Q: How do you approach conflict between students in your class? I don’t accept bullying of any kind, but I also don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to something and detract from the rest of class.
A: When conflict arises, my first response is always to pause and get both sides of the story as quickly as possible. As a specialist, my time with the whole class is limited, so this process cannot take too long. I find much of the conflict in my classes arises from miscommunication, and so I try to model listening and mediate a reasonable resolution.
Still, there are times when the conflict is more than just an accidental bump or misunderstood comment. When I perceive behavior as possible bullying, my first priority is to protect the student(s) who is threatened or harmed. And I usually separate the aggressor from the rest of the group. My response shows that the victim is protected and gets the attention first. I try to be firm but calm as I make it clear that certain behavior is not tolerated, and removing the offending student from the class is always an option. Still, I want everyone to dance as much as possible.
My class isn’t the only place these dynamics play out, so I connect with the classroom teacher and find out how they’re dealing with the situation. This allows me to join in any behavior modification plans that are already in effect. Looping in parents and getting all influential adults on the same page lets the offending student know that their actions have consequences that extend beyond your class.
It’s important to remember the aggressive student is still developing and can change. Watch for when the bully mends their ways. Positive reinforcement is a more effective way to steer students toward desired behavior.