How to Reduce and Resolve Classroom Conflicts for a Peaceful New School Year

By Naomi Drew, M.A., author of No Kidding About Bullying: 126 Ready-to-Use Activities to Help Kids Manage Anger, Resolve Conflicts, Build Empathy, and Get Along. This post was originally published March 4, 2013.

How to Reduce and Resolve Classroom Conflicts for a Peaceful New School Year“Hey, get out of my way!”
No, you get out of MY way.”
“I was here first!”
No you weren’t. I was!
“You’re always cutting in line!”
Hey, who do you think you’re talking to?
“YOU, that’s who!”

And so on . . .

Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you’re in the lucky minority. Teachers all over have been expressing frustration about the amount of conflict their kids are having. As one teacher said to me recently: “My kids are always at each other’s throats. I wish I could make them stop.” The irony here is that kids are just as unhappy about conflict as teachers are. In a national survey of more than 2,100 students that I conducted with Free Spirit Publishing, a whopping 80 percent said they wanted to learn more about how to get along better with their peers, work out conflicts, and avoid fights.

So what can we do? Actually, lots. When schools and teachers take an active role in teaching kids how to handle conflict, and when effective structures are put in place, incidences of fights, disagreements, and bickering drop dramatically. Mean words that spark conflict often decrease and learning improves, because kids learn better in an atmosphere of trust and safety.

Here are some things you can do right now to reduce and resolve conflicts in your school and classroom.

Make the following rule and stick to it unconditionally: No mean words of any kind no matter what. Teach it, model it, reinforce it, expect it, and say something immediately when someone breaks the rule. Never look the other way. Kids tend to value what their teachers value. Show that you value kindness over cruelty.

Have a designated place in your room where kids can work out conflicts. A Peace Table or Work-It-Out Spot where kids can talk things over gives the message that working out conflicts is valued and expected. Having a place away from the din allows kids a modicum of privacy without the eyes and ears of the class upon them.

Win/Win GuidesTeach the steps to resolving conflict. The following Win/Win Guidelines help move kids from conflict to compromise. Show them how to use each step, then make sure to rehearse and role-play them before actual conflicts happen. Download this free version of the guidelines and hang them near your Work-It-Out Spot. You can also put them on laminated business-size cards that kids can carry in their pockets. Before long, using these guidelines will become second nature. I’ve seen students as young as kindergarten using a modified version. And guess what? It worked.

The Win/Win Guidelines for Working Out Conflicts

  1. Cool off.
  2. Talk it over starting from “I,” not “you.”
  3. Listen and say back what you heard.
  4. Take responsibility for your role in the conflict.
  5. Come up with a solution that’s fair to each of you.
  6. Affirm, forgive, thank, or apologize.

Teach the following rules when you introduce the guidelines and don’t forget to do plenty of role play so your kids get comfortable:

Rules for Using the Win/Win Guidelines

  1. Treat each other with respect; no blaming or put-downs.
  2. Attack the problem, not the person.
  3. No interrupting. No negative faces or body language.
  4. Be willing to compromise.
  5. Tell the truth.

Here are steps you can use when you introduce the Win/Win Guidelines or mediate a conflict for your kids if they can’t do it alone.

Mediation Steps for Teachers

  1. Make sure disputants cool off first. Don’t ever skip this step. Kids can’t work out conflicts when they’re hot under the collar.
  2. Let kids know that each person will have equal time to speak and it doesn’t matter who goes first.
  3. Ask one child to say what’s on his mind starting with “I.” The other child’s job is to simply listen for now, knowing she will have a turn to speak next.
  4. Ask the child who was listening to “say back” what she heard. Stress that “saying back” doesn’t mean she agrees with the other person. It simply shows respect and opens the door for the other person to listen back.
  5. Now have the second child say what’s on her mind starting with “I” while the other person listens and paraphrases what was said.
  6. Give kids some time to talk over the problem, cautioning them not to blame or name-call.
  7. Ask both kids to think of a way they might have been “even a little bit responsible” for the conflict. Ask them to share what it was.
  8. Ask, “What can you do to solve this problem?” Have kids come up with a fair solution together.
  9. Once a solution is reached, compliment kids and ask them to acknowledge each other. They can affirm, forgive, thank, apologize, or simply shake hands.
  10. Stay as neutral as you can throughout the process. Let the kids own it. Your job is to be an impartial guide who supports them in coming up with their own solutions.

