Friday, July 27, 2012

Students: Behavior Problem Solvers!

So, one of the most frustrating things I personally feel about teaching is when you're trying to work with a group, or transition, or line up, or take care of anything that needs done, and you have Suzie who comes up to you saying something like, "Josie keeps calling me names, and I'm getting upset!"

Now, we know it is important to validate our students' feelings and be a good listener, but how much time does it take to pull Josie and Suzie together to get to the bottom of the problem and work on solving it?  Even if it takes three minutes, that's a lot of time if it happens several times a day!

Well, a couple of years ago, our brilliant students solved this problem for us, and we were two happy teachers!  During a Community Meeting, a student put an idea in our idea box that asked if she could form a Conflict Committee.  She explained that she thought it would be a good idea for a group of five or six students to be in charge of holding mini-tribes to help their peers solve problems when they arise.  After many questions and working out how many students would be involved and how much time they should dedicate to the mini-tribes to ensure not any one student is losing too much instructional time to being a member of the Conflict Committee, it was a go!

Holy cow!  What a brilliant idea it truly was because all of those frequent kid issues (like pencil theft, name calling, mean looks, girl drama, taking turns, etc.),  Ruth and I no longer had to deal with!  Typically, before I had to say anything to a student about needing to meet with the Conflict Committee, a member would intervene, telling the student their problem was a Conflict Committee issue!  It was GREAT!  

As we often know is the case, many times students will listen to their peers more than they will listen to the adults in their lives, so conflicts were resolved quicker and there was less down time in our day due to Ruth and I having to stop what we were doing to help solve these problems!  As I discussed in another post, we feel that discipline should be about learning and growing socially, so we were not into giving students punishments for interrupting us with their problems/concerns; therefore, that was not an option for us.  The Conflict Committee was a wonderful solution to our problem, and who thought of it?  A student!  That goes back to the benefits of incorporating student voice into your classroom.

The guidelines that our class came up with for the Conflict Committee were as follows:
  • Students who were frequently involved in conflicts could not be part of the committee until they became more positive and were involved in less conflicts.
  • The committee was made up of 10 members who would rotate meetings to ensure the same students were not always being pulled for the mini-tribes.
    • It was decided that Ruth and I would choose the members based on who was infrequently in conflicts, who was staying caught up on their work, and who could be considered good problem solvers.  We liked this opportunity because we could choose interested students who weren't often in leadership roles!
  • The mini-tribe meetings could only last 10 minutes, unless they justified why they needed longer.
  • During the mini-tribe, each person involved in the conflict would give his side of the story, uninterrupted, and then no more time could be spent on the problem...the rest of the conversation had to only focus on problem solving.
  • The committee members would develop different solutions, and the students in the conflict would agree on a solution and commit to it.
  • Before a mini-tribe took place, it had to be approved by Ruth or I.  This generally took about 20 seconds for us to get a QUICK rundown of the problem and then to give them our blessing!
Now, could all conflicts go to the Conflict Committee?  Of course not.  There were times when Ruth and I felt it was a situation she and/or I needed to be directly involved in; however, 90% of the conflicts in the room could be handled by the committee!

If starting a Conflict Committee in your room is something you want to consider, I think I would still try to plant a seed and let the students come up with the idea.  That could involve saying something like, "Gosh, I don't know what I need to much of my time is being taken to solve some of these little problems in our room everyday.  I know you guys could solve the problems, but you just keep coming to me instead.  Any ideas of what we can do about this?"  

Your kids may go directly into punishment mode..."Make them lose five minutes of their recess if they interrupt you with a problem!"  However, you then explain why you don't feel that is a good want them to truly solve their problems, not just avoid them by getting a punishment instead.  Not to mention, some problems that aren't solved escalate into something worse!

If they still don't come up with the idea, then perhaps on another day you can say something like, "I heard this one class has a group of students who do most of the problem solving for each other, not the teacher.  Isn't that cool?"  Then hopefully they will respond with wanting to do that themselves!  :-)  At that point, I would then have them hold a discussion with you to develop the guidelines.  

I'm clearly a big fan of the Conflict Committee, as it not only benefits me immensely, but it encourages student empowerment through handing over the wheel of decision making to them, it helps them build problem solving skills, it builds a sense of trust amongst them, and it is another opportunity for them to learn to respect each others opinions and perspectives.  Go, Conflict Committee!  :-)

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