Managing Conflict in the Classroom

Every classroom is a tiny world in itself. Even if your class is small, the conflagration of different ideas, ways of living, personalities and traits are all fertile ground for conflict. If you add up diversity into the equation then the chance for conflict multiplies.

Conflict is a constant of life – an unavoidable beast that shows its head often, even in the most caring relationships. It is usually pretty small at the beginning, but, if allowed to grow, it can reach gigantic proportions and have nasty consequences. Friendships are lost, families are strained, marriages dissolve, people get killed and countries go to war – all because of unresolved conflict.

At school, conflict can have serious consequences as well – from academic disruption to escalated violence.

While there is no way to completely avoid conflict, there are some strategies to help our students – and ourselves – cope with the stress and reach common ground.

I will focus on prevention first. A well-managed classroom with clear expectations for everyone, a resourceful teacher and a good social climate are less likely to breed conflict. If kids learn to manage their own emotions and actions, even when conflict arises, it will be much easier to resolve.

Emotional wellbeing.

Emotion plays a huge role in conflict. Minds are stubborn, emotions are contumacious. Minds can be brought about using strong, reasonable arguments. Emotions are relentless. An emotionally unstable individual lives in constant internal conflict. Grievances with others are even more difficult to resolve.  If we promote a culture of emotional well being in our classrooms, not only conflicts will diminish: we will all be happier.  Getting to know each other in the class and creating strong human connections are key. Mindfulness, meditation and yoga can also help. And remember: As a teacher, you should care for your own well being as well.

Storytelling and role-playing.

Either as part of a dedicated curriculum in conflict prevention and resolution, or using examples from history to illustrate how conflict shaped important outcomes for humanity – many times in positive ways – students can learn that we grow not by avoiding conflict, but by learning to handle it in life. The advantage of using story telling and role playing is that, being emotionally unattached to the characters represented, our minds can easily let reason flow. At the same time, we can feel, through empathy, the emotions that the characters on both sides of the argument felt while in conflict.

Once conflict arises we should acknowledge it and holding it from escalating. When I was a starting my teaching career I used to disregard conflict. In those days I thought that delivering the curriculum was my most important responsibility, and I was unwilling to devote the precious time it took to address conflict – time I was “robbing” from instruction. So I succumbed to the popular belief that if we let children resolve their own problems, they usually do.

Only they don’t.

Many children (and, should we say, adults) lack the skills to successfully resolve conflict. If left to their own means, it is very likely that the stronger-willed student will prevail.  Yes, most disagreements will not escalate into conflict – but if the do, we need to be ready to step in.

Peer mediation

I’ve read about many schools that have adopted this approach, in which voluntary students are trained to facilitate the resolution of disputes among their peers. I can’t say I’ve tried it, but, at least informally, many times a student or group of students have helped dissolve conflict.

Write about it

Other times I’ve asked the involved students to write about the conflict. They should include not only their side of the story and how they feel, but also what they believe the other person is standing for and what could be the possible solutions. Writing forces them to self reflect and organize their ideas in a way a third person can read and understand. It also gives them the time to cool off.

Can we make it work?

It is human nature. There are some issues in which we might never be able to see eye to eye.  But even in those instances, we can “agree to disagree”, we can find common ground through tolerance and respect.  Yes, we can almost always make it work – not by thinking alike but by recognizing the right that each of us has to our identity and beliefs.

I now know better. Delivering the curriculum is not, by far, my most important job as a teacher.

It is to teach my students to embrace who they are, respect others and forever strive to grow.

 

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: how classrooms are teaching the skills to resolve tensions and conflicts so as to find the “common ground” in an increasingly diverse world?

Could, Should or When will Artificially Intelligent replace teachers?

This month we welcome a guest post by Armand Doucet

 

Could AI robots replace teachers?  Should AI robots replace teachers? Thanks to advances in robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), virtual reality and sensor technology, they probably could.  But, should they?

