Administrator Advice: Handling Confrontation with Compassion

Dr. Benjamin Washington
Dr. Benjamin Washington
Project Director for 21st Century Community Learning Centers; Ed.D. Educational Leadership
A group of three adults have a conversation in a classroom.

The school building is a place where both students and adults are continuously learning. Often, teachers and administrators have to model the most effective ways to manage a conflict for students. Having a high level of emotional intelligence is crucial for adults to work together and support students’ needs. However, what is the course of action when the adults are dealing with conflict? There will be times where teachers may disagree with each other or when an administrative policy change does not go over well with staff. Understanding how to handle a confrontation with compassion is vital to creating a positive school culture.

Why Handling Confrontation with Compassion is Essential 

Handling confrontation with compassion is essential because it creates a healthier work environment, establishes positive connections with others, and creates deeper bonds with staff and the schoolwide team. If students observe teachers and fellow educators not getting along, this will set an example for students to pursue further conflicts as well. It is important for students to feel safe in the school setting, and part of that feeling of safety comes from the interactions between adults.

Maslows’s Hierarchy of Needs not only applies to the teaching and learning of children, but the way adults learn and grow as well. Adult Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) emphasizes understanding motivations, the need for empathy, and the understanding of others’ emotions. Understanding adult social-emotional learning is an effective way to handle confrontation with compassion. As school leaders set the goals and missions for the school, it is important to set the expectations for school culture and climate, and adult interaction in the building.

Ways to Handle Confrontation with Compassion 

There are multiple ways to handle confrontation with compassion. Reducing stress on the job is one way to have preventative measures at the job. Large classroom sizes and both social and administrative expectations can lead to increased stress and teacher burnout. Finding ways to increase teacher effectiveness without contributing to teacher burnout is highly important.

There are a variety of ways to do this, including planning time during the day for teachers to collaborate with each other and their peers. Other strategies such as having an open-door policy and having consistent meetings with staff, helps keep the lines of communication open.

Have an Open Door Policy

Establishing relationships is also crucial when it comes to preventing conflict in the workplace. An effective administrator should have an open-door policy when it comes to parents, students, and teachers as well. This builds a sense of trust within the organization and creates room for an open dialogue.

Remain Professional

Oftentimes, when there is conflict in the workplace, this can be a simple matter of miscommunication. Understanding the power of a crucial conversation can allow for a direct conversation about a topic. When done effectively, the issue or conflict at hand can be discussed in a professional way without others feeling alienated or micromanaged. It is important to write down the issue at hand, whether it be feedback from a classroom observation or an issue with a staff member creating a negative environment.

Be sure not to have a crucial conversation so the person you are speaking with does not feel like they are being singled out. Make sure to have these conversations in private and allow for the person you are speaking with to share their thoughts and ideas, and then move to what steps need to be done to correct the action. As an administrator, principal, etc., there are benefits to giving teachers and students access to professional development. Utilizing a school counselor is an excellent way to have students learn conflict resolution but also give adults in the building a place to learn conflict resolution strategies.

Keep the End Goal in Mind

Be sure to keep the end goal in mind, whether it is a teacher having to discuss behavior and academic issues with a parent in a conference or an administrator dealing with an angry parent in the front office. In the school building it is important to ensure students have a safe environment to learn and grow. Modeling the expectations for a successful discussion applies to students and the adults. In order to ensure success it is vital to remember that the staff in the building is there to support student learning and create a positive environment.

Whether it is providing professional development on social emotional learning for school counselors, having a conversation with a parent or staff member or individual self-reflection, all will be beneficial when experiencing conflict. When conflict is handled with compassion, both parties can leave with a better level of understanding and continue to work for the betterment of students and the school as a whole.

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