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Conflict management training for school administrators.

Introduction

What is the role of a school administrator can be described in several ways depending on who is answering the question. Some people will state that a school administrator is a leader in the school environment and therefore is responsible for role modeling professional behavior (Hopkins, 2000). Others will say that the appropriate name for a school administrator is that of a principal, whose role and responsibility is to keep the school environment safe for the students and the teachers (Pendharkar, 1995). Using either title for a school administrator does not negate the level of responsibilities that is part of this role.

School administrators are the highest ranking administrators in an elementary, middle, or high school and are responsible for the overall operations of the schools that are under their administration (Lashway, 2003). Included in the overall operations of the school is the pressure to improve teaching and learning and lead school reform that will raise the level of student achievement. Part of a school administrator's role also includes making sure that conflict within the school environment is resolved in a manner that is effective for all person involved including students, teachers, and/or parents (Lan, 1997). Therefore, school administrators not only have the responsibility of refereeing conflict among different populations on school campuses, but must also have knowledge of conflict resolution skills as part of their repertoire for resolving conflict effectively.

High profile episodes of school violence across the United States have increased concern over violence in schools and have made administrators aware that conflict resolution skills need to become a fundamental part of a school curriculum (Asherman, 2002). There is no question that teaching conflict resolution to students is an excellent idea, yet we need to ask ourselves if school administrators are also receiving the necessary training in conflict resolution. School administrators are being asked to either infuse or implement conflict resolution skills training into school curriculum, but what type of training have school administrators received in this same area?

There are major actors in the educational enterprise. These consist of teachers, school board members, proprietors of education institutions, and of course school administrators. All are stakeholders in education industry, and should have a common purpose and focus on conflict management. Dissonance between and, among these entities may retard effective management of the school environment, which is one of the primary responsibilities of a school administrator (Henkin, Cistone, & Dee, 2000).

Management in an educational institute is a unique challenge and school administrators must pay important attention when conflict is not adequately resolved, or when there is delay in appropriate resolution of conflict (Ikoya & Akinseinde, 2009). When conflict is not resolved appropriately in a school environment academic hours of unimaginable magnitude are lost. Therefore it becomes expedient that appropriate strategies for effective management of school conflict be implemented by school administrators.

Conflict Resolution Training

Conflict in everyday life is part of living (Ageng'a & Simatwa, 2011). It can be used as an opportunity for growth and change. The challenge with conflict is in the management or resolution of the conflict that is occurring. How people resolve their conflict will determine either a positive or negative result (Scott, 2011).

Unfortunately the ability to resolve conflict can be tricky. It requires persons engaged in conflict have the appropriate skills that are necessary to find a resolution that will work for everyone involved, otherwise attempts at conflict resolution may make the conflict worse (Newson, Mahan, Rook, & Krause, 2008). The ability to competently, effectively, and peacefully handle conflict is not intuitive; instead it is a learned skill (Garner, 2008). Johnson and Johnson's (1996) review of the research on conflict resolution indicates that most persons do not have any idea of how to manage their conflicts in a constructive manner. People struggle with issues of verbal harassment, verbal arguments, and relationship issues every day without understanding how to resolve these issues (Garner, 2008).

School administrators encounter conflict on a frequent basis. Since part of their role and responsibility include serving as a leader for students and teachers conflict resolution skills enhance their leadership and communication abilities (Anderson, 2005). As leaders, school administrators are involved in communicating and working closely with parents, family service agencies, local businesses, and other community entities (Lashway, 2003). Working with different populations entails a person knowing how to communicate appropriately, and how to resolve conflict if, and when the conflict arises. According to Ikoya & Akinseinde (2009) conflict in organizations, including school environments have been traced to leadership styles of school administrators, therefore having applicable conflict management skills is imperative for school administrators.

Properly developed conflict resolution skills enhance the leadership and administrative skills that is part of the responsibility of an administrator (Thamhain, 1992). These skills help a person build a working environment that enhances the moral of employees, and helps increase commitment to a more productive team effort. Using conflict resolution skills can also result in creating a positive change within an organization such as a school environment (Martin & Willower, 1981).

