Page 129CHAPTER 5: Conflict Management
APPLICABLE PSEL STANDARDS*, †
▪ Standard 2:Ethics and Professional NormsEffective educational leaders act ethically and according to professional norms to promote eachstudent’s academic success and well-being.▪ Standard 3:Equity and Cultural ResponsivenessEffective educational leaders strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturallyresponsive practices to promote each student’s academic success and well-being.▪ Standard 8:Meaningful Engagement of Families and CommunityEffective educational leaders engage families and the community in meaningful, reciprocal, andmutually beneficial ways to promote each student’s academic success and well-being.▪ Standard 9:Operations and ManagementEffective educational leaders manage school operations and resources to promote eachstudent’s academic success and well-being.
It is understandable that an administrator should wish to avoid conflict, especially if a particular
conflict could be disruptive. By trying to avoid all conflict, however, an administrator could be
ignoring or suppressing significant problems or issues that need to be aired if they are to be
ameliorated or resolved. Moreover, as Wexley and Yukl have emphasized, “Interpersonal and
intergroup conflict occur to some extent in all organizations and are a natural part of social
relationships.” The challenge, according to Wynn, “is not to eliminate conflict but to minimize its
destructive impact and make it a positive force in the organization.”
To meet this challenge, the administrator will need to engage in conflict management. In
this chapter, conflict management will be broadly defined to address two aspects of the topic.
On one hand, conflict management refers to efforts designed to prevent, ameliorate, or resolve
disagreements between and among individuals and groups. On the other hand, conflict
management may also include efforts by the administrator to initiate conflict—not for its own
sake but because of a need to take an unpopular stand or introduce changes that some will
oppose. Although many readers may perceive the concept of initiating conflict as radical, the
social science literature supports the proposition that in some cases an administrator may need
to take action resulting in possible conflict for an individual or group whose performance has
become complacent or stagnant.
Since many of the conflicts arising in an organization are role conflicts, a discussion of
the basic concepts of role theory will be presented first, as an introduction to conflict
Every administrative position in an effectively managed organization has job descriptions or
policy statements, written and emanating from a governing board, that embody the formal
expectations of the organization. In addition, every organization usually has implicit, frequently
unexpressed expectations for an administrator’s behavior that originate with the various
individuals or groups with whom the administrator comes into contact. Together, both sets of
expectations constitute a behavioral definition of the role different individuals or groups—both
formal and informal—believe the administrator should perform in a particular situation. As
Getzels has observed, “The expectations define for the actor [administrator] . . . what he [or she]
should or should not do” while the actor “is the incumbent of the particular role.” The
expectations, according to Gross and his colleagues, also serve as “evaluative standards
applied to an incumbent in a position,”5 and therefore can represent a powerful source of
potential influence on any administrator’s behavior.
The behavior of an administrator is also affected by personal needs, however, regarding
the role the administrator should play. These needs become the administrator’s
self-expectations and may be more important than the expectations of others in determining the
role to be taken in a given set of circumstances. For example, if an administrator would rather
play the role of manager than instructional leader, most energies will be focused on
administering an efficiently run school, despite the expectations other individuals and groups
have for the administrator to perform the role of instructional leader. Figure 5.1, based on the
Getzels model, illustrates major factors that can influence an individual’s role behavior.6 It
shows that both the institution and the individual, that is, the administrator, are influenced by the
larger culture in the development of their expectations and need dispositions. The model implies
that one source of the administrator’s self-expectations is underlying personal needs. It further
indicates that the administrator’s behavior is affected not only by personal needs but also by the
role expectations held by other relevant individuals and groups. Finally, the model suggests that
the administrator’s behavior is a result of interaction between personal need dispositions and
the role expectations held by others associated with the institution. Based on the Getzels model,
it would appear that, as long as the administrator’s need dispositions are compatible with the
expectations of others, conflict will be minimal. When need dispositions and expectations clash,
role conflict is likely.
ROLE EXPECTATIONS OF INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS
The preceding discussion indicates the importance for an administrator of knowing the role
expectations of others. No inference should be drawn that an administrator must conform to
these expectations. As Campbell has noted, “Only by an understanding of these expectations
can the administrator anticipate the reception of specific behavior on his part. Such anticipation
seems necessary if the area of acceptance is to be extended and the area of disagreement
minimized. Moreover, such understandings are necessary if a program of modifying
expectations is to be started.”
Figure 5.2 identifies the various individuals and groups whose expectations may
generate conflict for the administrator.
The need for the administrator to identify and understand the role expectations of others
cannot be overemphasized. Frequently the administrator’s problem is deciding which individual
or group expectations are the most important to ascertain. It is not inconceivable that all the
individuals and groups identified in Figure 5.2 would have an opinion about the way an
administrator should behave with respect to a certain issue. It is neither reasonable nor
practical, however, for the administrator to attempt to discover and understand the expectations
of everyone in the school organization and community. The administrator must, therefore,
concentrate on developing an awareness and understanding of the expectations of those
individuals or groups who may influence the administrator’s effectiveness in some important
regard. If expectations, as previously defined, constitute the “evaluative standards applied to an
incumbent of a position,” the administrator needs to learn the expectations of those individuals
or groups whose evaluation may impair or enhance the administrator’s effectiveness. According
to Gross, role expectations can vary in three basic ways: direction, clarity, and intensity.
The direction of the expectations for the administrator’s role may range along a continuum, from
complete agreement to absolute opposition. The primary factor that seems to determine the
direction of an individual’s or group’s expectations is the nature of the situation that has created
For instance, a decision by an administrator not to involve teachers in considering a
schedule change may completely agree with the teachers’ expectations that it is not necessary
for the principal to secure faculty participation on any decision to change the school’s schedule.
In another situation, concerning a curricular change, however, a decision by the administrator
not to involve teachers in discussing the change may directly conflict with the expectations of
the faculty about the role of the administrator because in the area of curriculum, faculty expects
to be involved on all matters. The critical variable, then, that will typically determine the direction
of an individual’s or group’s expectations is the nature of the situation giving rise to the
Another aspect of role expectations that the administrator needs to consider is clarity. Since
expectations are frequently unwritten and sometimes unspoken, the administrator may
occasionally be unaware that a particular group holds any role expectations. For example, a
principal may delegate to one assistant the responsibility for working with various student
organizations in the school. In this situation the students of a particular group may expect the
principal, rather than the assistant, to help them. Nevertheless, the circumstances may be such
that the students are reluctant to express their feelings about the role of the principal. As a
result, the principal’s behavior may fail inadvertently to meet their expectations, and problems of
dissatisfaction may be created.
The third dimension of role expectations identified by Gross is intensity.11 In a given situation, a
group may expect that the administrator absolutely must act in a certain way or perhaps should
act in a certain way. It is clearly in the best interest of the administrator to assess accurately the
intensity of an individual’s or a group’s expectations. An expectation that it is absolutely
essential for the administrator to play a particular role that carries markedly different implications
for behavior than one based on the feeling that perhaps action on an issue should be taken.
