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Conflict Resolution Education

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9. Conflict Resolution Education

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the participants will:


  • Understand the core competencies for conflict resolution
  • Understand the root causes of conflict
  • Be able to suggest conflict resolution strategies
  • Be able to use conflict resolution in the classroom
  • Be able to develop a lesson plan that incorporates the principles of Conflict Resolution Education

Guiding Questions 

Before you read this section, consider the following questions:


  • How is conflict in our personal lives the same or different from conflict on a global level?
  • How can conflict have a positive outcome? 
  • Is conflict an inevitable part of human existence?
  • What are the traditional means of conflict resolution in your culture?



Disagreements must be settled, not by force, not by deceit or trickery, but rather in the only manner which is worthy of the dignity of man, i.e., by a mutual assessment of the reasons on both sides of the dispute, by a mature and objective investigation of the situation, and by an equitable reconciliation of differences of opinion.

- Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris


An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

- Mahatma Gandhi


Conflict arises when basic physical and psychological needs are not met. Conflict in and of itself is neither negative nor positive. However, the response to conflict determines whether there is a constructive or destructive outcome.  In order to live peacefully it is important that individuals develop an understanding of the causes of conflict and the guidelines for conflict resolution.  

Causes of conflict

There are three main causes of conflict.  Often, one or more reason is present making the conflict more difficult to address.

  • Unmet psychological needs such as a sense of belonging, a feeling of recognition and respect, an opportunity to make choices and an atmosphere of enjoyment. 
  • Limited resources - often disputes around resources also involve unmet psychological needs.  Both need to be addressed and resolved so conflict will not occur again. 
  • Different values – this cause of conflict is more difficult to resolve.  This type of conflict is most easily resolved if sides are able to understand and respect each other’s differences. 

Responses to Conflict

According to Crawford and Bodine (1996) there are 3 ways to respond to conflict:  soft, hard and principled.  The first two ways typically result in a lose-lose or win-lose outcome. The principled way to conflict produces a win-win situation.  This approach emphasizes cooperative interaction by means of “skilled, active and empathic” listening.  There is also mutual understanding to different perspectives, and when needs and interests of both parties are addressed.

Problem-Solving Processes

According to Crawford and Bodine (1996), there are three structured problem-solving processes:  negotiation, mediation and consensus decision making.  

  • Negotiation – parties meet face to face and attempt to resolve their differences without outside assistance.
  • Mediation – parties meet face to face but are assisted by a neutral third party to find a resolution to their conflict.
  • Consensus Decision Making –a group process whereby all parties collaborate by devising a plan that all members can agree upon.  They may or may not be assisted by an outside party.


According to Crawford and Bodine, further success of conflict resolution is based on understanding of four principles:

  1. Separate people from the problem,
  2. Focus on interests, not positions,
  3. Invent options for mutual gain, and
  4. Use objective criteria” (p.10).

Conflict Resolution Education and Educational Approaches

Since conflict is part of everyday life, our task as peace educators is to find constructive, creative, nonviolent ways for students to solve conflicts in a peaceful manner. This is the primary goal of conflict resolution education.  According to Reardon (1999), “Conflict resolution education comprises efforts to impart knowledge and understanding of conflict processes, the distinctions between constructive and destructive processes, so that the constructive processes may prevail over the destructive” (p. 15).


According to CRETE (2010), conflict resolution education teaches social and emotional competencies to children and adults to help them handle conflict more constructively, build healthy relationships, and create constructive communities. As a field, it overlaps with violence prevention, positive youth development, social and emotional learning, and law-related education.


The core competencies for conflict resolution education are:

  • Emotional awareness
  • Empathy and perspective-taking
  • Emotional management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication (listening, mediation, negotiation)
  • Effective decision making (CRETE, 2010). 


The most widespread form of conflict resolution education is skills training in dealing with conflicts at school and in the everyday life of students (Reardon, 1999). Key skills include peer mediation, nonviolent communication, and active listening. These skills can be taught through a variety of approaches and formats.


One such format is the Process Curriculum Approach in which students learn about conflict resolution as part of a separate course or distinct curriculum or a daily lesson plan.

