Schools identify creative ways to address student conflicts

April 17, 2016 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

When my kids come home from school, they often share stories of arguments and conflicts they saw in the hallways that day. These clashes are nothing new, but the ways some schools are addressing them are.

According to the National Bullying Prevention Center:

In today’s public schools where the safety and security of students is paramount, administrators are challenged to find creative approaches to dealing with student conflicts.

Peer Mediation

One option is to train students and arm them with a variety of intervention techniques that can help diffuse a volatile situation. In the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District in Monroe, NY, administrators have implemented a Safe School Ambassador Program, a peer-driven approach to helping resolve conflicts.

The program, first introduced in the 2014-15 school year, is comprised of 75 students in grades 6-8 who serve as Safe School Ambassadors. These students are nominated and ultimately selected by building staff.

“We look for socially, influential students who have a pretty strong moral compass and we feel can really make an impact among social groups,” Monroe-Woodbury Middle School assistant principal Michael Maesano said. “We are looking for ways to put the power back in the students’ hands. Safe School Ambassadors is a great example of how students can effectively deal with students on a peer-to-peer level.”

Safe School Ambassadors receive formal instruction annually by professional anti-conflict trainers. They learn a variety of intervention tools and how to use them to mitigate a conflict. Ambassadors reinforce their interventions and approaches throughout the school year during their advisories (extended homeroom).

The Middle School couples the Safe School Ambassador Program with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program(, hoping that the marriage of the two programs will deepen students’ awareness and understanding of these issues and encourage them to step up and support students who are being bullied.

But does this approach work?

At the end of the 2014-15 school year, the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District conducted its first ever National School Climate survey to help gauge students’ impressions of their school experience. District leadership hopes the data collected will serve as a baseline moving forward to help gain tangible evidence about the program’s effectiveness.

“It is hard for us to say objectively that this is making a difference in the building,” Maesano said. “But, when I see the Safe School Ambassador students sitting with a kid in the cafeteria who has no one to sit with, I know it is making a difference. When I see them working out conflict resolution plans in their advisory, I have to believe it is making an impact.”

Kindness Always Matters

Sometimes a simple concept makes a big impact.

In the Liberty Central School District, in Liberty, NY, middle school teachers and administrators embrace a concept of spreading basic kindness throughout their school through a teacher-inspired Culture of Kindness and Responsibility Committee (KOCAR).

“We want to remind people that basic kindness matters,” KOCAR chair Kae Kotarski said. “You never know what other people are going through and sometimes just taking an extra moment to be nice makes a difference. We made a decision to encourage and recognize goodness in our schools, in both students and adults.”

The committee “rewards” students and adults in fun, unexpected ways. For instance, students may find a kindness certificate in their locker, with the message “You may think we didn’t notice all the good things you do, but we do!” Kindness magnets have also been popular.

Before Liberty Middle School students left for winter break, the KOCAR committee planned a fun day of special activities for all students so that the first half of the school year ended on a positive note. Students participated in more than 25 different activities ranging from decorating cookies to playing darts. The KOCAR committee hopes these kinds of positive engagements help students remain positive.

“Shifting a school’s culture is a long process, but we have learned that everybody likes to get acknowledged or appreciates being noticed for the little things they do,” Kotarski said. “We have seen a difference in how people are treating each other and we hope to raise students’ consciousness about kindness and treating each other with respect. We also want our families to know when their children are being exceptional, because kindness matters.”

Carole Spendley is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. With four children ranging in ages from 13-21, she is the first to say, “been there, done that!” and loves the opportunity to share her experiences with Parent Today readers.

Copyright ©2016 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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