WINDOW ON DIVERSITY
BORDER CROSSING FOR EFFECTIVE SCHOOLING IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
For effective schooling in the twenty-first century, school administrators must be attuned to thecomplexities of the changing demographics as well as to the needs of those persons whohave been traditionally excluded from the core of educational reform (Capper, 1993). Giventhe increasing demands of meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse studentsand the communities they live in, it is imperative that we now effectively “cross borders.”These borders include but are not limited to ethnic, cultural, religious, racial, linguistic, ability,and socioeconomic factors. While homogeneity is good for milk (Paley, 1979), it is no longeran appropriate criterion to determine what is effective for teaching or administrative leadershipin today’s diverse schools. As Ladson-Billings (2001) noted, there is an incredible range ofdiversity in today’s schools. This is further emphatically supported by Hanson and Avery(2000) as they noted the following:
Making student diversity central to all aspects of the school experience compelsadults—administrators, teachers, parents, non-certified staff, and members ofthe community—to be constantly mindful of the consequences of their actionsand decisions especially on categorical groupings of students for historical,political, and social reasons. (p. 119)
Organizations must now become more efficacious to better prepare for cultural diversity.Exemplars from business can be found in the marketability of particular products asdemographics (racial and economic) create new customer markets. In this climate,opportunities continue to arise for niche marketing to ethnic, economic, and other groups(National Multicultural Institute, 1997). This niche marketing is focused, targeted, monitored,and adaptable. Educational organizations should now be preparing their “market” strategies tobetter serve these growing diverse populations in an effort to create focused culturallyrelevant teaching, target and equitable distribution of resources, and adaptability to theever-increasing school diversity. This diversity is not just relegated to the incoming populationof school-age children, but also to those who will teach them and work with them on a dailybasis. To that end, educational leaders will be challenged to secure qualified individuals toprovide more innovative approaches, solving both culturally induced organizational problemsand meeting the workplace learning needs of minority individuals and groups (Saldana,Norwood, and Alston, 2003; Martin and Ross-Gordon, 1990). Conversely, diverse studentswill be inadequately served by teachers and staff trained in outmoded techniques, led byadministrators with mimetic approaches. From this standpoint, it will be imperative for currentadministrative training to be reformed with cultural and linguistic diversity as indispensablecore components, not just as an “add-on” but also as a part of the nucleus for effectiveschooling training in this new century.
Page 134Because we all experience the world through our own eyes, experiences, and perceptions,we, as educators (teachers, counselors, administrators, etc.), must understand that thosechildren who come to our public schools each day also view the world from their unparalleledlived experiences. It is imperative for educators to have some understanding about the largerissues related to diversity—that is, racism, classism, sexism, and other oppressions (Pohan,1996)—and how families from marginalized groups view education (Weiner, 1993). Expandingon this notion, Sarason (1990) stated:
First, you must understand and digest the fact that children—all children—cometo school motivated to enlarge their worlds. You start with their worlds. You do not
look at them, certainly not initially, as organisms to be modified and regulated.You look at them to determine how what they are, seek to know, and haveexperienced can be used as the fuel to fire the process for enlargement ofinterest, knowledge, and skills. You do not look at them in terms of deficits. . . .You enter their world in order to aid them and you try to build bridges betweentwo worlds, not walls. (p. 164)
In studying the multiple worlds of students and the transitions (“border crossing”) that theymake daily as they attempt to participate in the American public schooling experience,Phelan, Davidson, and Yu (1991) found four patterns for cultural border crossing:
Type I Type II Type III Type IV
Congruent worldsSmooth transitions
Different worldsBorder crossingsmanaged
Different worldsBorder crossingsdifficult
● Type I: Students’ worlds in school and out of school are parallel. While circumstancesmay change daily, students perceive the boundaries to be manageable.
● Type II: Students’ worlds in school and out of school are complete opposites.However, the borders between the two worlds do not prevent students from crossingor adapting to different ways.
● Type III: Like Type II, students’ worlds in school and out of school are completeopposites; however, students in this block find it difficult to cross the borders.
● Type IV: Here students will actively or passively resist border crossing.
Students cross borders daily as they synthesize home, community, and the world of school.As a part of this border crossing, educators play an integral role with regard to academic andsocial achievement. Students’ engagement with schools and learning is predicated upon theinterrelationships of their family, peer, and school worlds (Phelan, Davidson, and Yu, 1991).Through public education, children may have the opportunities to navigate borders related tosocial, political, personally constructed contexts as “borderlands” (Martinez, 1998). However,far too often, children are found impeded in transcending borders, trapped to be in Types IIIand IV, particularly now in the twenty-first century when societal technological advancement isincongruent with traditional, “old school” pedagogy. In many cases, students and parents viewthe school as a foreign land, alienated or at best moving toward assimilation with theorganization.
Source:Alston, J. A., “The Many Faces of American Schooling: Effective Schools Research and Border Crossing in the 21st Century,”American Secondary Education (vol. 32, no. 9, 2004), pp. 79–93.Capper, C. (Ed.)., Educational Administration in a Pluralistic Society (New York: SUNY Press, 1993).Hanson, K., and Avery, M. P., “Valuing Diversity in Schools: Transforming Education through Humanistic Policy, Pedagogy, andPractice,” in M. Leicester, C. Modgil, and S. Modgil (Eds.), Institutional Issues: Pupils, Schools and Teacher Education (London:Falmer Press, 2000), pp. 119–127.Jennings, J., “Training Leaders for Multiracial and Multi-ethnic Collaboration.” Trotter Review, (vol. 8, no. 2, 1994), pp., 4–6.Ladson-Billings, G., Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms (San Francisco: JosseyBass, 2001).Marshall, P. L., Cultural Diversity in Our Schools (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2002).Martin, L. G., and Ross-Gordon, J. M. (Eds.), Serving Culturally Diverse Populations (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1990).
Martinez, O. J., Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1998).Maxcy, S. J., “Preparing School Principals for Ethno-democratic Leadership.” International Journal of Leadership in Education(vol. 1, no. 3, 1998), pp., 217–235.National Multicultural Institute (1997). Facts about Diversity. Accessed online, http://www.nmci.org, January 30, 2004.Paley, V., White Teacher (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979).
Page 136Phelan, P., Davidson, A. L., and Yu, H. C., “Students’ Multiple Worlds: Navigating the Borders of Family, Peer, and SchoolCultures,” in P. Phelan and A. L. Davidson (Eds.), Renegotiating Cultural Diversity in American Schools (New York: TeachersCollege Press, 1991), pp. 52–88.Pohan, C. A. “Preservice Teachers’ Beliefs about Diversity: Uncovering Factors Leading to Multicultural Responsiveness.” Equityand Excellence in Education (vol. 29, no. 3, 1996), pp., 62–68.Saldana, D. C., Norwood, P. M., and Alston, J. A., “Investigating Teachers’ Unconscious Person Perceptions and Stereotyping ofCulturally Diverse Individuals.” Educators for Urban Minorities (vol. 2, no. 2, 2003), 57–73.Sarason, S. B., The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform: Can We Change Course Before it’s too Late? (San Francisco:Jossey-Bass, 1990).Tyson, C., “A Response to ‘Coloring epistemologies’: Are Our Qualitative Research Epistemologies Racially Biased?”Educational Researcher (vol. 27), pp. 21–23.Weiner, L., Preparing Teachers for Urban Schools (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993).
For example, in regard to an administrator’s role in initiating a program to improve
student behavior, the expectation by parents that the principal should perhaps initiate a
program, which differs in intensity and carries different behavioral implications than an
expectation that such a program is essential and therefore must be initiated. In the first instance,
the administrator will probably feel very little pressure from the parents and may be able to act
appropriately, with no repercussions. If the administrator ignores the expectations of parents
when they believe that a program should be started to improve student behavior, however,
parents may complain, and the principal’s status in the community may suffer. If the principal
attempts to ignore parental expectations when parents feel that a program is essential, these
parents may attempt to impose whatever negative sanctions or pressures they can command in
order to make the principal comply.
The problem faced by most administrators in this kind of a situation is that it is usually
more difficult to determine the intensity of a group’s expectations than the direction of those
expectations, since the former characteristic may not be explicit or public. This obstacle points
to the need for all administrators to engage in continuous efforts to ascertain the intensity of the
expectations of individuals and groups with whom they work.