Researchers have identified the knowledge base and skills necessary for the development of successful administrators and conflict resolution skills is among those skills (Wilmore, 2003). A review of the literature indicates that school administrators are trained in how to deliver public services effectively and in an innovative manner, how to be accountable to the general public, and how to work effectively with other administrators and teachers (Lan, 1997). However, the literature also indicates that in the field of school administration there is much less emphasis placed on conflict resolution.

In a study conducted by Anderson (2005) graduate students in a school administrator's program were surveyed in regards to receiving conflict management training. The study indicated that most of the graduate students received conflict management training through their respective school districts and one out of ten graduate students received training either in their undergraduate or graduate program. Conflict resolution training through school districts was teacher-focused therefore not touching on the areas that were part of school administrator's roles and responsibilities.

The findings indicated that graduate students were confident in their own personal conflict resolution skills, but over 40% did not believe they were as competent in their ability to teach and model conflict management skills to teachers, students, and other school personnel (Anderson, 2005). This study indicates that school administrators- in-training need to have training that focuses on the areas of responsibilities that administrators will be dealing with in their job environment.

According to Lan (1997) public administrators are now dealing with conflict that is more complex and multifaceted, but have not been adequately trained in the skills and the rationales of conflict resolution. School leaders encounter conflict frequently and are also the primary builders of consensus and collaboration on their campuses, yet there is evidence that support and training in the area of conflict management skills is lacking (Leithwood, Begley, & Cousins, 1999). In another study conducted by Graham (2009) the effect of conflict management styles on employee attitudes were evaluated. The study indicated that organizations that took an active approach in training supervisors in conflict management skills had employees with higher levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of stress.

Managing conflict in any environment is something that all professionals, including school administrators have to deal with on a daily basis. Learning how to deal with conflict effectively is what could make the difference between a good administrator and a great administrator.

Conflict Management Skills

There is support that conflict training is a necessity for school administrators (Henkin, Cistone, & Dee, 2000). This type of training tends to lead to improved leadership abilities and improved relationships with school employees and the community-at-large. Training in this area help develop critical skills and abilities that focus on constructive conflict management which include an understanding of conflict, principles of conflict resolution, and process steps in problems-solving (Jones, 2013). Conflict resolution training also includes learning certain skills that, together, result in conflict resolution abilities. These skills include reflective listening, maintenance of civility, separation of positions from interests, and the delineation of group goals (Katz & Lawyer, 1993).

A research study conducted by Petrie, Gooden, Lindauer, & Bennett (2001) looked at the need for universities to prepare their graduate students in the area of school leadership skills. Their findings indicate that students who had graduated from a Kentucky and a Georgia University had received some training in group process which included working with groups of people and learning communication skills. When the findings were further evaluated the data revealed that students believed that these skills were essential and necessary for ultimate job success. However, students did not believe that they have received enough formal training and that their preparation was of relatively poor quality. These findings seem to indicate that receiving little or poor, preparations in certain skills is a concern to future school administrators whose goals are to initiate and sustain school excellence.

Receiving conflict management training through two areas: university programs and school district may be viewed as a needed component to maintain confidence and applicable skills for beginning and mature school administrators.

School administrators' make important, daily decisions as they face pressure from different sources. These decisions come because individuals have different perceptions, beliefs and goals (Rue & Byarrs, 1992). Administrators contend with conflict when making important decisions that affect how an environment is managed. It is beneficial for a school administrator to be able to implement an appropriate conflict management style to successfully resolve the conflict in order to make conscious decisions that will be beneficial to all persons that are affected by the unresolved conflict (Bateman & Zeithalml, 1993; Deutsch, 1994). Therefore, continued training in this realm keeps school administrators competent and seems to increase their level of confidence when faced with conflictual dilemmas in the work environment.

Conflict Management Styles

Research in conflict resolution suggests that there are five different styles of conflict management that can exist within any organization (Anderson, 2005). Research also states that people generally handle conflict in patterns of behavior that are comfortable to them (Fleetwood, 1987).

