Friday, February 12, 2010

Classroom Conflict Management: It's All in How You Drive

As my husband and I neared Atlanta on a trip to visit family, cars merged into a heavy flow. Ahead of us, a driver tried to change lanes, unaware of the car a few feet behind her in her blind spot. I sucked in my breath, fearing the worse and realizing, in the heavy flow, we were too close. Without saying a word, my husband slowed our car, putting distance between us, and moved into the left lane. The tense moment passed and all were safe.

The common term used in driver’s ed classes for what my husband did is defensive driving. My husband called it situational awareness. He saw what could happen and took steps to avert the potential crisis.

An experienced teacher uses situational awareness inside the classroom too. I’ve taught in a classroom with boys who have more energy than a Jack Russell Terrier high on Mountain Dew. I have two choices. I could continue with my regularly scheduled curriculum and get annoyed and frustrated that they won’t sit down and shut – er - be quiet. Or I can back away for a moment then change direction so I can avert the impending crash of their perpetual motion and my perfected lesson plan. I’ve learned to start my Sunday morning class with a very active bible verse game that still comes from my basic lesson plan but gets rid of some of that energy so, when it’s time to listen, they will sit moderately still.

Paul used situational awareness when he entered the city of Athens. In Acts 17, we read how Paul quickly assessed that the class God gave him wasn’t ready to hear about Jesus’ resurrection. Why, they didn’t even have a clear concept of who God was. So, Paul started where they were at, an obsessive dedication to any idol they could find plus one to cover any they had missed in the form of the plaque “To the Unknown God.” He went from there, teaching them who this God was whom they longed to worship.

How do you apply situational awareness in your class? First, list the situations that frustrate you. What problems have threatened to cause your tears to thin the finger paint? What recurring issues do you face? What students don’t get along or get along too well? Role play and brainstorm with fellow teachers ways you can drive defensively the next time you enter your classroom. Here are some examples:

Two students perpetually pick on each other: Find a way to have the two troublemakers sit away from each other or in separate small group. Don’t bring attention to them or their bad behavior. Find some difference between them such as birthdays, last names or color of clothes, then have kids with birthdays in one group of months sit together and the other group of months sit at the other end of the table. Only the smartest of kids will figure out your motive.

A distraught child clings to you: Get them busy. Have them be your special helper. Ask them to be in charge of a small group skit Again, don’t bring attention to the problem. Give a positive reason why you would like them to be your helper.

A girl comes to church wearing last year’s Easter dress: It’s the day you planned a rough and tumble relay: Have Susie be the time keeper or judge of which teams wins.

Finally, pray before you enter your classroom that the Lord will give you insight as you see a problem looming toward you and that you will be able to anticipate the problem before it becomes a problem. The key to situational classroom awareness is to handle the issue in such a way, no one notices what you have done. Just like my husband’s driving, it fits so well into the flow of your lesson, you hardly remember there was ever a problem.


Rhonda said...

Enjoyed this post, Karen - good comparisons and ideas!

Karen Wingate said...

Thank you, Rhonda!

Brenna said...

Good post. I have used many situational moments in my early childhood classroom at school. Nice to meet you and your blog.

Karen Wingate said...

Brenna, we would love to hear about one of your situational moments.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
I love your posts. Would you be willing to email me at to discuss a possible article?
Jennifer Hooks
Children's Ministry Magazine/