FOUR SOURCES OF SOCIAL CONFLICT IN SCHOOLS
In another study on managing conflict, Lindelow and Scott outline the types and sources of
social conflicts, a prevalent occurrence in schools. They view social conflict as conflict between
individuals and conflict between groups common to the school environment. The authors
identify four primary sources of social conflict within the school: communication problems,
organizational structure, human factors such as personality, and limited resources.
Poor communication is a major cause of conflicts. For example, teachers who do not
receive regular feedback about performance may have poor morale and negative attitudes,
resulting in an unwillingness to respond to administrative directives.
The type of organizational structure also has a direct effect on conflicts. Schools in which
the administration encourages empowerment will have more frequent conflicts, although minor.
With more people involved in making decisions, more opinions, interests, wants, and needs are
likely to be voiced. Major disruptive conflicts lessen, however, as empowerment increases,
because the more the staff participates in decision making, the greater the opportunities to
express minor conflicts. Such an airing of grievances in the early stages of disagreement can, in
turn, prevent minor problems from snowballing into major incidents.
Human factors, specifically personality incompatibilities and different values and goals,
are Lindelow and Scott’s third category of sources of social conflict; and these cannot be
eliminated by an administrator. They must be properly managed, however.
Competition over limited resources is the fourth source of conflict, according to Lindelow
and Scott. For example, conflict results when teachers fail to get raises they think they deserve
or when the science department fails to get desired equipment. The administrator’s job is to
assure all groups that they have been treated fairly in resource distribution, thus preventing
unnecessary conflict of this kind.
No doubt most administrators would like to prevent conflict from occurring. However, in some
situations an administrator may not only be unable to prevent conflict but also actually find it
necessary to initiate action that results in conflict with another individual or group. Usually these
circumstances come about because a particular individual or group is not performing as well as
expected and does not want to change. The theoretical and research literature on initiating
conflict is limited. The ideas in this section are based primarily on an analysis by Robbins and
on insights developed from the authors’ experiences as administrators.
For example, a principal has observed a teacher who is ineffective in motivating
students. In a follow-up conference, the teacher does not perceive a problem and believes a
good job of teaching is occurring. To further complicate the matter, suppose that the teacher is
tenured, a leader in the union, and an individual with a very strong personality. At this point, the
principal could retreat and refrain from discussing the problem that was observed in the
teacher’s classroom. If the principal is to fulfill the responsibilities of an educational leader, the
problem may need to be directly presented, which could create a conflict with the teacher. (It
should be emphasized that in this context, conflict is not inevitable; much will depend on the
principal’s approach in working with the teacher.) Nevertheless, the scenario presented thus far
suggests that total avoidance of any type of conflict between the principal and teacher may not
be easy, and initiating conflict may be necessary to reduce the complacency of the teacher and,
ultimately, to bring about improvement.
Administrators must, of course, carefully consider all the possible ramifications before
initiating conflict. The administrator will want to be reasonably sure that the problem needing to
be addressed is sufficiently serious to warrant intervention and that approaches to solve the
problem without arousing conflict are tried first (see Chapter 3, “Authority, Power, and
Influence”). Also, it will be important for an administrator to delay initiating conflict with an
individual or group, if possible, when the administrator is already involved in other kinds of
conflicts that may drain emotions and energies. Too much conflict will impair the administrator’s
effectiveness. Assuming that the latter is not the case, and that an individual or group does not
respond to other approaches the administrator has tried, then conflict may need to be
In initiating conflict the administrator should begin with the lowest possible profile.
Anticipating and preparing for possible negative reactions will be essential. Generally, when
individuals or groups are informed of a problem they do not want to address, they will become
defensive. When this happens, the administrator should discuss the problem as calmly as
possible. This may not be easy, because an individual or group that becomes defensive could
grow antagonistic and hostile, thereby stirring the administrator’s own emotions. It is a
challenging test of self-control to remain calm and rational in the face of a defensive reaction;
the administrator should make every effort to do so, and to persist in focusing individual or group
attention on the problem and its possible solution.
Although research and theory are limited regarding how best to ameliorate or resolve a conflict,
Gross has theorized that when an individual is faced with a role conflict, there are four pathways
1. The individual conforms to the expectations of Group A.
2. The individual conforms to the expectations of Group B.
3. The individual performs some compromise behavior that represents an attempt to
conform, in part, to both sets of expectations.
4. The individual attempts to avoid conforming to either set of expectations.
A fifth alternative identified in a replication of the Gross study is the possibility of the
administrator resolving conflict by actively trying to change the direction or intensity of one or
both sets of expectations.
If these, then, are the options available to an administrator who is faced with role conflict,
which alternative should be chosen? Based on an investigation into the ways the
superintendents resolve their role conflicts, Gross has theorized that three conditions determine
how a role conflict will be resolved:
1. The administrator’s feeling about the legitimacy of each of the role expectations that is in
disagreement. (Legitimacy in this context is defined as the perceived right of an
individual or group to expect the administrator to play a certain role.)
2. The administrator’s perception of the negative sanctions that the administrator may
suffer for nonconformity to one set of expectations, as compared to another.
3. The administrator’s primary orientation to either legitimacy or sanctions as a justifiable
basis for resolving a role conflict.
Illustrative of the application of Gross’s theory of role conflict is the principal who, when faced
with a conflict of expectations between teachers and students with regard to the principal’s role
in student discipline, decides to conform to the teachers’ expectations because of a greater
concern for their reactions. In this set of circumstances, the administrator resolves this role
conflict based on the perception of the sanctions that might result from failure to conform to the
expectations of the teachers. The legitimacy of the students’ expectations is not a consideration
for this principal.
The reader may feel that a principal should try to base resolution of role conflict on the
legitimacy of each group’s expectations. Conditions can develop, however, that will not allow the
sanctions of a group to be ignored. For example, an administrator may feel the members of a
group have no “right” to expect the administrator’s behavior to conform to their expectations. Yet
if the group’s power is such that it can disrupt or create problems within the school system, the
principal may agree to adhere to its expectations to prevent serious difficulties from arising.
While the legitimacy of each group’s expectations should be given primary consideration by an
administrator in resolving a role conflict, the sanctions a group can bring to bear for failure to
fulfill expectations cannot be overlooked. An accurate understanding on the part of the
administrator of both the legitimacy of the role expectations and the potency of the sanctions
associated with noncompliance is essential for the successful resolution of any role conflict.
OTHER APPROACHES TO CONFLICT MANAGEMENT
Gross’s model of role conflict resolution identifies some of the basic factors that may influence
an administrator in attempting to resolve a role conflict. This model does not, nor was it intended
to, indicate the best way to resolve a role conflict. Neither does it address itself to the problem of
how an administrator can best resolve conflict arising between two or more individuals or groups
who are associated with the school, for example, students versus teachers, teachers versus
parents, and students versus parents. Since role and school conflicts seem to be associated
with the job of the administrator, it would appear desirable to suggest additional possible
techniques that an administrator may consider for managing role or group conflict.
Four Ways of Dealing with Conflict
Barker, Tjosvold, and Andrews, for example, describe four approaches to conflict management:
cooperative, confirming, competitive, and avoiding. The cooperative approach emphasizes
mutual group goals, understanding others’ views, and compromising to create a mutually useful
solution. The confirming approach stresses the importance of communicating mutual respect for
group members’ competence, whereas the competitive approach sees conflict as a win-lose
battle in which others must be persuaded or coerced into submission. Finally, avoidance occurs
when people withdraw from discussing problems or smooth over differences quickly without
really resolving them.
