Resolving Student Feuds

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It’s time for us to turn to each other, not on each other. ”  – Jesse Jackson.

Unfortunately, student feuds tend to be an inevitable part of school life.  They occur frequently and must be dealt with promptly because they can cause serious indiscipline, fighting, physical injury, bullying and other forms of conflict among students.  It often happens that the students carrying on the feud used to be good friends before.  The feuds are often started by malicious gossip or relational problems among students, so it is imperative for teachers and administrators to discourage gossip and teach conflict resolution as a vital skill for students.  Much of the gossip is spread electronically these days.

Most of the teachers and school administrators to whom I have spoken, agree with me that quarrels and feuds between girls last longer and are more difficult to resolve than those among boys.  In my various  efforts to reconcile feuding girls I have often discovered that they had not spoken to each other for months or years, but they continued spreading gossip about each other during that time.  At times, the words or events which triggered the feud may seem quite trivial to an outsider, but many girls do not easily forgive each other.  Many boys seem to get over their grudges more quickly.  In any case, sometimes all it takes for feuding students, male or female, to fight, is an accidental touch or push.  This happens as a result of the deep resentment they feel towards each other and the need to retaliate for perceived wrongs, disrespect or insults perpetrated by their adversaries.

To resolve student feuds, the teacher or school administrator must act as a mediator.  The mediator must bring the feuding students together in a private office or room and let them talk about their mutual problems in a controlled environment.  The mediator has to rigidly control the discussion and the environment or the situation will get out of hand and degenerate into further conflict.  He or she must get the opposing parties to listen to each other. This is very important.

During the discussion, the mediator must insist that the feuding parties speak directly to him or her only and not to each other.  This prevents further conflict during the discussion.  Let them express their feelings for each other and their grievances through the mediator.  They will often discover that they have been operating on a basis of misinformation, hearsay, and false assumptions.  The goal is to get to the truth of the matter.  When their emotions are under control they can be allowed to speak directly to each other.

When the real root cause of the feud has been determined the mediator should ask each student what he or she can do to solve the problem and prevent its recurrence.  The mediator’s next step is to get each student to commit to the implementation of the stated solutions.  The mediator can offer additional solutions if necessary, get the feuding students to apologize to each other as necessary, and direct them to come back and give him or her progress reports on the resolution of the feud, from time to time.  He or she must also deal with any student who is not genuinely trying to resolve the feud.

Teachers and administrators must show students who are engaging in feuds that conflict can be resolved.  They need to know that they can coexist peacefully even if they do not always like each other.  This will also bring about an improvement in school climate.  My final suggestion is that the guidance counsellor and parents can also assist in resolving student feuds.  The measures outlined in this post are sufficient to resolve any student feuds once the opponents apply them in good faith.







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