NOTE: If disputants argue, blame, or show disrespect, stop the process and have them cool off some more. Consider having them continue the following day if necessary.

One last thing: Try using these steps in your own life. It’ll not only make teaching conflict resolution easier, it’ll also help you handle whatever conflicts arise outside of school. And who among us doesn’t need a little help with that once in a while?

Good luck and peace to all of you!

Please share your own conflict-solving techniques and stories in the comments below.

Author Naomi DrewNaomi Drew, M.A., is an expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking. Her work has been instrumental in introducing the skills of peacemaking to public education and has been recognized by educational leaders throughout the United States and Canada. Naomi is also a dynamic and inspiring speaker. She serves as a consultant to school districts, parent groups, and civic organizations and is a registered provider with the New Jersey State Department of Education Character Education Network. She lives in New Jersey.

Free Spirit books by Naomi Drew:

No Kidding About Bullying Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle SchoolKids Guide Working Conflict


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Flexible Classroom Seating: Your Questions Answered

By Shannon Anderson, author of Coasting Casey: A Tale of Busting Boredom in School

Flexible Classroom Seating: Your Questions AnsweredAfter teaching for twenty-two years, I finally decided to give flexible seating a try. Although there are a few things I will change for the upcoming year, by and large, removing all of my desks and getting a variety of tables and chairs was a huge success.

At a conference recently, a teacher asked me about my experience with flexible seating. She asked many of the same questions that I had when I first started. Now that I have a year of flexible seating under my belt, I hope these answers to common questions can help you get started, too.

Q: What made you decide to start flexible seating?
A: I’m always looking for ways to make my classroom a comfortable environment to spend the day in. From rugs to plants, I want an inviting atmosphere that can be a home away from home for my students.

Q: How were you able to get all of the furniture?
A: I started out with a GoFundMe (gofundme.com) campaign, and it was almost fully funded by winter break. I also shopped at garage sales and pulled some items from my own home. You can check with your school to see if they have any furniture that is no longer being used. I scored a few tables that way.

Q: How do you decide where the kids will sit?
A: After the kids pack up at the end of the day, we pick new seats for the next day. I always let the student of the day go first so that everyone is in the rotation to have a first pick almost every month. Then I choose different ways to pick the rest. Sometimes it is completely random, other times I am deliberate and choose something we have been working on. For example, it may be who has mastered their fives in multiplication or who had their reading log signed all month.

Q: What are some of your rules for the seats?
A: Here are three.

  1. I don’t allow kids to sit at the same table or seat in the same week. If you already had a turn on the swivel chair this week, you have to wait until next week to pick it again.
  2. I go over the proper way to use each type of seat before anyone uses them. For example, if you have the yoga ball, it needs to stay close to your table. You can’t take a ride across the room on it!
  3. I can move students to a different seat if I don’t feel like they are getting their best work done where they are. It could be because of the type of seat or table, or because of who they are sitting by. They also have the right to ask to be moved for the same reasons.

Q: Where do the kids store their supplies?
A: My kids have cubbies in the room to store their journals, handwriting paper, vocab folders, and so on. They are allowed to have their binder and a book at their spot. I have upright containers at each table in the room with pencils, highlighters, and scissors. My kids also have lockers in the hallway for personal items and things they would need for their special classes. You really do need some kind of place, like cubbies, for students to store their items, or it can get pretty messy.

Q: What types of seats and tables seem to work best?
A: I have a variety of high, medium, and low tables. They seat anywhere from two to six people. I also have all kinds of chairs. Some are tall stools, some are very low to the ground. I have yoga balls, yoga peanuts, swivel chairs, wobble chairs, regular student chairs, armchairs, a bench, and a couch. Every spot has a table in front of it. Even the couch has a coffee table to write on.

Although this year will be slightly different because my students will have fun seating from the first day, I’m looking forward to doing it all again. An added benefit to this type of arrangement is that kids sit by someone different almost every day. This has had great social benefits and causes students to have to learn to work with and get along with all the kids in the room.

Shannon Anderson, author of Penelope PerfectShannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is currently a third-grade teacher, high ability coordinator, and presenter and a former first-grade teacher, adjunct professor, and literacy coach. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband Matt and their daughters Emily and Madison.

Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:

Coasting Casey Penelope Perfect: A Tale of Perfectionism Gone Wild


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Are Your Kids Ready for School? Tools and Tips for Parents

By Janet S. Fox, author of Get Organized Without Losing It (Revised & Updated Edition)

Are Your Kids Ready for School? Tools and Tips for ParentsAh, summer! Whatever your kid-centric routines are during the school year, for most of us summer is a time to hit the reset button. It can also be a time to review what worked—and what didn’t—during the past school year. In this post, I’ll give you a few tips to help you start your kiddos off strong when they head back to school this fall.

Tools That Can Help
Here are some of the physical tools that can give kids a healthy start. In bold print are possible items for your shopping list:

  • A sturdy backpack. Sturdy, because it is important that your young student does not suffer back injury. I suggest a backpack with compartments so that items can be separated according to need (this organizational technique is known as “zoning”: everything in its place).
  • A transparent zippered, pencil pouch for small items like pens, pencils, calculator, and the like.
  • A well-stocked binder. One with a zipper or a “locking-ring” mechanism is worth the investment. Colorful dividers with sleeves can hold papers and help students find their place. Clear plastic sheet protectors keep handouts damage free.
    A homework folder that lives in the student’s binder. This is a simple two-pocket folder, with one pocket for homework to do and the other for homework that is done.
  • A planner if the school doesn’t provide one. This can be digital or analogue, as long as there is a way for the student to view long-term due dates. (See the tip* in the section below.)
  • Note-taking skills can be enhanced with aids like the Cornell note-taking system, where pulled-out keywords highlight the more detailed material. You can purchase or make notebook paper with keyword columns down one side of the sheet.
  • In order to complete tasks like homework, students need a quiet, well-lit, comfortable study space with minimal distractions. Keep a pencil box at home with extra pencils, paper, and so on, especially if the student doesn’t have a desk.
  • At school, lockers can be zoned by using shelves or magnetic pockets, and desks and lockers should be cleaned out regularly.

My Shopping List- Get OrganizedBonus! Download “My Get-Organized Shopping List,” a free printable page from Get Organized Without Losing It.

Get Ready for School
Here are a few things you can do with your child to prepare for the school year.

  • Homework time should be consistent. Plan ahead with kids to figure out when they will do their homework—and where. I suggest a physical activity break right after school, followed by a homework time period of 10 minutes per grade level.
  • Long-term planning requires calendar skills.* Do a “planner walk-through” to acquaint students with the planner’s layout and with ways to record and retrieve information.
  • Often students have no idea where their time goes. Have them keep a log: Predict how long they think they’ll spend on different things during a day (or morning, or afternoon), such as video games, snack time, homework time, and so on. Then, time all these things to see how long they really take. Does it take 20 minutes to brush your teeth, or two? Did you watch five minutes of TV, or 35? This will help kids get a stronger grip on how to manage their time when school starts. (It’s a good idea to do this during school, too—especially in those after-school hours.)
  • Active reading helps with retention, so encourage kids to practice it. Try the PQRST method: preview, ask relevant questions, read, summarize, self-test.

Tips for the First Few Weeks
Once school starts, you can encourage good school habits with these techniques.

  • Backpacks should be completely emptied every night, checked for missing items (that permission slip), restocked (pencils sharpened), and, once homework is complete, readied for the next day and placed by the door. Help kids get into this habit.
  • Teach your young student how to file older papers and when to get rid of papers no longer needed.
  • Help your child manage the homework load. Some students work best if they get the hardest assignments done first; some need to get the small things out of the way. Assess your student and direct her efforts.
  • Brain research shows that after 20 minutes, even adults lose focus. Twenty minutes of concentrated effort should be followed by a short break. Five minutes off for every 20 minutes of work is a good model.
  • We all need to feel rewarded for a job well done, so allow students to take breaks between tasks, and hand out mini-rewards (cookies, gold stars).
  • Procrastination may be a result of feeling overwhelmed by a project. The technique for dealing with this is called chunking—breaking larger projects into smaller chunks, like learning only a few vocabulary words at a time or writing only one portion of an essay.
  • Long-term retention of information and ultimate mastery requires repetition. Repeat material over increasing periods of time, and encourage students to review often.

A few minutes of preparation and an examination of good school habits will go a long way to helping your students succeed this fall. More importantly, these tips may help reduce stress for both you and your kiddos—and ease that transition from summertime to school time. Happy fall to everyone!

Janet Fox Janet S. Fox writes award-winning fiction and nonfiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the nonfiction middle grade book Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit Publishing, 2017), and three YA historical romances: Faithful (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), Forgiven (Penguin, 2011), and Sirens (Penguin, 2012). Janet’s debut middle grade novel The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle (Viking, 2016) has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives in Bozeman, Montana.