Administrative Effectiveness Using the Different Approaches
Results of research done by Barker and his colleagues confirm that administrators who use a
combination of cooperative and confirming approaches are much more successful in conflict
management than are those using a competitive-avoidance approach. Administrators who use a
cooperative approach also use a confirming approach. (Neither approach was used exclusively;
the two were used always in conjunction with one another.) The authors suggest that perhaps
this is because confirmation of competence brings a feeling of security, promoting a cooperative
conflict mode by allowing team members to take risks. On the other hand, administrators who
use a combination of competitive and avoidance approaches to conflict management are seen
as extremely ineffective. “Presumably these managers went back and forth between the two
approaches, competing when they thought they could win and avoiding when they were
uncertain.” The authors recommend that in cases where leaders do not possess the necessary
interpersonal skills to use a cooperative and confirming approach, a member of the group who
has these skills should be designated to act as a “communication facilitator and group
How Conflict Management Techniques Are Selected
While the theoretical literature on conflict management strongly recommends a contingency
approach—that is, the selection of the most appropriate techniques for managing a conflict
should depend on the nature of the situation—some evidence suggests administrators may be
more influenced by their own personalities in selecting a technique for conflict management
than by any other factor. For example, the authoritarian person would appear more likely to
select a unilateral, power-based technique for managing a conflict, whereas the cooperative,
people-oriented individual would seem more likely to select a joint problem-solving technique. (It
should be emphasized that research on the relationship between personality and conflict
management is limited, and the findings are only tentative.)
Although an administrator needs to consider individual personal needs in selecting a
conflict management technique, the main factor that should determine selection is the nature of
the conflict situation itself. As Schmuck and Runkel have emphasized, the method an
administrator should select for managing a conflict ought to “depend on the type of conflict, the
intensity of the disagreement, the persons participating in the conflict, the seriousness of the
issues for them, and the authority, resources and knowledge they possess.” While this
approach, referred to as the contingency method, takes into consideration an administrator’s
personality, it also considers other characteristics and factors in the conflict situation. For
example, Utley, Richardson, and Pilkington found in their research that when administrators
attempted to resolve interpersonal conflict, personality factors played less of a role than did
situational or conflict target factors such as a professor, parent, or friend. Since the kinds of
conflict situations that an administrator may encounter are likely to differ, a number of alternate
techniques for managing conflict will be presented.
Power Struggle Bargaining
If the administrator is in a situation where conflict is inevitable, agreement or compromise
between parties in conflict is impossible, and the achievement of the administrator’s objectives
in the conflict are extremely important, then the administrator is likely to engage in what is
referred to by Blake and his colleagues as power struggle bargaining. In other words, the
administrator will do everything possible to resolve the conflict in the administrator’s favor. This
includes refusing to concede the legitimacy of any aspect of the other party’s position and
downgrading that position. It also involves refusing to compromise any aspect of the
administrator’s position and rationalizing any shortcomings in that position. This type of conflict
resolution is seen all too frequently during the collective bargaining process in public education.
The disadvantages of power struggle bargaining as a method of resolving conflict are
that the process used can be destructive to the personal and professional relationships of those
involved, and the conflict is often only temporarily and superficially resolved. Conflicts that
appear to be resolved by power struggle bargaining frequently resurface later, perhaps in a
different form, but based on the same old antagonisms that were exacerbated during the
previous bargaining sessions.
The main advantage to the administrator of this type of conflict resolution is the
possibility of it resulting totally in the administrator’s favor. Whether this occurs or not largely
depends on the accuracy of the administrator’s assessment of possessing more authority,
power, or influence than the other party to the conflict so that the conflict can be resolved
favorably. At best, this is a tricky assessment for anyone to make, and miscalculations can be
disastrous. Power struggle bargaining may be necessary in certain situations, but the
administrator should carefully examine the validity of the assumptions about the extent of
authority, power, and influence relative to the other party to the conflict, as well as the likelihood
of compromise and the long-range effects that power struggle bargaining may exert on
Conflict Avoidance Methods
At the opposite pole from power struggle bargaining is a set of techniques for resolving a conflict
that can be characterized as “conflict avoidance” methods. Blake and his colleagues have
identified four such methods: (1) withdrawal, (2) indifference, (3) isolation, and (4) “smoothing
over.” An example of the use of withdrawal is the administrator who, in a meeting with a
superior, gets involved in an argument over a directive for the school that is felt to be not in the
best interest of either students or teachers. Rather than pursuing the matter, however, the
administrator withdraws from the conflict and accepts the directive. In the same situation, an
administrator employing the use of indifference as a method of conflict resolution would not
have argued about the matter in the first place but would have acted as though the issue did not
really matter. The administrator who utilizes isolation as a technique would have tried to avoid
any circumstances of conflict with a superior. And, in the case of smoothing over, the
administrator would have accepted the directive from the superior while emphasizing the
elements of agreement on the issue, rather than disagreement, and, in general, would have
tried to minimize any discord between the two.
Seeking consensus, writes Lucas, is another way to minimize fragmentation. With this
technique, people have the opportunity to discuss their views and attempt to persuade others.
The skills of listening and paraphrasing what was heard promote understanding. Consensus is
reached when one viewpoint is preferred over the others by the group as a whole. The essential
points are trust that the group is choosing its position for the good of the organization and an
understanding that all members’ views are listened to and respected. The advantages are
enhanced group cohesiveness and increased commitment to decisions made. The largest
disadvantage is that this process can be considerably time-consuming. Therefore, leaders must
be selective about when to utilize this process.
Avoidance Techniques Evaluated
Avoidance techniques do not resolve conflict but rather circumvent it. They may be necessary in
situations if the other party clearly possesses the authority, power, or influence to force an
opponent’s will and/or if negative consequences would result from a more active or aggressive
approach. Avoidance methods are typically employed when an individual or group feels
somewhat powerless, apathetic, or disillusioned about the likelihood of bringing about change in
the other party.
Another method of conflict resolution is the problem-solving approach. It is the approach that
seems to be the most effective means of resolving many conflicts. It is based on the
assumptions that the parties to the conflict are people of worthy motives and goodwill, that
agreement is possible, that each party has something valuable to contribute to the process of
resolving the conflict, and that final resolution need not ignore basic interests of all sides.
Mattson details seven tips to deal with team/group conflict:
1. Acknowledge the Conflict—Avoid anger buildups by facing the conflict head-on and
letting your teammates know you disagree with their course of action. While not always
pleasant, getting these small disagreements out in the open can help head off future
2. Stop and Cool Off—Take a minute to think through the course of action you would like to
pursue. Avoid destructive behaviors like:
● Pointing fingers
● Ultimatums and rigid demands
● Defensive attitudes
● Complaining behind teammates’ backs
● Making assumptions about others behaviors
3. Clarify Positions—Let everyone voice his or her opinions on the conflict and be heard.
While people are explaining their viewpoints on the issue in question, practice active
listening. Pay attention and refrain from jumping to conclusions.
4. List Facts and Assumptions Based on Each Position—Once each team member has
been allowed to explain their stance on the conflict, list out the facts and assumptions
that have been made.
5. Break into Smaller Groups and Separate Existing Alliances—Many times, friendships in
the workplace can cloud judgments in team projects. By breaking up existing alliances
when discussing the final team positions, you often avoid this behavior and allow people
to view conflicts free of persuasion.
6. Reconvene the Groups—Resolution becomes much easier once these steps have been
followed and the team meets again as a whole.
7. Celebrate the Resolution as a Team—Acknowledge specific contributions from
individuals in the group. The “celebration” can be a congratulatory e-mail or an afternoon
off as a reward, recognizing the success promotes team bonding.
“Constructive conflict can bring a team closer together if handled properly. Respecting and
appreciating your coworker’s differences is key to building a strong team. Resolving conflict
when it does arise in a quick and proficient fashion helps maintain a strong and healthy team
environment. Remaining open to differing beliefs and ideas is vital, and learning to view conflicts
from a coworker’s perspective will help you become a more effective team member.”