Conflict is managed through the use of different conflict management styles. According to Weeks (1994) people tend to use what is described as 5 popular approaches to resolve conflict. These approaches include: (a) the conquest approach, (b) the avoidance approach, (c) the bargaining approach, (d) the quick-fixer approach, and (e) the role player approach. Weeks states that these approaches are considered ineffective and, unfortunately do nothing to help with the resolution of conflict. Another set of conflict management styles which people use to resolve conflict where identified by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in the 1970's and include: (a) collaboration, (b) accommodation, (c) competition, (d) compromise, and (e) avoidance. Any one of these styles can exist in an organization including the educational setting (Thomas, 1976).

Let's quickly take a look at some of the above mentioned communication styles and how they can influence the resolution of conflict either positively or negatively. Persons who use the conquest approach to resolving conflict depend on bullying, dominating, and manipulation to get their way. It is a show of power which weakens the other party involved in the conflict. This style will have a winner and a loser and tends to do nothing toward improving a relationship. The goal of this style is to seek dominance rather than cooperation.

The avoidance approach gives the illusion of no conflict when in reality the conflict is being avoided and there is no resolution. Persons using this management style may pretend there is no conflict or will believe it will just go away. This approach only postpones dealing with the conflict and generally makes the conflict worse. Results from this type of management style can be high levels of frustration which impede the working environment (Weeks, 1994).

One the other hand conflict management styles that utilize collaboration and compromise will see a positive result in managing the conflict. Compromise is considered an intermediate position in which both assertiveness and cooperativeness exist. There is an objective to using this style: finding the most expedient, mutually acceptable solution which will be partially satisfactory to both parties. One party agrees to yield for the good of the ongoing situation because the relationship is highly important. It is one way to split the differences, exchanging concessions, or creating a quick middle-ground solution (Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church, USA). Collaboration management styles that are employed in conflictual situations, demonstrate behaviors that are assertive and cooperative, which is opposite of avoidance. There is a working together to find a resolution that is agreeable to all parties and involves exploring the issue and looking at alternative strategies which will meet the sets of concerns for all involved (The Leadership Center at Washington State University, 2013).

Different conflict management styles may lead to desirable or undesirable outcomes, depending on the management style used by a person. Therefore, determining what conflict management style a school administrator uses helps to determine how the administrator will resolve conflict and how the outcome will impact the work environment.

Conclusion

There is no end to how a school administrator can receive appropriate training in the area of conflict resolution. School districts can work together to make it part of the continuing education plan that each year school administrators be certified or recertified in this area. Universities might consider expanding their program work to include certification in conflict resolution as an added certification to the principal ship certification that is offered. A full scale day of conflict training that includes counselors, teachers, staff members and children would promote this type of behavior in a school as a pilot program to promote this type of training. These suggestions can enhance what has been learned and can pinpoint what conflict resolution management styles are being chosen to use by the above population when confronted with a conflictual situation (Rayle, J. M., 1998).

When an environment of collaboration and cooperation is role modeled by the highest level of administrator, there is a push for persons to take responsibility for their own behavior and to model behavior that favors resolution of problems as they arise. This type of atmosphere creates one of ownership, and success among all of those involved in making it happen, especially the school administrator, who happens to be the one person that is viewed as the leader of the school.

The most important thought that an administrator would need to remember is that conflict between two or more people it is an opportunity for growth to occur and improvement to take place in an environment including the school environment (Hoffman & Hutchinson, 2009). The utilization of conflict management skills by an administrator in dealing with conflict between a teacher, student or parent may have the effect of reducing disruption in a classroom setting or between colleagues in the work environment. This would promote a safer and more supportive learning environment and what could be better than that!

References

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Weeks, D. (1994). The eight essential steps to conflict resolution. New York, N.Y. Penguin Putnam, Inc.

Wilmore, E. (2003). Passing the principal TExES exam. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press

Mary G. Mayorga, Ph.D., LPC-S, NCC, CCDS, CART

mmayorga@tamusa.tamus.edu

Texas A&M University--San Antonio
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Author:Mayorga, Mary G.
Publication:Perspectives in Peer Programs
Article Type:Author abstract
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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