How To Teach Students The Art Of Conflict Management with Monica Davis

How To Teach Students The Art Of Conflict Management with Monica Davis

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Want to know the key to successful conflict resolution in schools?

Join us for an insightful conversation with Monica Davis, an advocate for proactive conflict resolution strategies. We explore the power of roleplay in preparing students to handle conflicts effectively, and Monica shares practical advice on developing conflict resolution skills that students can apply in real-life situations.

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Show notes / transcription

Monica Davis  0:00  

Some students can be quite impulsive when they experience conflict. So the spotlight technique helps them calm down on the spot before carrying out any unacceptable actions, such as doing something harmful or saying something hurtful or offensive. Now the way this technique works is you explain to the child 'Hey, Elizabeth, whenever you feel angry, this is what I would like you to try'.

Simon Currigan  0:22  

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan. And welcome to this week's episode of School Behaviour Secrets. I like to think this podcast is the thought crime equivalent of breaking and entering. I'm joined by my co host Emma Shackleton today. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:14  

Hi, Simon,

Simon Currigan  1:15  

Emma - 150 something episodes in, let's not mess with the formula. I'd like to start by asking you a question. 

Emma Shackleton  1:22  

Okay, I'm ready, go.

Simon Currigan  1:24  

How do you feel about confrontation? Are you the sort of person who likes an argument? Or are you the sort of person who backs away from conflict?

Emma Shackleton  1:32  

Oh, well, after working with me for seven years, Simon, you should know the answer to that. Feisty. Actually, I really hate confrontation. That doesn't mean that I won't address an issue as it arises. I do think it's a good idea to explain how you feel about something, especially if you think that the other person doesn't realize how you're feeling about an issue. Like they're oblivious to it. But I'm definitely not this might surprise you, Simon, I'm definitely not the shouty type. And I'd rather go away and have a think about things and also to work out if I'm being reasonable before I bring it up again later. So short answer non confrontational. What about you?

Simon Currigan  2:19  

Me -I'm non confrontational and it was really interesting - ended up working in a pupil referral unit where your days were filled with confrontation and I was naturally someone who's kind of backed away from that. And I think being in that environment taught me to be more comfortable with people being confrontational. I'm not saying I confronted the kids. But you know, it's that kind of environment where you're asking people to do things, and they're saying no, or storming off or something. So yeah, I'm naturally non confrontational. I'm more happy now more comfortable managing confrontation when it arises. 

Emma Shackleton  2:46  

Yeah, that's interesting actually, I think you learn from the environment that you're in, don't you? 

Simon Currigan  2:51  

Yeah, yeah, definitely. 

Emma Shackleton  2:52  

Okay, so why are we talking about confrontation? How is that linked to today's episode?

Simon Currigan  2:57  

So today, we're going to be looking at the topic of student conflict, that is students arguing or falling out social disputes in class, and so on. And we're lucky to have Monica Davis on the show, author of the book Effective Strategies for classroom management, who is going to share her approach to not resolving those arguments for your students, but actively teaching conflict resolution to your students so you never need to.

Emma Shackleton  3:24  

Ah, okay, so that the children have got the skills to sort out arguments and conflicts for themselves.

Simon Currigan  3:30  

Absolutely. Because when you get that, right, you have happier students moving forward, a more peaceful classroom and you know, hopefully a happier, more peaceful teacher as well.

Emma Shackleton  3:39  

Sounds perfect. But before we get into that, I've got a quick request to make. If you're enjoying the show, please don't forget to leave an honest rating and review on your podcast app. When people review the show. It tells the algorithm to share School Behaviour Secrets with more teachers, school leaders and parents just like you, meaning that we can help more people. So pause the show now. Leave us your rating. We'll wait. Don't worry, and then hit play again. Everyone back in the room. Brilliant. Here's Simon's interview with Monica Davies, about how to teach your students the skills of conflict resolution.

Simon Currigan  4:21  

I'm very pleased to welcome Monica Davis to the show. Monica has a masters in education and has taught a variety of subjects for over 17 years, and during her career, she has been recognized as campus Teacher of the Year and district Teacher of the Year. Currently, she enjoys teaching the upper level maths class at a private school in Texas, as well as writing and publishing books to help other teachers be successful in the classroom. She's the author of the book, Effective Strategies For Classroom Management, practical tips to go from a chaotic classroom to a controlled classroom. And that is the subject of our interview today, Monica, welcome to the show.