A second approach is a Mediation Program Approach in which students are trained “in the mediation process in order to provide neutral third-party facilitation to assist those in conflict to reach a resolution” (Crawford & Bodine, 1996).


The Peaceable Classroom Approach is a whole-classroom methodology in which “conflict resolution education is incorporated into the core subjects of the curriculum and into classroom management strategies” (Crawford & Bodine, 1996).  Although direct training in conflict resolution skills is also important, the more holistic Peaceable Classroom approach is the most consistent with the values of peace education, and the most effective at fostering a true culture of peace. “In peaceable classrooms, youth learn to take responsibility for their actions and develop a sense of connectedness to others and their environment” (Crawford & Bodine, 1996, p. 33).


The Peaceable Classroom Approach can be extended beyond just the classroom to the Peaceable School Approach which encompasses  the entire school and its daily operations. 

While most Conflict Resolution Education programs focus on how to handle immediate conflict in the classroom, more recently efforts have been made for longer-range, transformative solutions that address root causes such as structures, fundamental social norms, or political values that play into conflict formations (Reardon, 1999). While some conflict is inevitable, a great deal of conflict could be avoided if there had initially been greater effort to ensure understanding. Conflict may not always be avoided, but by developing an attitude of respect and willingness to understand, we can work to reduce it.  

Classroom Activities

There are many ways to integrate Conflict Resolution Education into the daily curriculum. For example, in a Language Arts class, students could analyze stories to identify the causes of conflicts and possible ways for resolving them. In Physical Education class, you could discuss the differences between competitive and cooperative games, play an example of each type, and have students reflect together afterwards. For further examples of lesson plans, please see the list of resources below.

Sample Lesson


How Conflicts Happen and Change: Using Children’s Literature (Reardon & Cabezudo, 2002)

Conflicts begin and develop. They may escalate into violence. They may be solved in a way that positively transforms the relationship of the disputants. Or the provocations may be dissipated, preventing problems from growing into conflicts.

The complexity of conflict situations provides multiple opportunities before, during, and after conflicts to build and rebuild peaceful relationships.  We have an obligation to provide our students with examples of quality fiction and nonfiction writing at all times. Ideally, literature should be used as the instrument for the conflict analysis.  This enables teachers to choose stories written in their own language(s) and from their own cultures.  It also enriches the learning unit by employing both storytelling and personal student writing.

The conflict process is a framework for the study, resolution, and transformation of conflict.  Although we try to define the particular stages or phases in which we might find ourselves in a  conflict, the stages often overlap in the conflict process. There is a constant interweaving, as in all  processes, that is not linear or circular. Conflicts are dynamic, with many dimensions that continuously influence one another. Each phase and component, as it changes, causes changes in the others.

For example, when relationships improve, problems that previously seemed impossible may become solvable. These characteristics should be presented and explained when teaching about conflict.

In preparing to use this material, the concepts of prevention, resolution, and transformation, noted in the Hague Agenda, can be defined and connected to the sub-concepts and stages of conflict described in Chapter 2, Book 1 of Learning to Abolish War.


This learning unit was prepared by Janet Gerson and Jill Strauss (2001) for a teacher training workshop at Teachers College, Columbia University. The authors note that, because conflict process emphasizes the dynamic, organic nature of conflict, it is often best understood in active terms in which the students’ actions determine the learning.

Grade Level and Subjects

Elementary grades, 3 – 6; conflict resolution, reading, language arts


A story recounting a disagreement, dispute, or break in a relationship (one example is: “The Tree House” by Lois Lawry, in The Big Book for Peace, Ann Durell and Marilyn Sachs, eds. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 1990). Other materials include paper and pencil for each student.


Reading; reflection; large and small group discussion


Conflict process in stages: anticipating, analyzing, problem-solving—reframing the conflict, assessing options for resolution, planning for change, reconciling, and building positive relationships


Students will:

  • ·         Learn stages of conflict process;
  • ·         Develop creative questions to discover possible nonviolent actions and outcomes for a conflict;
  • ·        


Part 1: Our Own Experience of Conflict


Part Two: Using a Story to Think About How to Deal With Conflict

1. Divide the students into small groups of 4-5. Tell them that they will be listening to a story about a conflict. Ask them to pay attention to their feelings as things happen in the story, and see if they can identify stages of the conflict process.

