Conflict Resolution Strategies- How to Avoid Conflict in Special Education Settings

Page content

Conflict with Parents

Picture this situation:

A beginning teacher is sitting down with a mother and her 17 year old multiply disabled son to begin the process of planning his educational goals for the next six months. Unfortunately, a conflict situation develops when the mother complains loudly and aggressively about the teacher’s failure to prioritize areas that she feels are important for her son’s future development and learning. The mother believes the son is functioning at a level which greatly exceeds the level estimated by his teacher and supported by his most recent IQ scores and psychology reports. The mother wants to prioritize his learning of current texts, and to focus on the great works of literature. She also wants to see a community education program put in place which encourages him to visit clubs, bars and social venues in order to learn social skills in preparation for his adult years. The mother frequently goes out at night with her son, and enjoys spending time socially with him, despite his inability to communicate verbally, or to give a reliable yes/no response to basic questions.

The teacher, feeling her authority and experience being challenged heavily by the mother. reacts by firmly explaining that the son is not functioning at anything like the level the mother thinks, and it would be completely inappropriate to embark on such meaningless educational activities. The teacher adds that she has seen no evidence that the son would understand any sort of literature, great or otherwise.

The mother becomes distressed, as does the son. She leaves without completing the meeting.

The Conflict Causing Issues

There are several issues at play here:

There is a significant difference between the beliefs and expectations of the mother and the teacher

The son is possibly unable to communicate his own thoughts reliably, or to contribute extensively to the conversation

There is a battle of wills taking place over seniority in the situation

There is a failure to focus clearly on the interests of the student

There is a lack of respect on both sides for the opinions of the other

There are opportunities to avoid the conflict situation developing which are not taken

Neither party has used appropriate conflict resolution strategies in the communication exchange

Avoiding Conflict

There are several key conflict resolution strategies that could be used in this situation, particularly from the teacher’s perspective.

  • Focus on a win - win approach - work towards an option where both sides can save face, achieve a ‘win’ and feel good about the outcome
  • Show respect for the experiences, knowledge and understanding of the parent REGARDLESS of what you think of their actual contribution
  • Think about alternatives that invite an element of the parent’s suggestions and combine them with your own goals
  • Wherever possible, invite the student to show preferences, make choices or indicate pleasure or displeasure
  • Avoid using your body language, tone of voice or the situation itself as a tool to help you ‘win’
  • Do not try to undermine or discredit the parent in any way - they have come to hold their views for reasons you will probably never fully be able to understand
  • Ask for input and support from a more senior teacher or therapist in situations where you feel a conflict may occur
  • Utilize communication books, digital or print photo books, and newsletters as a way of ensuring that you and the parent are on the same page regarding the progress and abilities of the student - invite comments and suggestions often and early to avoid being caught unawares later in the year