Monica Davis  4:58  

Thank you for having me, Simon.

Simon Currigan  5:00  

It's a pleasure. Today we're going to discuss how to equip students to deal with classroom conflicts for themselves. So I want to start by asking, why is this such an important topic? And what impact does the issue of conflict between students have on teaching in the classroom more generally,

Monica Davis  5:19  

This is such an important topic for a couple of reasons. First, we as teachers, we just can't accomplish our goal effectively if there's constant conflict in the classroom between students. However, if students can quickly and effectively resolve conflict on their own, then naturally the classroom will run more smoothly and efficiently. But also beyond just academics, excellent. Teachers want their students to succeed by applying life skills that will help them in real world situations, both inside and outside of the classroom. And conflict management is one of those skills everyone needs to learn because it's not just useful in the classroom, eventually, there'll be able to apply these skills in the workplace or even their homes, really, anywhere, you're around people.

Simon Currigan  6:01  

So this is preparing them for the real world. This is preparing them for life, which is supposed to be the role of education, it's not supposed to be just about test scores. This is about their greater character helping them survive. I remember reading a survey of what skills and talents people had that led them to succeed in life. And it was interesting, because social skills was right up there. And that's what we're talking about here, isn't it? Absolutely. Why do you think so many kids today, and adults find it difficult to resolve conflict in a calm way without overreacting or becoming dysregulated?

Monica Davis  6:35  

This is a really good question, Simon. And I believe that comes down to the fact that we are emotional beings. So you combine that with the fact that we're not ever taught how to handle our emotions in a mature manner. And voila you're left with disgruntled overreacting, students and adults.

Simon Currigan  6:52  

This wasn't an issue so many years ago, if I think about when I started my teaching career, 25 ish, 30 ish years ago, oh, my God was almost 30 years. I don't remember this being such an issue. I mean, there's always been a group of children in class that have found it difficult to get on and falling out and politics and that sort of thing. Do you agree that it's gotten worse over the years? What's your experience as an educator,

Monica Davis  7:15  

I do agree with you, it has gotten worse. And I think it's just an issue of you know, nowadays, children are just so inundated, right, with technology in screen time. And so we're having less conversations, we're interacting less with each other. And so we've kind of lost that art, if that makes sense.

Simon Currigan  7:34  

Yeah, absolutely. An iPad doesn't argue back does it?

Monica Davis  7:37  

 Exactly. It does exactly what you want it to do. 

Simon Currigan  7:40  

And when kids are in the classroom, and they're finding the other children aren't doing what they wanted to, here's an interesting one, right, they don't get immediate feedback, they struggle. Exactly. In your book, you say the solution is to teach students how to deal with their conflict independently. And you've touched on this already. You start with teaching them how to manage your emotions. Why is this so important in terms of conflict resolution? 

Monica Davis  8:03  

Well, so when my oldest child hit the toddler stage, it dawned on me that the reason for tantrums and meltdowns was because she didn't know how to manage her emotions. Specifically, she didn't know how to communicate how she was feeling. So as a result, crying and throwing a fit was her way of expressing how she was feeling. Now, I think it's important that children understand that it's okay to have emotions, that's going to be expected. But it's how you respond in those emotions, that makes a key difference. And the best way to get started with this is by first having a conversation. So you want to explain to the child or group of students that it's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to act out in anger. It's then that we can equip them with the proper tools they need by teaching them various calming strategies and techniques. And once they learn those, then they can gain control of their anger, and can learn to verbally express their thoughts and feelings in an appropriate manner. So for the littles, when throwing a tantrum, we might say Use your words. Now, it's important to remember though, that it's not one sided, we must also train the other party, how to actively listen, while the offended person is expressing their feelings. So there's quite a bit involved in the process. But all of it is worth it in the end. 

Simon Currigan  9:13  

And this applies to older kids too. I was in a secondary school the other day, and it kind of struck me there was a child, there having difficulty with their emotions on the boundary of walking out. And I thought this child has been like a Russian doll. They look like a 14 year old on the outside. They were taller than me. But on the inside, it's almost like this two year old, like you say you're a three year old having a tantrum. And that's the person calling the shots at that point in time.

Monica Davis  9:34  

Oh, yes. It applies to people of all ages. Like you mentioned earlier, jokingly, even adults,

Simon Currigan  9:39  

Is that the same approach you'd use with older children? I mean, you wouldn't say to a 14 year old 'use your words', but what's the way in with older children?

