butting ramOf all the themes that dominate the minds of our middle school students, conflict is high on the list. It is ubiquitous in the halls of any school, and where it doesn’t exist it seems our teens are adept at fabricating it from thin air. Some kids even appear to thrive off of conflict – gaining energy with every drama created and rumor spread.

From a developmental perspective this is actually well within the norm for adolescents. Elkind’s concepts of adolescent egocentrism and personal fable help us to understand that events and relationships are processed quite differently in the teenage mind. Since teens are experiencing many relational milestones for the very first time they really do believe that no one understands them (i.e. “You don’t know what it’s like!”), and often magnify the importance of their daily lives to an extraordinary degree. While teens are well prepared to create and perceive conflict, they are less prepared to resolve it. Hence, the focus of several of our lesson from Empowering Minds is conflict resolution.

Topics of exploration include conflict styles and methods for resolving conflict; as well as developing an understanding that conflict serves a normal and healthy role in our lives. A unique method of conflict resolution teach is the philosophy of Restorative Approaches (RA).  RA is a philosophy that focuses on repairing harm and working towards a collaborative solution with all parties. It has been applied in a wide variety of settings worldwide from small communities and prisons to schools. Locally, RA has been implemented with a great deal of success in Denver Public Schools resulting in drastic decreases in suspensions, expulsions and behavioral referrals and increased attendance and graduation rates.

The basic process of RA follows four simple questions:

  1. What actually happened?
  2. Who has been affected?
  3. Who is responsible for what?
  4. What needs to be done to resolve the situation and repair the harm?

Though the questions themselves do not guarantee a miracle cure, with commitments from each party to own some responsibility and some tact on the part of the facilitator the process is surprisingly effective. The restorative process differs from a traditional approach in that it does not emphasize punitive consequences nor does it dwell on “who did what wrong.” Consequences are not simply handed down to students, rather, students create their own solutions and decide what they need to do to make things right. Building on previous skills we teach, such as assertive communication and active listening, students will engage in role plays and scenarios during our lessons to better understand how they can work through conflicts in their own lives.

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