2. Read aloud “The Tree House” or a similar children’s story recounting a conflict. Stop reading at the moment before the characters resolve their conflict.

3. Ask students to think about how they felt about the characters' actions. Tell the students to use their feelings, and what they remember of the conflict process, to answer the questions below in their small groups. Each group should pick one person to take notes and another to plan to report to the whole class.

NOTE: It may be necessary to adapt the following questions to the actual story read.

How might the story end so that the girls make up (reconcile) and their friendship becomes better? (Stage: construct positive relationships)

What could the girls have done differently to prevent the conflict in the first place?  (Stages: anticipation, analysis)

What might they do differently in the future? (Stage: planning for change)


4. Ask students to share their ideas with the whole class. Record the ideas on the blackboard.

5. Read the end of the story. Compare the outcome of the story to the ideas recorded on the blackboard. Ask students to consider this ending in relation to conflict process stages and their own suggestions. Ask students to think about how the ideas might apply to their own conflicts.

6. Reflect on and answer any questions about the conflict process and the stages that are part of it.


Questions for Comprehension and Reflection


  1. What are some conflicts in your everyday life and how can you resolve them peacefully?
  2. Is conflict necessarily bad, or is there a positive side to conflict?
  3. Are students in your school familiar with conflict resolution strategies? What kind of support or guidance do they receive when they find themselves in conflict situations? Who is/should be responsible for this kind of support and guidance?
  4. What are some of the issues that are most likely to cause conflict in your community or school? How are these conflicts usually addressed?
  5. How can you incorporate the core competencies of Conflict Resolution Education in your school or classroom? Be specific.
  6. Is your classroom a Peaceable Classroom? If not, how can it become one? What steps would you have to take to achieve this? If your classroom already possesses some of the characteristics of a Peaceable Classroom, please describe how you accomplished this.


Crawford, D. & Bodine, R. (1996). Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Organizations, and Community and Juvenile               Justice Settings. Retrieved from http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/conflic.pdf 


CRETE Project (2010). Conflict Resolution Education in Teacher Education. Retrieved from: http://www.creducation.org/cre/resources/view/136


Lantieri, L. & Patti, J. (1998). Waging Peace In Our Schools. Beacon Press.


Reardon, B. A. (1999). Peace Education: A Review and Projection. Peace Education Reports, August, No. 17. Department of Educational and Psychological Research, Malmo University.


Reardon, B. A. & Cabezudo, A. (2002). Book 2: Sample Learning Units. Learning to Abolish War: Teaching Toward a Culture of Peace. New York: Hague Appeal for Peace.

Additional Resources

Beyond Intractability


This website has an excellent 12 Unit curriculum on conflict resolution unit for middle school students which begins with “What is conflict?” to “What is reconciliation”.  Too extensive to duplicate here.

Conflict Resolution Education Guide

Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Organizations, and Community and Juvenile Justice Settingshttp://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/conflic.pdf 
This paper fully outlines the Peaceable Classroom/School approach to CRE, and provides numerous examples of how CRE can be integrated into daily lessons.

Conflict Resolution Education Connection


Site dedicated to CRE that provides extensive examples of lesson plans and strategies for teaching conflict resolution.

Educators for Social Responsibility


This organization's online teacher center offers specific lesson plans specified by grade level and related to conflict resolution, building community, understanding others, and other similar topics.

Search for Common Ground


This organization focuses on conflict transformation and its web site contains extensive resources on basic information about conflict, as well as training resources.

Seeds of Peace


Although your school will not be able to participate directly in the Seeds for Peace program, this organization's efforts at conflict resolution among youth in some of the world's most volatile areas can serve as both an inspiration and a model for students and programs in your community.

Waging Peace In Our Schools (Lantieri & Patti, 1998)

The book Waging Peace In Our Schools is an excellent resource for conflict resolution education. The book outlines a project called the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, which was developed in the New York City public school system. This program involved the whole school in reducing conflicts and solving conflicts in constructive ways. The program involved training in conflict resolution skills, training of peer mediators to solve problems between students, and active listening training.


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