Monica Davis  9:46  

You're absolutely right. It has to be appropriate to their age level. So like I said, with the littles you would say 'use your words', but with an adolescent or a teenager, you might say, 'Hey, listen, whenever you get upset, we need to express how we feel verbally, not by punching a wall or screaming', you know, so it's even verbally is screaming, but it's even in the tone in which you speak. So you would speak to them, you know, at a higher level, you don't want to talk down to them.

Simon Currigan  10:13  

Of course, when's the best time to have these conversations when they're in the middle of a I'll call it an 'inverted commas', tantrum? Or would you have this afterwards? When does this conversation land best? When did they get the most from it and your opinion?

Monica Davis  10:26  

Well, typically, you want to wait till they calm down. But ultimately, it depends from one student to the next. And that's why it's so important to have a relationship with them and get to know them, because it's going to work differently with different students. But I would say mostly, it's when they've had a chance to kind of process and calm down a bit.

Simon Currigan  10:43  

Okay, so first of all, we need to teach them to deal with their emotions and to communicate verbally rather than physically by putting their hand through the wall. And then you go on to describe in your book, The Spotlight Technique. Now I find it really interesting. Can you explain what you mean by the Spotlight Technique? And and what is its role in teaching students to resolve conflict for themselves?

Monica Davis  11:04  

Well, just like we mentioned just a second ago, some students can be quite impulsive when they experience conflict. So the Spotlight Technique helps them calm down on the spot, before carrying out any unacceptable actions, such as doing something harmful, or saying something hurtful or offensive. Now, the way this technique works is you explain to the child, 'Hey, Elizabeth, whenever you feel angry, this is what I would like you to try. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, then imagine a stoplight turning from Red, to yellow, and then to green. This will help you study your emotion so you can make good decisions'. So this is a very helpful calming mechanism that must be applied right on the spot, though, in order to be most effective.

Simon Currigan  11:47  

And again, this is with any age group, or 

Monica Davis  11:50  

I would typically recommend this for the younger years till about maybe junior high, you could get away with this technique.

Simon Currigan  11:57  

Okay, so this is preparing the ground for using conflict resolution skills. This is all about getting yourself into an emotional state, where you're ready to have a more logical, reasonable, flexible conversation. Is that correct?

Monica Davis  12:11  

Exactly. Now, for the older kids, this is very similar to just pausing taking a deep breath and counting down from 10. So that might be more appropriate for high schoolers or adults,

Simon Currigan  12:22  

I read some fascinating research about counting to 10 are counting back from 10. I don't know if this is true, I might be mangling what they were saying. But the researchers are saying it activates your prefrontal cortex, doing something logical in a sequence like that reactivates, the logical part of your brain, which kind of dampens down the emotional side. So that was really, really interesting. Yes. So we're using the Spotlight Technique to get the kids reactivating the logical part of their brain. And then in the book, you say, rightly, that conflict resolution involves listening actively to the other person to find a solution. And this is something that many kids of all ages since we finding harder and harder, and adults as well, when you think about adult relationships when they've gone wrong, often there's an issue about listening and responding to each other. Why do you think it is kids nowadays find active listening harder? And how do you help students structure and develop their active listening skills masking for a friend?

Monica Davis  13:19  

You're funny, active listening is becoming more and more difficult, because it's just not a skill that's commonly practiced. And you know, like you and I mentioned earlier, children are more inundated with technology and screen times, and they're having actual conversations with each other. And so when there's no conversations, there are no active listening being modeled or practiced. Plus, our attention span is becoming less and less due to YouTube shorts and tick tock videos. And so our patience muscles aren't being strengthened, which causes a detriment when we're trying to actively listen to someone who may be talking longer than our attention can hold. So there are a couple of ways I help my students with this. The first is I require them to repeat back instructions. So for example, if I'm giving them three to four tasks that need to be completed for dismissal at the end of the day, I'll call on a student to repeat back what I said to check for active listening. Now, the second way occurs during role playing - once the offended person has had the opportunity to express their concern, I have the offender reply with 'I'm hearing you say that' dot dot dot repeating back in their own words, what the offended person just communicated. So an example might be, 'I'm hearing you say that when I joke around, it hurts your feelings'. And this method has been very effective in strengthening my students active listening skills, and I highly recommend it,

Simon Currigan  14:38  

Does that increase empathy as well for the other person's point of view? In your perspective, what do you see with the kids that you work with?