Well, that depends upon your goal. If your goal is to save money (ok, massive amounts of money), operate schools all year round, keep non-unionized ‘staff’ on campus 24 hours a day to deliver the curriculum or meet with parents, then your answer is Yes! But if your goal is to have master teachers utilizing pedagogy based on assessment of their students, seizing ‘teachable moments’ that have nothing to do with the curriculum and everything to do with humanity, then your answer must be Hell, no!

Personally, I think we need to be cautious and ETHICAL when experimenting with the digital age. I refer you to AI Twitter account that had to be shut down within 24 hours because it became offensive and tweeted inflammatory and hate-filled messages. In all fairness, that incident said more about the twitter trolls and society in general than it did about AI.

Other scary thoughts for a classroom:

-Stepford Wives type robot – benevolent, obedient and perfectly calculated delivering curriculum content with a smile, standardization. Any lifelong professional educator will tell you that teaching is (INSERT SARCASM HERE) monotonous, humorless and repetitive profession. I’m sure students are going to be submissive, self-motivated and excited to perform their daily task.

– Robocop robot – the judge, jury and executioner programmed with data from prejudices of a bygone era in the hallways

– Megatron robot – programmed to a dictators every whim, pushing the world further apart through racist and sexist populist agenda subjugating (and I dare say brain washing) of millions

– IRobot – The scariest of them all, the robot that deviates from his programming because we really don’t understand what happens with the “black box” and its self-learning.

You need to understand, I am not a Luddite. However, very large ethical questions needs to be debated and answered throughout the process of integration to protect our students. It needs to be fast, but done well. The digital age tools used in our classroom should be created hand in hand with our teachers and other developmental experts such as cognitive psychologist, social workers etc. and the students data protected like Fort Knox.

I firmly believe that technology has a supporting role in education. I myself use it in multiple ways including assessment, attendance, recording students’ self-reflections, and helping me personalize the curriculum for each of my students. If you look closely at the research, you will see that teacher-directed instruction combined with inquiry-based instruction at the appropriate time, is what is best for children. So teaching is both an art and a science. It requires solid pedagogical knowledge, good judgement and empathy.

So where does the digital age fit in the classroom? It’s already here!  AI can write personalized text books, it can learn a curriculum, and then adapt the presentation to best fit each student. It can be a translator for immigrant students. Sensory technology can track attendance in schools. Avatars can showcase a world 2000km away through virtual reality.

Where could it fit in the classroom?  I can foresee R2D2 taking care of formative assessment and handing the data to the teacher. C-3PO could do instant translations for your diversified classroom when they do collaboration, instantly helping with inclusion. Not a Star Wars fan, Ironman utilization of holograms to showcase the inner workings of organ or his use of his personal assistant to make multiple avatars function personalizing some curriculum to elementary students via their passions.

Where should it fit in the classroom? That question is best left to the voter and taxpayer, but I know where it shouldn’t fit: at the front of the room taking the place of a human being.

I am not an expert in AI or robotics. But, I am a teacher. I believe there is a place in our classrooms for the digital age that greatly benefit both teacher and student.  You and I must work together to create platforms and support systems that educate, protect and provide the humanistic elements to our students.

There’s a robot in my backpack

Kids today are armed with technological superpowers. If they own a cell phone – and many, if not most of them, do- they already have a mighty computer in their pockets. It will really not be too long before they also have a robot in their backpacks. And get along with it pretty well.

Will that robot become their teacher?

Not likely. It has been said widely enough that many jobs are in route to extinction at the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and it may very well be so. But the jobs that are most likely to disappear are the ones that can be automated. If our work as teachers was to put kids together at a huge assembly line called the “School Factory”, then maybe, yes, we should be worried.

But kids are not furniture, cars, toys, or any piece of merchandise, for that matter, that can be mass-produced to a standard. And a teacher’s job is not the repetitive task many believe it to be, as if we were just filling little brains one after the other. “First grade teachers put in reading and writing, second grade teachers cement addition and subtraction, third grade teachers put in the times tables…” and so on.

