Enhancing relationships in school communities

Creating culturally respectful primary schools; enhancing relationships through strategic professional learning. 

Australia's increasing cultural diversity promises many benefits but also creates significant challenges, including the potential for conflict that reduces social cohesion. Schools are keys to the benefits of diversity.

The ERIS project has investigated an innovative approach to assisting primary school teachers to create a school culture and curriculum through which children: 

  • respect and value cultural diversity
  • address constructively interpersonal and inter-group differences.

ERIS researchers and partners

The ERIS project is a joint initiative of researchers in the School of Psychological Science, La Trobe University, and the Faculty of Education and Centre for Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood at the University of Melbourne.

Our partners include:

  • Australian Psychological Society
  • Psychologists for Peace interest group of the Australian Psychological Society
  • Scanlon Foundation
  • Morawetz Social Justice Fund
  • Catholic Education Office
  • Haig St. Primary School, Heidelberg
  • St. Anthony's Primary School, Alphington

ERIS materials for primary schools:

The Full Conflict Resolution Model

The full conflict resolution model.

The diagram shows the full process:

  1. Define the issues and identify the parties.
  2. Set the stage for win-win outcomes.
  3. Understand both your interests and their interests.
  4. Brainstorm creative options.
  5. Combine options into win-win solutions (evaluate and fine tune options).
  6. Is agreement reached? If yes, jointly acknowledge the agreement (Commit to the solution and plan follow-up) If no, redefine areas of disagreement, analyse reasons for disagreeing and broaden the context or break the problem down. Also, retreat to BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) and develop alternatives. Throughout the process, encourage positive relations and handle negative emotions and use objective criteria.

The 2 minute model

Helping students learn more about solving problems and resolving conflict

The 2 minute model is a useful way to introduce primary school students to problem solving and cooperative conflict resolution, with the fuller conflict resolution model being introduced once they have mastered this one.

Teachers can also apply the 2 minute model themselves, taking various roles. In the role of a negotiator, the teacher solves problems that arise between a student and the teacher. As a third party, the teacher assists students in resolving a problem that has arisen between two or more students– this third party role can be accomplished in three ways. The teacher can be an arbitrator (after listening to the students' concerns, the teacher tells them what the solution will be), or a mediator (the teacher helps the students create and agree to a solution themselves), or a coach (the teacher hears the grievances of one student about another, and helps that student use the model to solve the problem). The scripts in this document show how to use the model as a coach or mediator. The scripts demonstrate typical questions teachers can ask to fast track the steps of the model when time is limited.

The 2 Minute Model (S.I.B)

  • Set the scene (for cooperation): "If we all put our minds to it, I am sure we can find a solution that everyone will be satisfied with"
  • Identify interests (briefly): "What do you want?"  "What are you concerned about?"
  • Brainstorm options (creatively): "Let's think of some other creative ways to solve the problem"

When you get stuck or when conflict recurs: do more extensive identification of deeper interests

Simpliflied Conflict Resolution Model

The 2 minute model
  1. Define the issues and identify the parties.
  2. Set the stage for win-win outcomes.
  3. Understand your interests and understand their interests.
  4. Brainstorm creative options.
  5. Combine options into win-win solutions.
  6. Formalise the agreement.

Throughout the process, encourage positive relations and handle negative emotions.

Example 1: Teacher as coach

(Can be used when working with only one student)

Teacher is on yard duty. A Hannah comes up and says "Aysha won't let me play"

Step 1: Set the scene (for cooperation):

Teacher: "If we talk about this, I am sure we can find a solution that you and Aysha will be satisfied with"

Hannah nods

Step 2: Identify interests (briefly):

Teacher:  "Hannah, tell me about what you want or what you are concerned about?"

Hannah: "I want to play with Aysha and when I asked her she said 'No'"

Teacher: (reflects back what was said in terms of interests) "So you want someone to play with at the moment and one of the people you'd like to play with is Aysha?"

Hannah nods

Teacher continues:  "What you're concerned about is that Aysha doesn't seem to want to play with you at the moment?"

Hannah nods again

Teacher: "Is there anything else you want or are concerned about?"

Hannah: "I'm worried that nobody wants to play with me, I don't have any friends."

Teacher: (summarises interests) "So you want to have friends to play with in the yard and you're worried that you don't have any friends."

