Student-Directed Conflict Resolution

Using the “Step-It-Out” mat helps children independently solve their own problems in a healthy way.

Communication & Cooperation April 10, 2017

Teachers hear minor arguments between students daily, and they can be extremely time-consuming. When they happened in my classroom I used to talk them through with the students, but the students never seemed to remember how to solve their problems the next day, and I had an uncomfortable feeling that I was simply reinforcing the idea that children needed an adult present to solve their problems. Conflict resolution is a skill they will need their entire lives.

Then I remembered a long mat that sat outside a kindergarten door of my childhood academy. Two children would stand on either side of the long mat, and each step they took toward each other on the mat was a step towards finding a solution to their problem. I wondered if I could make a similar conflict resolution mat for my own 4th and 5th graders. I decided to put together what I called a “Step-It-Out” mat.

Here’s how the mat worked: Let’s say that Ami had a problem with Ben. Ami would stand on the Say what you feel side while Ben would stand on the opposite side that read, Listen without interrupting. Both of these first steps were colored green. In smaller text they could also read suggestions related to that step. If both Ami and Ben agreed they understood the problem they would step closer to each other. Now they would be on the blue step which is the reverse of the green. Now Ben would have a chance to talk and Ami would need to listen.

The last two parts on the board are about finding a solution. The purple step is to brainstorm solutions. If they have decided on a solution then they move on to the yellow and state their decision. Both students must agree on the solution before leaving.

When I introduced the mat, we practiced pretend scenarios for about a week. Then they began to use it for real problems. When a student had a problem they simply asked me if they could “Step-It-Out.” Unless I was in the middle of instruction, I let them do so. Because students take responsibility for conflict resolution, I am now able to devote more time to instruction.

The “Step-It-Out” mat doesn’t solve all the problems. Occasionally I still have to help the students with their conflicts. I have to make sure children don’t use the mat to get out of doing classwork and that they take it seriously. But overall, this tool has become invaluable to me, and the students have internalized the steps so that sometimes the mat is not even necessary for them to go through the process together.

Using the “Step-It-Out” mat helps children independently solve their own problems in a healthy way and helps me devote more attention to students with academic concerns. All classrooms should have a conflict resolution tool that students can use independently, and the “Step-It-Out” mat has worked very well in mine.

To see the text for each step, click here: Step It Out

Note: Article written and posted in English


Lori Rusek is currently serving as the 4th and 5th grade teacher at Northwest Christian School in Puyallup, USA.

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