Education is a tailor-made suit. It must fit each child precisely – and adjust while she is growing.  It is not perfect – in fact it is usually unpredictable, messy and complex – but it is also beautiful and profoundly uplifting.

Every teacher that is true to his calling is an artist, every child, a collective masterpiece. One in which the creation is also creator.

But times are indeed changing, and teachers will need to adapt and grow, not for fear of being replaced by robots – that won’t happen, I am certain. However, as Trucano (2015) writes: teachers who don’t use technology will be replaced by teachers who do.

Too often we have been caught up in the discussions of what studentsneed to thrive in a challenging, ever changing world. That is a discussion worth having, of course, but let’s not forget about the teachers. What kind of teachers will continue to flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?This is an important question.

 

 Dead man walking

Are you a teacher in need of strong survival skills? You are in good company. Here, some suggestions that might just keep us off the “job death row”:

  • Be willing to do more.Technology will do us the great favor of unburdening us from many boring and time consuming administrative tasks – but we should spend that extra time learning how to manage and create stimulating environments using that same technology – and how to be better teachers overall. Strong teaching and digital skills are your best bet against extinction.
  • Get out of the classroom and collaborate.Gone are the days of the solitary teacher with a classroom as her undisputable kingdom. Your colleagues are no longer the lords of neighboring castles, ready to go to war if their imaginary borders felt threatened. And more importantly, your students are not your subjects, condemned by divine right to be your loyal servants. Your word, my dear, is not law. So go ahead and open the frontiers of your mind, expand your reach and allow yourself to be invaded: by new ideas, practices, pedagogies, methodologies, unconventional courses and subjects. Let yourself free of the tyranny of teaching to the test.
  • Be human.This is, after all, your most important differentiator against robots! Take time to develop and nurture relationships – with students, parents and other teachers. Be loyal and humble. Show your feelings, as they don’t expose our weaknesses, but strengthen our ties. Grow alongside your students. You, too, have a potential that deserves to be fulfilled.

And about that robot peeking out from the backpack: welcome it to the classroom, the schoolyard and the hallways. Who knows? Maybe we will learn to co-exist and co-create.

 

References:

Trucano, M. (2015) “Will technology replace teachers? No, but…” World   Bank. Edutech.    http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/tech-and-teachers. Retrieved on May 21st, 2018.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What kind of teachers will continue to flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

A Holistic Learning Approach in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: The best, the worst, and the future

“Strong academic skills alone are not enough for young people to become successful adults”, states a recent publication from the University of Chicago. The report, entitled “Foundatons for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework”, then goes to stress what is important: “experiences combining action and reflection (to) help children develop a set of critical skills, attitudes, and behaviors”  and “supportive relationships and an abundance of these developmental experiences through activities inside and outside of school.” (2015, Nagaoka et al)

Fair enough. But, how can these findings translate to real ife in classrooms around the planet? How are the world’s teachers helping their students face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? And why are most educational systems still focusing on accountability measures when research clearly shows a different pathway to success?

The accelerated pace of technological advancement implies a choking pressure on education. Now schools must have a lab were students can experiment with drones and virtual reality, or else they are declared outdated and unmodern. But, in truth and honesty, how many schools, public or private, can afford such labs? Very, very few. And for the many others left to watch from the verge of modernity, what is left?

There is hope. “Even in environments devoid of technology, excellent pedagogy is still leading to astonishing student learning outcomes”. (Guerra, in Doucet et al, 2018, p. 40) Just as academics are not enough and everything to achieve student success, technology is neither the magic answer for education.