Tjosvold contends that “all organizations try to avoid social conflict,” and there is observational
evidence to support his contention. In general, conflict is not viewed as a desirable state of
affairs, and consequently people tend to avoid it as long as they can. Although a potential or
minor conflict may become worse and eventually develop into a major crisis, the attitude of
many administrators seems to be, “Why kick sleeping dogs?”
While it is true that too much attention to a minor conflict may cause it to loom larger in
everyone’s eyes than it deserves, and a lack of attention may end a problem, the opposite
consequences can also occur, and when they do, they are likely to be more significant. By
failing to identify and take appropriate action at an early stage of a potential or minor conflict, an
administrator risks the very real possibility that the conflict may become worse. By the time the
administrator is forced to take action, the conflict may be very difficult to resolve. As Wynn has
observed, “The most tragic instances of school conflict are usually those in which the conflict
reaches the advanced stages before administrators respond to it.” Clearly an important first step
in conflict resolution is to identify potential or minor problems at an early stage before they
further deteriorate and become unmanageable.
Additional conflict can be prevented by addressing it in its early stages. Kirtman and
Minkoff propose following a seven-step systems approach to analyzing and acting upon conflicts
that arise from implementing new initiatives.
STEP 1 Examine how the organizational vision is affected by the conflict, and list the
steps needed for realignment.
STEP 2 Identify the formal and informal leaders of the initiative, and show how the conflict
is affecting them.
STEP 3 Examine the situation and identify the key participants and their roles.
STEP 4 Develop strategies that will modify the affected processes and procedures of the
organization into greater alignment with its vision.
STEP 5 Determine how the organization’s culture and history influence the initiative and
their effect on the conflict.
STEP 6 Factor the results of steps 1–5 into an implementation plan.
STEP 7 Establish a monitoring and evaluation process.
The authors caution that any stage of this process contains the possibility for conflict or the
breakdown of trust.
Diagnosis and the Importance of Trust
Once an administrator has identified a conflict, the causes need to be diagnosed. In other
words, the reason or reasons for the disagreement or dispute must be investigated, for,
according to Chanin and Schneer, a conflict may be caused by “incompatible goals, ideas,
values, behaviors, or emotions.”
Exercising Caution in Diagnosing the Conflict
In diagnosing which factors are causing a conflict, it will be important, if the conflict involves the
administrator, to try to avoid the natural inclination to assume the other party is wrong. Rather,
the administrator’s attitude and actions should be based on the assumption that there may be
merit in the expectations or positions held by others, and the administrator should try to
understand the reasons for these feelings.
Acting as a Mediator
Understanding the basis for a conflict is also important for the administrator who hopes to
resolve a dispute between two or more other individuals or groups. In this kind of situation, the
administrator’s role is that of mediator. Before an administrator can effectively mediate between
two or more parties, there must be accurate and complete understanding of the way in which
each side perceives the other and the way each side perceives the main issue that has created
the conflict. Without accurate and complete information on these two variables, the
administrator may inadvertently exacerbate a conflict rather than ameliorate it. As Wynn points
out, “Perhaps 90 percent of all human conflict could be satisfactorily resolved if the major parties
would take the time to talk and listen.”
In this early stage of working with the parties to a conflict, it is extremely important for the
administrator to develop and maintain an attitude of acceptance and trust on the part of all
concerned. If an administrator is to act as a mediator (or in some related role in resolving the
conflict), then the participants in the conflict need to accept that role, and to trust that the
administrator will act fairly and constructively. It needs to be emphasized that this trust and
acceptance will not be easy to earn if the administrator is perceived as favoring one side over
another or as possessing a particular vested interest. Objectivity, impartiality, and good human
relations skills are essential qualities for anyone attempting to gain the acceptance or trust of
Helping Conflicting Parties Respect One Another
It is also important that the administrator begin working on developing mutually positive attitudes
on the part of the participants in a conflict. This obviously will be challenging. There is evidence
that disputants tend to view each other in nonobjective, hostile, and emotional terms. In many
situations the mentality of the participants is expressed in the “them versus us” form, and the
other side is viewed as the “enemy.” The difficulty of changing the attitude of the participants to
a conflict in no way negates its importance, however, for until the various parties to a dispute
can begin to view each other in a more positive light, compromise and eventual resolution of the
conflict will probably not be possible.
Meeting Each Party Separately
Because the parties to a conflict are likely to have a negative attitude toward each other, it is
recommended that the administrator acting as a mediator attempt, in the early stages of trying
to resolve the conflict, to meet with each side separately to the extent possible. If the
administrator brings together the various parties to a conflict before working with them
separately, they may only continue to engage in conflict-provoking behavior that could worsen
the situation. The mere presence of conflicting parties together at a meeting may intensify an
already emotionally charged situation. By meeting with them separately in the initial stages, the
administrator will have a better opportunity to begin persuading each side to think and behave
more rationally and to view each other more positively. Crouch and Yetton write that
administrators with good conflict management skills should bring subordinates together to solve
conflicts. Those with poor conflict management skills, however, should not try to resolve conflict
by bringing subordinates together since this will only create reduced employee performance.
Further, Crouch and Yetton recommend conflict management training for both managers and
Turning Down the Heat
In attempting to resolve a conflict, the administrator would do well to ignore the extreme rhetoric
used by those involved in a dispute. People who are embroiled in a conflict are usually
frustrated and are likely to become angry and immoderate in their speech or writing.
Recommendations may be expressed as demands, epithets may be hurled, and ultimatums
may be presented. Such extreme behavior may either be a part of a strategy to intimidate others
or, as suggested earlier, simply be a result of frustration. Regardless of the reasons for the
extreme rhetoric, the administrator should attempt to maintain an objective and professional
attitude toward the disputants. This may be a difficult task, particularly if the administrator is the
focus of such rhetoric. Administrator reactions that may escalate the conflict are to be avoided.
After the administrator has ascertained how the parties to a dispute view each other and the
issue in question, the facts need to be validated in the situation. While it is true that the
perceptions people hold represent “the facts” from their point of view, those “facts” need to be
verified. There is evidence suggesting that people in conflict tend to present their side in a totally
favorable light and the other side in a totally negative light.39 They may not be doing this
intentionally, and they may be very sincere in their representations. All too frequently, however,
their emotions have distorted their perceptions and memory. Therefore, it is essential that the
administrator attempt to validate the information from the various parties to a conflict rather than
accepting the information at face value. For example, which statements by the conflicting parties
rest on assumptions and which are based on evidence solidly grounded in reality? What are the
additional facts that, thus far, the parties to the dispute have been unaware of or have failed to
take into account?
At this stage the administrator needs to recognize that although people in conflict may
ultimately agree on the facts in a situation, they may, nevertheless, fail to reach accord in their
interpretations of the facts. For instance, agreement may eventually be reached by a group of
parents and the superintendent that the attitude of the school board members, rather than that
of the superintendent, is currently the main barrier to initiating a proposed program of
community involvement. The parents and the superintendent, however, may continue to
disagree about their interpretations of the problem. The parents may conclude the administrator
should play a more active role in trying to change the school board’s attitude toward community
involvement, while the superintendent, as the school board’s representative, may believe the
school board to be the one that should try to change the attitude of the parent group. At one
level, the parents and the administrator all agree that the school board is the main barrier to
achieving community involvement, but they continue to disagree about what should be done in
light of this obstacle.
The goal of the administrator in fact-finding should be to clarify and broaden the areas of
agreement and to narrow the issues of disagreement. If the administrator is not one of the
parties to the dispute, it will be easier to play the role of mediator in reaching this goal. If the
administrator is personally involved in the disagreement, an outside resource person may need
to be called in for assistance in mediating the conflict.