Get Organized Without Losing ItJanet Fox is the author of Get Organized Without Losing It (Revised & Updated Edition).


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Building Emotional Strength for the School Year to Come

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Building Emotional Strength for the School Year to Come“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.”

That line is from one of my favorite Gershwin musicals, Porgy and Bess, and also from a classic tune by Ella Fitzgerald. Summertime really is a time to relax and rejuvenate for the school year to come. It is also a time to build your emotional strength.

Most educators have heard the term emotional intelligence (EI), the ability to identify and manage your emotional responses and be able to navigate the emotional responses of others. EI was popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. Our ability to balance our emotional responses is critical to success and achieving goals. Keep in mind that, emotions are chemical reactions caused by external and internal stimuli that happen within the midbrain. Feelings, or emotional responses, are how we interpret and act on these chemical reactions. Feeling happy, sad, mad, or elated is a manifestation of our background experiences and cultural and social interactions. We can manage our feelings, whereas it’s difficult to manage the natural chemical reactions within the brain.

So, this summer, take time to get to know what may trigger emotions and how you respond to those emotions. Below are some ideas to help you gear up for the coming school year.

Know that you are in charge of your feelings.
Because feelings are our responses to a chemical reaction, managing them is up to us. Think of times when you’ve felt mad at or saddened by someone. It was possibly the person’s actions or inaction that caused you to feel the way you felt. However, it’s not really true to say that the person made you mad or sad—you chose (consciously or unconsciously, actively or out of habit) to respond in that way to the stimuli created by that person. I’m not suggesting that being mad or sad is not an appropriate response. What I am saying is that how we choose to sustain or use our feelings to achieve an outcome (positive or negative) is up to us.

Take time this summer to get in touch with your feelings and decide if your responses are helping you achieve positive goals. Shaming and blaming others for how you feel is often futile. Saying that others make you feel mad, sad, frustrated, happy, elated, or something else gives away your power. Take a moment to prepare yourself for those difficult situations that are bound to happen next school year—how will you choose to respond without giving away your strength?

Know your happy place.
Finding your happy place sure sounds schmaltzy, but it’s a good idea to picture in your mind a time when or a place where you experienced joy, happiness, tranquility, or peace. I love to lie on a beach by the ocean (I prefer the Aegean Sea!) and just stare at the water—this is my happy place. When I get stressed, anxious, or worried about something I can’t control, I take a mental break to travel in my mind to that beach in Mykonos. It calms me down and allows me to put life into perspective.

I hope you’ve had time to find some happy places this summer. Whether you were at your lake cabin, on a trip with your friends or family, or simply lounging with a good book, keep that image—and the feelings you had at that time—fresh in your mind. Call upon this memory when you are about to encounter a difficult situation or find yourself stressing over something you can’t control.

Know what to do for others.
While you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to your own feelings, you can’t control how others feel. However, you can assist others in finding a way to balance their own feelings. The first thing we all need and want is to feel safe and secure. When dealing with someone who’s experiencing negative feelings, acknowledge their feelings and provide a space where they feel safe to express themselves. They need to know that they are being heard—being a good listener can go a long way in helping someone deal with their feelings. Help people recognize their ownership of their feelings in a positive and reassuring manner. Do what you can to help them build their self-confidence so they are able to move beyond the negative feelings. Finally, offer them ideas on how to deal with this type of situation in the future.

Know what to do for yourself.
One of the best ways to keep yourself feeling positive is exercise. Make sure that you schedule time throughout your week to be healthy. Exercising for thirty minutes a day is often recommended. This can be going for a walk, riding a bike, walking on the treadmill while watching your favorite show—anything that elevates your heart rate and gets you breathing hard.

Speaking of breathing, be sure to consciously breathe deeply at least five times per day. Most of us breathe shallow throughout our day. Deep breathing can help reduce stress, increase blood flow, and clear our thinking. To do deep breathing, take in as much air as possible and hold it for a second or two before exhaling.

Finally, learn relaxation techniques to turn your mood and feelings around. Yoga, meditation, walks in nature, listening to calming music, and getting a massage, pedicure, or manicure are all ways to relax. As the school year gets going, we tend to forget to take time for ourselves. Finding that just-right relaxation practice can be extremely helpful in acknowledging, managing, and adjusting our emotional responses to achieve positive goals.

Enjoy your summer!