Last month, our book “Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Standing at the precipice” was launched at the Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai.  Among the many questions lurking around education today, we wanted to explore how are we preparing our youth for 2030 and beyond – with or without technology, and above academics and accountability. For my chapter, “Education Today: A collection of snapshots”, I interviewed experts, researchers and teachers from around the globe, and ended up with a collection of “best and worst educational practices” in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The worst

As reported in our book, there is a consensus on “the dark side”:

  • Static learning vs. engaged learning,
  • Treating schools as factories or bussinesses
  • Too much “curriculum- oriented instruction”
  • One-size-fits-all teaching
  • Teaching to the test

The Best

  • Balance of cognitive and non cognitive learning
  • Focusing in teachers’ quality as opossed to teachers’ perfomance
  • Empowering students
  • Using a wide inventory of teaching strategies – with, or without, technology
  • Building strong relationships with students

The future

“What, then, should students learn to be better equipped for the challenges of our times and for the future? A whole new world opens. Teachers’ responses were as enthusiastic as theywere diverse: global citizenship, soft skills, environmental awareness, digital literacy, critical thinking, relationships, teamwork, entrepreneurship, and even meditation!” (Guerra, in Doucet et al, 2018, p.39)

Koen Timmers and Armand Doucet sum it up nicely:

“As the world continues to become more globalized and interconnected, the ability to understand diverse perspectives and work with those that have divergent worldviews will become increasingly important.

Without great pedagogy, technology integration is worthless.”

 

References:

Doucet, A., Evers, J.,  Guerra, E., Lopez, N., Soskil, M.,  & Timmers, K. (2018) Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Standing at the precipice. London, Routledge Education.

Nagaoka et al (2015) Foundatons for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework. University of Chicago. Retrieved on April 24th, 2018 from https://consortium.uchicago.edu/publications/foundations-young-adult-success-developmental-framework

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What should a holistic approach to learning look like and how do we shift the focus from the accountability measures in existence now to ones that are relevant for all students in a changing world? 

Taking Climate Change Seriously in our Schools

I am one among the couple thousands of teachers sitting in awe as former US Vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore is passionately talking about climate change. We are at the Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF), just last week in Dubai. The theme of the conference is: How are we educating our children and young for 2030?

During the sessions, and lingering in the many hallway conversations, two themes keep standing out among the many issues facing education in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. One is technology. The other, climate change.

Will the world in 2030 be a better place for young people? This is the hot question at the GESF debate chamber just one day before Al Gore’s appearance. The main concern seems to be whether robots will eat up our jobs… and whether we will still have a planet to live on.

Is there a way to embrace technology to its greatest advantages, and still turn our eyes towards nature, environment and life? How do we make sure we do not deplete our resources before it is too late? These questions belong not only in political arenas or international summits: they must find their way to our classrooms. Here are some ideas on how to make it happen.

  1. Instill inspiration, not fear. One thing I learned from Al Gore is that, while the situation on climate change is serious, there are plenty of opportunities to take action and make a difference. Yes, it is crucial that our children get to know the facts – but only to understand the importance of intervention. Fear creates paralysis. Inspiration provokes change.
  2. Make climate change part of your curriculum. Otherwise it will not just pop in there. We incorporated the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals so they no longer are “special activities”, but a core part of our program. We even created our own textbooks, -just published- on Language and Communication, in which the SDGs –along with climate change- make a prominent appearance. You can always lean in great work already out there. In our case, we took Harvard Professor Fernando Reimers’ book on global citizenship “Empowering students to improve the world in 60 lessons” as a starting point.
  3. Take part in international projects. When kids find out there are many other classrooms and schools working towards the same goals, they will feel compelled to do their part – and gain a sense of belonging at the same time. Two great projects to consider are Koen Timmers’ Climate Action Project, and Aggeliki Pappa’s #SOS4LoveProject. Of course, you can also create your own!
  4. Make it personal, make it real. In other words, practice what you preach. Get your school – or at least your classroom!- to recycle. Explore the many things both adults and children can do (we like the resources from the American Museum of Natural History)
  5. Speak out. Change will only happen if we succeed in bringing along as many people as possible. Children can become the best climate change advocates: after all, they will be the ones inheriting the planet. Our school is preparing a TEDx event where our students will share many ideas about pressing issues – climate change being one of them. Students will get to develop public speaking skills – while defending the earth.

The best way to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd is to know that we are already doing our share in nurturing the planet – inside and outside our schools.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: Taking Climate Change Seriously in our Schools.  What are your best Tips for Teaching About Climate Change in Your Classroom?

