person,
4) avoid personal attacks, and,
5) address the issue, not the person.

Sometimes arguments are the fault of a misunderstanding. Make sure each party has had a chance to fully explain their viewpoint.

Fourth, search for areas of agreement. Affirm the value of opinions. Encourage students to learn how to discuss and persuade, and how to tolerate opposing viewpoints. Your goal is to steer the argument into a healthy discussion.

Fifth, create a solution. Consider asking the students to write a few sentences about the situation. (Such an assignment could explore what they learned and could offer suggestions for how future disagreements should be handled.) Encourage the students to practice kindness and empathy with those who have opposing viewpoints.

Finally, remind the students that they can play a small but major part in bringing peace to our strife-filled world. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. It is possible to build a strong team with diverse viewpoints. Your classroom can be part of the solution.

About the Author

Micahel Foust

Michael Foust has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. His stories have appeared in dozens of publications including Leaf-Chronicle, Toronto Star, Knoxville News-Sentinel and Union-Recorder newspapers. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, the husband of an amazing wife, Julie, and the father of four young children.

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