Developing an Integrative Solution
Long-lasting conflict resolution seldom occurs when one party to a dispute makes all of the gain
while the needs of the other party have not been accommodated in some way. The
administrator needs to recognize that a conflict between individuals or groups will seldom be
permanently resolved if some parties feel they were the only losers in the resolution of the
conflict. The administrator should, therefore, try to develop a conflict resolution in which there
are no clear-cut winners or losers.
To achieve this result may require compromise on the part of everyone involved in the
conflict. Before the administrator attempts to persuade the disputants to compromise, a
resolution to the conflict that would meet the needs of all sides should be explored. This type of
conflict resolution is referred to in the social science literature as an “integrative solution.” It
involves ascertaining the needs and objectives of all parties to the conflict and trying to develop
a solution in which all the parties could meet their needs and objectives in a way that would not
require the others to sacrifice their needs and objectives.
The integrative solution in most conflict situations will not be easy to achieve because it
requires considerable creativity and persistence on the part of the conflict mediator, and
open-mindedness and flexibility on the part of all those involved in the conflict. It is the ideal
solution, however, and the one most likely to result in a permanent resolution of the conflict.
Developing a Basis for Compromise
In many situations the integrative solution will not be possible, and compromise on the part of
one or more parties to the conflict will be necessary.
Compromise Is Not Weakness
A major obstacle to developing a compromise resolution is that the participants may feel that to
compromise is to appear weak and ineffective and that compromising may reduce the chances
of achieving their goals. In our society, winning a victory is a more attractive result than
compromise. The very term “compromise” has a mixed, or even a negative, connotation to many
people. For these reasons, the administrator may encounter resistance to attempts to help both
sides see the need for compromise. The approach of the administrator should be to show the
participants that without compromise, their conflict is unlikely to be resolved. This won’t be easy,
but an attempt must be made because the alternatives of a stalemate or heightening of the
conflict are likely and undesirable.
True Compromise Is Not One-Sided
Assuming the various parties to a dispute can be made to see that compromise is needed to
resolve the conflict, an understanding also needs to be reached that it will probably be
necessary for both sides to compromise. Typically, individuals or groups who are in conflict do
not think about the need to modify their own position but assume that the other party is the one
who should or must change. It is unlikely that either side to a dispute will change without the
assurance that the other side will also agree to compromise. Since in many circumstances each
side is convinced it is right and the other side is wrong, the administrator may have difficulty in
persuading those who are involved that there must be give and take on both sides before
progress can be made in resolving the conflict. Nevertheless, the mediator must attempt to
develop this understanding on the part of both sides if resolution of the conflict is to be
Implications Must Be Recognized
Another important prerequisite to an acceptable solution to a disagreement is an understanding
by both sides of the full implications of their own point of view, as well as the full implications of
the other side’s position. While both parties may clearly understand their own position, they
often fail to recognize the full ramifications of their demands or their stand on a particular issue
in relation to the other disputants. Frequently, by showing how one group’s demands will affect
the other party, the mediator can clarify to all concerned why certain actions are unacceptable or
Opposing Points of View Must Be Understood
Undoubtedly, a major deterrent to the successful resolution of a conflict is a lack of
understanding of the opposite point of view on the part of one or more sides to a dispute.
Usually the parties in conflict concentrate most of their energies and attention on presenting and
arguing the merits of their own position and consequently do not spend sufficient time trying to
understand the way the other side looks at the issue. A useful technique that can be employed
to reveal this problem is to ask all parties to state the supporting rationale and main components
of the opposition’s arguments. This step frequently identifies the areas of inadequate
understanding and, if periodically employed with appropriate follow-up discussion, can also build
the foundation of understanding needed for compromise and ultimate solution of the conflict. If
compromise is required to resolve conflict, then certainly a better understanding of the positions
and points of view of both parties is needed before that compromise can occur.
Conflicts are usually resolved by modifying the original positions taken by one or more parties to
a dispute. As stated before, unless there is movement away from the original stand on an issue
toward the opposing point of view, there is little likelihood of resolving the conflict. Someone
must change, but usually neither party is willing to be the first to modify its position. The
perspective that the mediator needs to develop in parties to a conflict is the idea that the
alternatives are not restricted to either total rejection or complete capitulation. Instead, each side
should be encouraged to offer a counterproposal that at least recognizes the merits of some of
the opposing arguments and suggests a compromise representing a better situation possibly for
those concerned than would be true if the previous position of the other side were accepted in
The development of a counterproposal is a complex task. The proposal must advance
sufficiently toward incorporating the main points raised by each party so that it will command
attention and study, rather than immediate rejection, and it cannot sacrifice the basic integrity of
either point of view. Its presentation must be timed for just the right moment, unless it be
rejected because the other side is not yet ready to consider a possible modification of its original
position or because the other side is past the point of being willing to consider a change. The
key to acceptance of a counterproposal is a recognition on the part of all involved that each side
must acknowledge, to some extent, the validity of the other side’s arguments if the conflict is to
The administrator should recognize that some conflicts cannot always be resolved through the
process of mediation and that arbitration may become necessary. Arbitration means that the
conflict is submitted to a third party, and both sides to the dispute agree to accept the arbitrator’s
judgment. The arbitrator may be a superior in the organization or may be an outside party,
depending on the nature of the conflict and the surrounding circumstances. When both sides to
a dispute agree to submit the issue to an arbitrator, they commit themselves to accepting and
implementing the arbitrator’s resolution of the conflict.
Arbitration by an outside party is a relatively new phenomenon in education, although
the process of internal arbitration by a superior in the organization has existed for many years.
The more frequent use of outside arbitration reflects a growing polarization of points of view on
the part of many groups in education and a lack of success in utilizing more traditional means of
resolving conflict. While arbitration is not acceptable to many because of the freedom that is
relinquished in submitting to the judgment of an arbitrator and because it does not guarantee
that the conflict will not erupt again, we can probably anticipate its continued use when other
methods of resolving conflict fail.
EVALUATION OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT EFFORTS
Regardless of which conflict management approach is used, the administrator, as well as the
other participants, should keep in mind that conflict cannot always be totally resolved, due to its
difficult and intractable nature. Figure 5.3 illustrates the variation in possible outcomes of efforts
to resolve conflict.
If an administrator cannot achieve a total resolution of a conflict, this does not mean that the
administrator has failed. Conflict amelioration represents a worthwhile achievement in many
situations and may be the only attainable objective under difficult circumstances. Evaluating
whether or not the conflict was totally resolved, however, is not the only aspect of conflict
management that should be assessed. In order for an administrator to determine whether the
efforts to resolve a conflict have been successful, the following questions should be addressed:
1. To what extent do all parties to the conflict feel that the administrator has acted fairly?
2. To what degree was the initial problem that produced the conflict ameliorated or
3. How much time, energy, and frustration were spent during efforts to resolve the conflict?
4. To what degree do the participants now have a more positive attitude toward each
5. To what extent have the participants in the conflict developed new skills or approaches
to preventing similar conflicts in the future or resolving them more effectively if they were
to occur? Evidence?
Obviously, these questions will not be easy for an administrator to answer, nor should there be
an attempt to address them without the involvement of the other parties to the conflict. By trying
to answer these questions, the administrator will be likely not only to draw accurate conclusions
about the success of conflict management efforts but also to learn something during the process
of evaluation that could improve future effectiveness.
FURTHER OBSERVATIONS ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Although conflict has been studied by many scholars, there still appears to be no single proven
method or formula for preventing or resolving discord. Based on experience and the writing of
those who have examined the problem, however, the following observations are offered in
1. Conflict is often inevitable in an educational organization, and, to some extent, it may
indicate that important changes are being proposed, considered, or implemented. A
complete absence of conflict over a long period of time may suggest a stagnant
organization or educational program.