From Armand Doucet: Six things my students teach me

Armand Doucet is a Canadian teacher, Global Teacher Prize finalist and coauthor of the book “Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. As a guest blogger, he writes for our series “Six Things my Students Teach ME”

All students are curious. It’s up to me to personalize the content and make the classroom a safe place for them to want to ask questions.

Passion will get any student to push outside of their comfort zone and try to reach new heights.

To be human, first and foremost, don’t take myself too seriously and make sure that every day I greet them at the door with a smile asking them how they are doing.

That I am not the smartest person in my classroom, at first this scared me, but growing from the sage on the stage to the guide that will help open the doors for each student, gives them the chance to reach their true potential.

Leadership is doing what is best for my students, no matter what.

Teaching is not and will never be just the transfer of curriculum content you are a teacher 24/7, 365 days of the year and you will wear a different hat (sometimes many hats) for every student in your classroom. Don’t underestimate the impact of a conversation in the hallways, checking up on the child who has been sick or giving some positive feedback on the students last extra-curricular activity. Sometimes you are the only one paying attention.

Promoting well-being in our schools

“Is this the place where you come when your heart hurts?”

Luisa was just 8 years old but she was well aware of the perils of emotional restlessness. She was standing at the door of Paty, our school counselor, a warm, caring grandmother with a PhD in psychology and a special way with children.

No school can do its job of educating youth without seriously taking student well-being into consideration. A heavy heart is rarely compatible with a focused mind. But, how can we reach the whole child? The exquisite complexity of human beings – and the overflowing of young ones at our schools – makes this a difficult task. At the same time, its relevance makes it impossible to dismiss.

Our school is far from perfect and there is still much to be done, but here are some of the things we do to promote happiness, well-being and health in our classrooms.

Create relationships. It seems obvious, but being able to form strong connections with our students is crucial. Only when there is a climate of trust will they be able to open up and let us in if they need help. Every child should have at least one adult at school that is close to him. Some years ago, I learned a strategy to make this happen. When there is a staff meeting at school and all teachers are reunited, write the name of each student in the school in a post-it. Display all post-its in a large wall. Give each teacher a colored felt pen, and ask them to mark their name in the post it of each student that they are particularly close to. Each kid should have at least one mark on her name. If that is not the case, find the children with no marks and make a plan to create the lacking connections. Very large schools could do this if they divide by sections.

Teacher’s well-being is important. Stress is contagious. If a teacher feels anxious, it will be almost impossible to keep a positive classroom environment. Schools are live, organic entities. If there is a problem somewhere, it will eventually hurt the whole system. Sean Bellamy, a UK based teacher and founder of Sands School, is currently working in partnership with The Well Being Project  to develop strategies that support teachers’ well being in schools – he believes this to be a pre-requisite for quality teaching and learning. “The programme is still in its early stages” -he says. “And the people at The Well Being Project have been extremely helpful”.  Sean’s forward-thinking TEDx talk about risk and the teenage brain is available at TEDx Talks YouTube Channel:

Mindfulness works. Back to our school counselor, Paty. Some years ago she began to have weekly mindfulness sessions with whole groups – especially those with troublesome issues, like bullying. She also works with teachers at our monthly staff meetings. The results have been encouraging. When issues are faced and treated, school climate improves, which decreases stress and improves well-being. The whole system thrives. But not all responsibility falls in the counselor. Teachers – and students need to learn the tools that will help them to self-regulate and de-stress.

Create a rich, stimulating and wide learning environment. No school day should be complete without daily exposure to arts and opportunities for physical movement. If possible, spend some time outside the classroom: sunlight is great for improving health – and mood. Exciting lessons from passionate teachers will chase away boredom and inertia, so strive to create fun, engaging experiences – for everyone, including parents!

Happiness and well being can’t happen by decree – they are part of a very personal journey for each one of us. However, the environments we create and the relationships we build will have a definitive impact on the way we experience life. So let’s make the most of it, for us and for our children. They deserve no less.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question:  How are you promoting well-being, health and happiness in your classrooms?