Hannah nods

Step 3: Brainstorm options (creatively):

Teacher: "Let's think of three creative things we could do to solve this problem"

Hannah: "You could come with me and talk to Aysha about letting me play"

Teacher: "You could tell me the names of 3 other kids you would like to play with"

Hannah: "I can't think of any more"

Teacher: "You could walk around and check out all the different games kids play and see which ones you like the most. Then you could ask to join that game."

Hannah: "I also want to play with Jennifer, Alana and Kate. I'll go and see what games they're playing and see if I can join in."

Teacher: "Great – next time you see me, let me know how you got on. If it's still a problem, come back and see me"

Example 2: Teacher as mediator

(The teacher guides two students in using the model to solve their problem)

This negotiation is an extension of the negotiation on the previous page.  For this scenario, Hannah has chosen a different solution which involves the teacher becoming a mediator.

Hannah (to the teacher): "I really want you to come and talk with Aysha because she's being really nasty to me and I'm worried she'll make the other kids not like me"

Teacher then chooses the role of mediator. Hannah and the teacher meet with Aysha.

Step 1: Set the scene (for cooperation):

Teacher: "Aysha, Hannah has told me there are some problems about the two of you playing together. I'd really like us all to talk about this as I'm sure we can find a solution that everyone will be satisfied with"

Both girls nod

Step 2: Identify interests (briefly):

Teacher: "Hannah, you tell Aysha what you want and what you are concerned about"

Hannah: "I want to play with you and I'm worried that you won't let me play and that the other kids won't like me."

Teacher: "Aysha, now you can tell Hannah about what you want and what your concerns are."

Aysha: "I want to pick my own friends and I'm worried that when Hannah joins in she wants to be the boss and then she starts to sulk if we don't do what she wants"

(If time permits it can be useful to ask each student to summarise the interests of the other, but if time is limited, the teacher can do this)

Teacher: (summarises interests) "So Hannah and Aysha you both want to have friends to play with in the yard. Hannah you particularly want Aysha to be one of your friends and Aysha you're worried that if Hannah joins your game she might spoil it by wanting to be the boss."

Both girls nod.

Step 3: Brainstorm options (creatively):

Teacher: "Let's think of three creative things we could do to solve this problem"

Aysha: "We could give Hannah another chance to show us that she can play as part of the group and not get bossy"

Hannah: "And I will promise not to be bossy and not to sulk when I'm playing with you."

Teacher: "Hannah, maybe you and Aysha could have a secret sign so you could let her know if you think she is starting to get bossy"

Aysha: "Yeah, you could draw the letter B on your hand like this (does a demonstration using her finger to write on the palm of her other hand) then the others won't know.

Teacher:  "How does that all sound to both of you?"

Both girls:  "Good!"

Aysha:  "Come on then, the other girls are waiting for us!"

The Conflict Resolution Skills Ladder

The Conflict Resolution Skills Ladder

Level 1: Can contain/manage strong emotions.

Those who are still learning skills cannot contain/manage the emotion, yells, screams, fights, dissolves into tears or withdraw. Those who have learnt skills can experience the emotion without losing control.

Level 2: Can verbally express own thoughts and feelings.

Those who are still learning skills can't verbalise own thoughts and feelings and are unaware of their own thoughts and feelings - they blame other parties. Those who have learnt skills have a large feelings vocabulary and can identify their own thoughts and feelings.

Level 3: Can identify and express own interests.

Those who are still learning skills only express their position. Those who have learnt skills know the difference between positions and interests and express their own interests in terms of wants/needs/fears/concerns.

Level 4: Can empathise/perspective take.

Those who are still learning skills are unaware of another person's feelings, can't read feelings accurately, can't "hear" the other person's interests, sees the other person as the "bad guy" and believes empathy means agreement. Those who have learnt skills can accurately read the emotions of the other person, can respond sensitively and appropriately, can listen to the interests of the other person and knows the difference between empathy and agreement.

Level 5 : Can generate a number of solutions to the problem.

Those who are still learning skills are limited to fight or flight options, focus exclusively on own interests and argue for a position. Those who have learnt skills generate a variety of options and are able to find options that include the interests of both parties.

Level 6: Can negotiate a win-win solution.

Those who are still learning skills are inflexible, their own needs dominate and they try to use power - dominate using aggression or withdraw to engage sympathy. Those who have learnt skills are flexible, open-minded and assertive to look after their own interests.

For information contact:

Professor Eleanor H Wertheim.