2. Disruptive, continuous, or pervasive conflict is a sign that all is not well within the
organization. This type of conflict is deleterious to the emotional health of those who are
associated with the organization and can impede the achievement of organizational
objectives if it is not successfully ameliorated or resolved. The administrator must take
the initiative in identifying, diagnosing, and mediating this type of conflict.
3. Emotions are as important to consider in dealing with a conflict as are facts. Facts may
change emotions, but unless there is a sufficient understanding of the way people feel
about the issues and about the other parties involved, the conflict will probably not be
4. The “win or lose” philosophy that characterizes so much of what occurs in our society
has no place in conflict resolution. All references to, or impressions of, “winners and
losers” or “the good guys and the bad guys” should be avoided. To the greatest extent
possible, the final resolution of a conflict should advance the interests of all the parties.
5. The process of conflict resolution should not end at the time of final resolution. Hurt
feelings may still exist, and scars incurred during early stages of the conflict may still
require the administrator’s attention if future problems are to be prevented.
6. A sense of humor, perspective, and a belief in the innate good intentions of most people
are important to the resolution of conflict. Disputes are irritating and their resolution can
be a frustrating experience. The successful resolution of a conflict may depend in many
situations more on the personal characteristics of the participants than on any other
Administrators must be prepared to resolve conflicts. They can gain conflict management skills
through internships, case studies, sensitivity training, and simulations, in addition to studying
theory and research. For example, Ivarie’s article entitled “Strategies for Managing Conflict in
the Collaborative Process” contains useful strategies such as “withdrawing, forcing, smoothing,
compromising, and confronting.”
WHEN CONFLICT TURNS VIOLENT
Increasingly, administrators must solve conflicts of a physical nature that cannot be resolved by
consensus or conflict resolution exercises. Schools can no longer be assumed to be the safe
havens they were once considered. In recent years, tragic acts of violence have alerted
educators, students, parents, and communities that there is no room for complacency. To help
prevent violence, schools are employing such various strategies as using metal detectors,
controlling access to school property, and having law officers present at schools.
Today’s headlines are rife with stories of teen suicide due to bullying and, unfortunately, too
many stories of teachers and administrators not addressing the situations. According to the
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):
● One out of every five (20.2%) students report being bullied.
● A higher percentage of male than of female students report being physically bullied (6%
vs. 4%), whereas a higher percentage of female than of male students reported being
the subjects of rumors (18% vs. 9%) and being excluded from activities on purpose (7%
● 41 percent of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they think the
bullying would happen again.
● Of those students who reported being bullied, 13 percent were made fun of, called
names, or insulted; 13 percent were the subject of rumors; 5 percent were pushed,
shoved, tripped, or spit on; and 5 percent were excluded from activities on purpose.
● A slightly higher portion of female than of male students report being bullied at school
(24% vs. 17%).
● Bullied students reported that bullying occurred in the following places: the hallway or
stairwell at school (43%), inside the classroom (42%), in the cafeteria (27%), outside on
school grounds (22%), online or by text (15%), in the bathroom or locker room (12%),
and on the school bus (8%).
● 46 percent of bullied students report notifying an adult at school about the incident.
● The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical
appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation.
Research compiled from various sources by the National Bullying Prevention Center
(NBPC) notes following statistics regarding bullying:
● Rates of bullying vary across studies (from 9% to 98%). A meta-analysis of 80 studies
analyzing bullying involvement rates (for both bullying others and being bullied) for 12- to
18-year-old students reported a mean prevalence rate of 35 percent for traditional
bullying involvement and 15 percent for cyberbullying involvement.
● One in five (20.9%) tweens (9–12 years old) has been cyberbullied, cyberbullied others,
or seen cyberbullying.
● 49.8 percent of tweens (9–12 years old) said they experienced bullying at school and
14.5 percent of tweens shared they experienced bullying online.
● 13 percent of tweens (9–12 years old) reported experiencing bullying at school and
online, while only 1 percent reported being bullied solely online.
Bullying of Students with Disabilities
● Students with specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, emotional and
behavior disorders, other health impairments, and speech or language impairments
report greater rates of victimization than their peers without disabilities longitudinally and
their victimization remains consistent over time.
● When assessing specific types of disabilities, prevalence rates differ: 35.3 percent of
students with behavioral and emotional disorders, 33.9 percent of students with autism,
24.3 percent of students with intellectual disabilities, 20.8 percent of students with health
impairments, and 19 percent of students with specific learning disabilities face high
levels of bullying victimization.
● Researchers discovered that students with disabilities were more worried about school
safety and being injured or harassed by other peers compared to students without a
● When reporting bullying, youth in special education were told not to tattle almost twice as
often as youth not in special education.
● Successful strategies to prevent bullying among students with disabilities include:
○ Teachers and peers engaging in meaningful and appropriate social interactions
○ Creating opportunities to increase social competence and positive interactions
○ Schools adopting appropriate intervention strategies that encourage social
awareness and provide individualized interventions for targets with disabilities
Bullying of Students of Color
● 23 percent of African American students, 23 percent of Caucasian students, 16 percent
of Hispanic students, and 7 percent of Asian students report being bullied at school.
● More than one-third of adolescents reporting bullying report bias-based school bullying.
● Bias-based bullying is more strongly associated with compromised health than general
● Race-related bullying is significantly associated with negative emotional and physical
Bullying of Students Who Identify or Are Perceived as LGBTQ
● 70.1 percent of LGBTQ students were verbally bullied (e.g., called names, threatened) in
the past year because of their sexual orientation and 59.1 percent because of their
gender expression, and 53.2 percent based on gender.
● 28.9 percent of LGBTQ students were physically bullied (e.g., pushed, shoved) in the
past year because of their sexual orientation and 24.4 percent because of their gender
expression, and 22.8 percent based on gender.
● 48.7 percent of LGBTQ students experienced cyberbullying in the past year.
● 59.5 percent of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual
orientation, 44.6 percent because of their gender expression, and 35 percent because of
● 34.8 percent of LGBTQ students missed at least one entire day at school in the past
month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and 10.5 percent missed four or more
days in the past month.
● Of the LGBTQ students who reported they were considering dropping out of school, 42.2
percent indicated they were doing so because of the harassment they faced at school.
● Compared to LGBTQ students with no supportive school staff, students with many (11 or
more) supportive staff at school were less likely to miss school because they felt unsafe
(20.1%–48.8%) and felt greater belonging to their school community.
● LGBTQ students experienced a safe, more positive school environment when their
school had a bullying prevention/anti-harassment policy that specifically included
protections on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
● Peer victimization of all youth was less likely to occur in schools with bullying policies
that are inclusive of LGBTQ students.
School administrators must be attuned and prepared to deal with any incidents of
bullying. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services
Administration (HRSA) suggests that school administrators assess bullying at your school and
your staff’s commitment to address bullying and learn about good bullying prevention programs.
Many schools and school districts have taken the precaution of establishing zero-tolerance
policies. Such policies establish in advance what the consequences of particular offenses will be
and impress upon students that certain actions absolutely will not be tolerated. Zero means
zero. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that most schools have such
policies for at least some types of behavior. The center’s researchers found that more than 9 out
of 10 schools reported zero tolerance for weapons of any kind. Similarly, nearly 9 out of 10
schools reported policies of zero tolerance for drugs (88 %) and alcohol (87 %). Zero tolerance
was also found to apply to tobacco products and to physical fighting or other types of violence
on school property.