Monica Davis  14:44  

Oh, absolutely, because they're listening actively. And they're hearing what the other person is saying to the point where they actually can take it in and repeat it back. It builds that empathy within them, which is so important,

Simon Currigan  14:58  

Yeah because without empathy, you can't with past conflict, and you can only see your own point of view. Exactly really, really interesting. I think to bring it back again to things like tablets and phones, people are having FaceTime discussions, as we speaking right now we're using something that looks a little bit like zoom. But you lose a lot of detail physical detail when you're not sat sort of two or three feet away from a real person, because our faces contain loads and loads of information about how we're feeling and FaceTime. And a screen just seems to eliminate a lot of that.

Monica Davis  15:26  

Agreed. In fact, I read a book once that mentioned that social media is really not social at all, 

Simon Currigan  15:33  

In what respect? 

Monica Davis  15:33  

In the fact that what you just mentioned how it's called social media, which is interesting. But unless you're face to face, it loses a very important element.

Simon Currigan  15:44  

The human element. Exactly. I saw some interesting research as well about what people would be willing to put in a message on social media or even a video that they record on social media, and you've become willing to say, sort of quite hurtful, hateful things because you're not seeing the reaction on your the person's face. And if you did that in person, then your amygdala would look or your prefrontal cortex would look at the impact of your words on the other person's face. And then your empathy would naturally kick in, and it will kind of work as a preventative for going too far. Without you'd immediately think, Oh, I'm hurting this person I need to back off. But on social media, you don't get that you drop your bomb. And then you leave.

Monica Davis  16:22  

Exactly, it desensitizes you. 

Simon Currigan  16:24  

Okay, so we've done a lot of hammering of social media, and how it affects your listening skills. So we move from managing emotions, and getting everyone sort of calm and regulated, and then listening to each other and repeating back what the other person said. And then I find it really interesting that in the book, you say that without prior application of these skills, the chances of students applying them during an actual conflict is slim. So trying to use them in the moment without some sort of rehearsal or prior application of them. It kind of goes nowhere. And your solution to that problem is roleplay. So how do you use roleplay? In the classroom to develop those conflict skills? Why is it so powerful in getting kids to implement this knowledge? What's your approach to doing it?

Monica Davis  17:09  

Well, role playing is essential, because it gives the students a chance to be proactive, rather than reactive. In other words, they're able to practice these skills before they find themselves in a situation where they will need to use it. It's like anything we do to be successful in life. For example, an athlete, such as a football player, they can't perform well on game day without ever practicing what they plan to do on the pitch. So the way I approach it is to give my students plenty of practice, I'll give them a scenario and have them think through how they should respond appropriately. But it's important to note that although role playing is ideal, oftentimes, you'll need to practice resolving conflict after an offense has occurred in the form of a redo in which the students try it again, so to speak. So questions that I have them reflect on are, how could I have expressed my feelings in a respectful way? Or how could I have done it differently, so as to be ready for the next time conflict arises, because truly, it's not an it, right? It's a when.

Simon Currigan  18:09  

So this is sort of cueing them in to use the skills that you practiced in sort of calm, relaxed times when the kids aren't, you know, heightened cueing them into right, this is where you should have used this skill now, let's do a replay.

Monica Davis  18:21  

Correct. It's learning from your mistakes, we're not going to be perfect. We're all going to make mistakes, but it's what you learn from what you take from it.

Simon Currigan  18:29  

What's the impact of using this approach that you've personally seen in the classroom or just thinking about success stories, children you've worked with? 

Monica Davis  18:37  

Oh, it has a very positive impact. In fact, there have been a couple of times that melted my heart when a student would come up to me and say, you know, it's almost like they accomplished a goal. They would say, Miss Davis, I succeeded, like we didn't get in a fight, because I remember practicing this last week or something like that, which is always nice, right? As a teacher, whenever you see kind of like that light bulb go off, or you see them experience success, it just brings you joy.

Simon Currigan  19:01  

That's massive, isn't it? That's why people come into the profession, isn't it to change the world to make a difference in kids lives, and those moments are magical. They are indeed, it's a very simple step by step process that you go through in the book. If you're a teacher, or a school leader, or a parents, actually, if your own kids are squabbling, and I've got teenagers so you know, I can relate, and you're listening to this podcast. What's the first step you can take today to start helping your students improve how they resolve conflicts for themselves.