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners


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Tongue-Taming Tips for Talkative Kids

By Melissa Martin, author of  Tessie Tames Her Tongue: A Book About Learning When to Talk and When to Listen

Tongue-Taming Tips for Talkative KidsHow do you help a chatty kid with talking and listening skills?

Children possess a natural curiosity about the human body, and teaching facts about the basic functions of our amazing tongues, astounding sound systems, and astonishing ears will spark the learning process. Here are a few facts to share about each of these topics and activities to help kids get a grasp on their communication skills.

Amazing Tongues
Have kids look in the mirror and stick out their tongues. Tell them to move their tongues in and out and up and down. While they’re doing that, share the following facts.

  • The average tongue is about 3 inches long.
  • The tongue is made of 8 different muscles and is used for talking, eating, and swallowing.
  • The bumps on the top of the tongue are called papillae and contain taste buds. Your tongue has about 10,000 taste buds.
  • It’s not possible to swallow your tongue because it is connected to the bottom of your mouth.
  • The tongue helps us form words and talk.

Teaching children that they can manage the speed of their tongues is empowering. Ask them to talk as fast then as they can and then as slow as they can. Use the following chart to help them visualize different speeds in a fun way.

  • Blast-Off Tongue: You’re talking so fast your tongue is smoking. Your words explode out of your mouth.
  • Ready-for-Takeoff Tongue: Your tongue jumps out of your mouth, and your lips tremble. Word speed is getting faster and faster.
  • Tense Tongue: Words bounce and pounce around in your mouth.
  • Tingling Tongue: Tonsils, teeth, and tongue waggle and wiggle. Word speed increases.
  • Relaxed Tongue: You’re talking at a regular speed.
  • Slow-Motion Tongue: Words ooze slowly off your tongue.
  • Turtle-Speed Tongue: Your long, sleepy words are barely recognizable.

For more interesting information about the tongue that you can share with kids, check out this article at KidsHealth.

Astounding Sound System
Make lots of different sounds with your child. Say the vowel sounds. Invite your child to whisper, then to shout. Here are a few facts to share.

  • The voice box is called the larynx.
  • Inside the larynx are the vocal cords.
  • The vocal cords make sounds with the help of the lungs, throat, and mouth.

Let kids experiment with the volume of their voices and practice using their indoor voices when appropriate. Use the Voice Volume Indicator to talk with your child about voice volume. (You can make it more fun by designing a simple visual aid—a thermometer or increasing alarm level image works well.) Showing children they can choose to manage their own sound systems is a tool for tongue and ear management.

Voice Volume Indicator

  • Alarm! (Your #5 Voice) Earsplitting sounds. Smoking voice box. You’re hurting the ears of others.
  • Warning! (Your #4 Voice) You’re talking louder and LOUDER. If you’re inside, it’s time to breathe and lower your voice.
  • Alert (Your #3 Voice) Your voice is a little too loud for indoors but just right for outside.
  • All Systems Normal (Your #2 Voice) This is a firm indoor voice.
  • Low Volume (Your #1 Voice) You’re cool, you are keeping it down.
  • Shhh (Your #0 Voice) You’re whispering.

Astonishing Ears
The ears have a job to do. Invite your child to look at her or his ears in the mirror. Feel them. Think about why humans have ears.

  • Ears listen to sounds and send them to the brain.
  • The ear is made up of three different sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.
  • These parts all work together so you can hear and process sounds.

Most kids have a natural curiosity about parts of the human body. You can use that curiosity as a teaching tool with kids who love to talk. Share with them the 10 Listening Steps for School.

10 Listening Steps for School

  1. You are sitting up straight in your seat.
  2. Both feet are on the floor.
  3. Your eyes are on the person who is talking.
  4. Your mouth is closed.
  5. Your tongue is relaxed.
  6. Your arms are on your desk.
  7. Both ears are listening to the speaker’s words.
  8. Your brain is thinking about what the speaker is saying.
  9. Your mind is focused on learning and understanding.
  10. You raise your hand to talk when it’s discussion time.

Melissa MartinMelissa Martin, Ph.D., is a clinical child therapist with experience as a play therapist, adjunct professor, workshop leader and trainer, and behavioral health consultant. Her specializations include mental health trauma treatment, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), and expressive therapies. A self-syndicated newspaper columnist, she writes on children’s mental health issues and parenting. Melissa lives in Ohio.

Tessie-Tames-Her-TongueMelissa Martin is the author of Tessie Tames Her Tongue.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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