At the same time, such policies have their critics. “Critics say these policies lead to
overreaction, pointing to such cases as suspending a child for bringing a toy gun to school,”
writes Rasicot, “but many school officials stand by the policies.”72 In her overview of attitudes
toward such policies, Rasicot cites the worries of some civil rights advocates who fear that
“students’ rights might be trampled by efforts to ensure a safe school.” She also mentions the
concerns of mental health authorities who would prefer that a student’s motives be explored
before penalties are meted out and that penalties be meted out on a case-by-case basis suited
to the particular offender.
In an article entitled, “Does Zero Mean Zero?” Martin points out the frustration school
administrators often feel over the enforcement of zero-tolerance policies because there is a
constant weighing of two sets of students’ rights—the rights of the individual student accused of
violating a zero-tolerance policy and the rights of the entire student body to learn in a safe
environment. No matter how the administrator handles a given situation, including turning the
matter over to the school board if that is district policy, there are still circumstances, Martin says,
when “parents of the disciplined student—and sometimes, other interested parties—might
question the judgment used by school administrators and disagree with their decisions.”
Martin urges school boards, superintendents, and building-level administrators to
acknowledge the apprehension of parents and the community and thus to make every effort to
publicize the weapons policy of the school or district. Such publicizing would include
“highlighting the consequences for noncompliance and defining the weapons that are
considered deadly and dangerous, for which possession would result in mandatory expulsion.”
He goes on to say that “the district also should acknowledge that only special circumstances
may be taken into account when determining the appropriate consequence.” Examples of such
circumstance might include the offender’s age, ability to understand the policy’s requirements,
intent, past disciplinary record, and how the presence of the weapon (or item defined as a
weapon) affected others. Martin has put together a list of suggestions designed to help
principals avoid “communication pitfalls” in carrying out zero tolerance. He concludes:
Trying to balance strict policy enforcement with practical procedural
implementation is the greatest public relations challenge facing today’s school
administrators. But remember: Any school would rather gain a reputation for
zealously enforcing a strict weapons policy than receive notoriety for a shooting
incident. And communities will support their schools’ effort to increase safety and
decrease violence—as long as schools don’t lose sight of common sense.
Other Strategies for Preventing School Violence
Many schools are attempting to find additional ways to address the issue of potential violence.
“Security measures such as metal detectors can stop students from bringing weapons to school
but do little to address the anger, meanness, and fistfights that are the much larger, although
less newsworthy, part of the problem,” Shapiro observes. He expresses concern over the way
anger, fear, and fighting harm students both academically and emotionally, and distract them
from the learning experience. “When arguments and threats escalate into violence,” he writes,
“the result is disruption of school activities, agitation of other students, disciplinary incidents, and
sometimes, suspensions and expulsions which cause further loss of learning.”
School Violence Prevention Programs
Shapiro’s suggested remedy is the institution of school violence prevention programs such as
the Peacemakers Program for grades 4 to 8. He points out that the program helps students
develop specific skills for handling conflict. These skills are essentially built around three basic
strategies: “proactively avoiding conflicts, responding effectively to conflicts once they have
begun, and removing oneself from conflict situations in which the other person’s maladaptive
behavior makes resolution impossible.” Particularly important, Shapiro stresses, is the need to
recognize that some young people look upon violence as “the most honorable and admirable
response to conflict.” Such students are not motivated to learn skills for dealing with conflict by
nonviolent means. Therefore, special attention must be given to addressing the proviolence
values such students hold.
Mediation, including peer mediation, is another way that schools are working to deal with
dispute resolution and violence prevention. Trevaskis points out benefits that both disputants
and mediators gain through such programs and describes the important life skills both parties
learn when the mediation approach is applied. In his ERIC Digest summary of mediation
practices in schools, Trevaskis has included a “checklist for mediation,” outlining how the
mediation process works. As Beyer points out in a discussion of the legal rights of students with
regard to school safety, “Certainly, violence prevention training, as opposed to criminal
enforcement techniques, is the course most consistent with a recognition of children’s human
Resources to Help in Violence Prevention
The Internet provides many resources that may help school leaders deal with the problem of
school violence and concerns about school safety. Figure 5.4 provides an overview of some of
the best material from reliable sources that is available online from the Internet.
▪ FIGURE 5.4 ONLINE RESOURCES TO AID EDUCATIONAL LEADERS IN KEEPING
Description Web Page URL
Resolution Ensuring Safe and JustSchools for All Students. Customize thisresolution to outline protections for studentsduring COVID-19, including a safe schoolenvironment, access to technology fordistance learning, and more.
Safe Schools Resources. The PennsylvaniaDepartment of Education’s Office for SafeSchools coordinates school safety andsecurity programs, collects the annual schoolviolence statistics, coordinates antiviolenceefforts, and develops policies and strategiesto combat school violence.
How to Protect Students from SexualHarassment: A Primer for Schools. Thisfact sheet is part of a series of tools designedby the National Women’s Law Center to helpschools address the dropout crisis, inparticular those students who dropout due tosexual harassment and bullying.
Indicators of School Crime and Safety,2019. A report from the National Center forEducation Statistics and the Bureau of
Consortium for Appropriate DisputeResolution in Special Education. CADRE,the National Center on Dispute Resolution,encourages the use of mediation and othercollaborative strategies to resolvedisagreements about special education andearly intervention programs.
ACLU Youth & Schools. The Youth &Schools program strives to make publicschools safe and bias-free, defending freeexpression in public schools.
LGBTQ YOUTH OF COLOR: DisciplineDisparities, School Push-Out, and theSchool-to-Prison Pipeline
LGBTQ YOUTH OF COLOR: Discipline Disparities, School Push-Out, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Learning for Justice https://www.learningforjustice.org/
National Youth Violence PreventionResource Center. Information on youthviolence, youth at risk, youth suicide, gangs,and firearm violence. Good source forstatistics.
Stop the Hate. Dedicated to helpingstudents, educators, police and thecommunity to stop hate crimes and violence.Also a good connection to other communitiesabout activities in these areas
ERIC (Educational Resource InformationCenter). Information for parents and teachersabout many educational issues.
Take Action Against Bullying. Informationabout bullying from recent articles.
Stop Bullying Now. Does not believe thatbullying is a part of growing up. View lettersfrom students.
Gay, Lesbian and Straight EducationNetwork (GLSEN). Antibullying resourcesand support for schools to implementeffective and age-appropriate antibullyingprograms to improve school climate for allstudents.
The U.S. Department of Education has in recent years placed great emphasis on
understanding what leads to school violence and what is most effective in preventing it. Its 1998
publication, Early Warning, Timely Response, was written as a guide for school leaders and all
others interested in school safety. Summing up research on violence prevention and
intervention, the publication includes early warning signs (but with a caveat about not
misinterpreting or misusing them), principles for helping troubled children, information on how to
develop a prevention and response plan, and how to respond to crisis in the event that a tragic
act of violence does occur.
A companion publication for principals, teachers, mental health professionals, and
families was issued by the Department of Education in 2000 after the positive reception of its
Early Warning, Timely Response guide resulted in requests for a follow-up resource.
Safeguarding Our Children: An Action Guide was developed to help schools utilize a
three-stage comprehensive school safety model built around “schoolwide prevention, early
intervention, and intensive services for students with significant emotional or behavioral needs,
including those with disruptive, destructive, or violent behaviors.”
Effective leadership requires a knowledge of conflict management that is applicable to a
wide variety of situations, including situations that could escalate into violence. Materials that
can assist in gaining this knowledge are readily available, and research is showing which
strategies are most effective.
Although most of the case studies, suggested learning activities, and simulations presented in
Part II of the text require the appropriate use of this chapter’s material on managing and
resolving conflict, the following exercises should provide the best opportunities for specifically
testing understanding and effective use of these concepts: Cases 13, 20, 24, 25, 28, 31, 32,
33, 41, 56, and 60; the midyear in-basket exercises; and the end-of-the-year in-basket