Monica Davis  19:30  

The first step and this may sound silly or miniscule, is to pay attention. Be intentional about taking notice of body language, which are key identifiers to a student's emotions. This awareness is necessary before you can even begin having those conversations of I can see you're upset. Let's talk through that. And when students feel seen they since you care and are willing to welcome and heed your advice,

Simon Currigan  19:56  

And how can our listeners find out about your book and get hold of your book?

Monica Davis  19:59  

The best way to get a hold of our book is on Amazon, you can simply type in Teachers R Us book in the search bar, just like Toys R Us, but instead of toys, it's teachers. And we have effective strategies for classroom management currently published and ready for purchase. And we're actually getting ready to publish another book on teacher wellness here in a couple of months. 

Simon Currigan  20:20  

What I really liked about the book actually is it explains concrete, simple strategies that really make a difference in the classroom like the one you've talked about today. It's a very practical book to pick up and start using with your students in your classroom.

Monica Davis  20:34  

Well, thank you, Simon,

Simon Currigan  20:36  

We ask thisof all our guests, Monica, who is the key figure that's influenced you, or what is the key book that you've read? That's had the biggest impact on your approach to working with kids,

Monica Davis  20:45  

I have had the unique opportunity and pleasure of working alongside my fifth grade teacher. Once I graduated from college and returned back to my hometown. Her name is Mrs. Ned. And she was and still is one of my greatest mentors in the craft of teaching. And what she probably doesn't know is that I learned more from watching her in action than I did from anything she actually said. So the saying more is caught than taught rings. So true. She has had an incredible way of running her classroom from the heart. And that's something I've always strived to emulate even to this day.

Simon Currigan  21:17  

I think that's a brilliant note on which to finish the interview today. Monica Davis, thank you for being on the podcast.

Monica Davis  21:24  

Thank you for having me, Simon, it's been such a true honor and privilege to speak with you today. Your podcast is needed and appreciated because it's helping so many teachers and parents with student behaviour. So thank you for what you're doing.

Simon Currigan  21:36  

I really appreciate that. So thank you very much.

Emma Shackleton  21:39  

I really liked that Monica had so many practical tips to share. And I especially enjoyed the way she talked about the impact of role playing that conflict resolution skill to practice it.

Simon Currigan  21:52  

Yeah, Monica was brilliant. And her book is to actually I've put a direct link to where you can buy it in the episode description if you want to learn more.

Emma Shackleton  21:59  

And if you're looking for more practical ways of improving the behaviour of the students in your class, then we have a completely free download that can help.

Simon Currigan  22:08  

It's called the classroom management to score sheet and inside your download, you'll find a checklist of 37 factors that have an impact on classroom behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  22:17  

The score sheet has a list of things that you are clearly either doing or not doing. Think of it like a roadmap to improve your presence in the classroom. The checklist is based on 1000s of observations that Simon and I have conducted between us in real classrooms just like yours. So you know, it's based on sound classroom practice.

Simon Currigan  22:39  

And if you're supporting a colleague with their classroom management, it can help make your feedback and action points even more clear and objective. 

Emma Shackleton  22:47  

Go and get your checklist now by heading over to UK, clicking on the free resources option in the menu, and you'll find it near the top of the page. It's completely free. Get yours today. And we've also put a direct link to the score sheet in the episode description.

Simon Currigan  23:06  

And if you've enjoyed today's episode, then it's time to subscribe. All you have to do is open up your podcast app right now and hit the subscribe button. There's absolutely no charge. This will tell your podcast app to download each and every episode as it's released, so you never miss a thing. Subscribing will give you the quiet thrill usually reserved for someone who's just bitten the head off a Jelly Baby empowered, but in a dark way.

Emma Shackleton  23:31  

 Ooh, that was a bit dark all of a sudden.

Simon Currigan  23:34  

They don't advertise it right. But at these conferences where they teach people confidence and empowerment, you know, where they've got an assertiveness guru up on stage. It's just two days of hundreds of people being whipped up into a frenzy and biting off jelly babies. You go afterwards and the conference floor is just littered full of bags of jelly babies still fall but only the body is their heads have gone. 

Emma Shackleton  23:55  

Tell me how you know this Simon. 

Simon Currigan  23:56  

I've said too much. I've said too much.

Emma Shackleton  23:58  

Yes, this is the end. I hope you have a great week and we can't wait to speak to you next time on School Behaviour Secrets. Bye for now. Bye

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)