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Conflict Resolution Programs

Reduce Aggression & Enhance Learning

Found in: classroom management, discipline

The effect of aggressive behavior on the classroom environment is significant. For three decades studies continue to show that the majority of surveyed teachers feel that aggressive students undermine learning for others and most feel that academic achievement would improve dramatically if the problem were remedied.

Three quarters of the public surveyed agrees. The research shows that a set of social skills commonly lacking in people prone to violent and aggressive behavior [include poor] impulse control, problem solving, and anger management (Committee for Children, 1997, p.1). Victims and bystanders of aggressive and angry students often lack assertive communications skills, as well (Marano, 1995).

Conflict resolution program evaluations show that programs which address these issues not only reduce aggression and violence in communities and their schools, but also provide "life-long decision making skills" (U.S. Dept. of Justice, 1997, p. 55), and enhance the self-esteem of students.         

Fortunately, conflict resolution programs provide hope in reclaiming the sanctuary provided by our schools. The Center for Law Related Education (Bodine, 1996) found that most conflict resolution programs reduce the time that teachers spent on conflicts, improve school climate, and improve problem-solving skills and self-control among students. There have been increases in peaceful problem-solving and a significant reduction in violence within the most violent gangs after conflict resolution training (Sherman et al., 1997). More significant reductions in destructive behavior are generally the case in school settings (Johnson & Johnson, 1996).         

Now, with thousands of conflict resolution programs in place, we know that such mediation promotes responsible, pro-social behavior, "improved communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking" (Van Steenbergen, 1994), p. 22). Improved academic performance is a particularly significant gain when conflict resolution skills are integrated into a content area, improving both conflict resolution skills (integrative thinking) and content comprehension (Johnson & Johnson, 1994). Conflict resolution programs improve students’ social and emotional skill development (National Institute of Dispute Resolution, 1997). Johnson and Johnson's (1995b, 1996) decades of research show that integrative thinking skills are almost non-existent prior to conflict resolution training, yet are often used spontaneously afterward.         

Studies of conflict resolution programs often include measures of positive changes in the classroom or school climate (Koch, 1988; Lam, 1989). There are several studies which show that after implementation of effective conflict resolution programs students’ ability to problem solve and cooperate improves dramatically and the “cooperative spirit goes beyond the classroom” (Steinberg, 1991, p. 5).         

The gains in cooperative skills are significant for two reasons. First, in America our "children are often so highly and inappropriately competitive that they lose the opportunity to win prizes that require even minimal cooperation" (Phinney & Rotheram, 1987, p. 208)…And, second, students in cooperative conflict resolution environments "hold fewer negative stereotypes" (Lantieri & Patti, p. 26).

This article is an excerpt from Warren Heydenberk and Roberta Heydenberk, A Powerful Peace: the Integrative Thinking Classroom (Allyn and Bacon, 2000, pp. 164-165).

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