Instead of stepping in to resolve a student's problem, try simply paraphrasing the student's point of view. Sometimes this is all it takes to calm a student down so that they can solve the problem on their own.
Teachers are often thrust into the impossible position of being asked to resolve conflicts that they did not witness.
Rather than jumping into the middle of conflicts in which you had no part, consider simply paraphrasing each person's point of view. This alone can help the student or students calm down and resolve their own problems
in their own time. And anyone can paraphrase – a teacher, a peer, a teacher’s aide, a principal. (It’s helpful to give students a chance to understand and practice the important skill of paraphrasing. See this lesson.)
This type of paraphrasing is not just about condensing and summarizing what someone is saying. It’s about capturing and honoring the important details of a personal story. When we paraphrase someone's point of view, we demonstrate not only that we understand what happened, but what the person is feeling and why. Sometimes this is all a person needs to calm down and move on.
- Find a relatively quiet, private space (outside the door, at your desk, in the back of the room).
- Decide who has a few moments to paraphrase a student's point of view (you, a peer, an assistant teacher, or someone chosen by the student).
- The speaker shares their point of view. The listener repeats the important details of the event and reflects the associated feelings. For example, "I understand that when you were in line, Jason whispered under his breath that you are a ‘loser.’ You asked him to stop and he ignored you and this makes you feel frustrated and hurt."
- The listener asks,"Did I get this right?" The speaker then clarifies any misunderstood details or feelings.
- The listener ends by saying, "I want you to know that I understand how you feel.” The listener might also note that often if we give ourselves a chance to cool down and reflect, we can figure out the best way to resolve a problem or a conflict on our own. If we can’t resolve the problem even on reflection, we can then ask for help.
Kristin Stuart Valdes is a senior staff developer at Morningside Center and director of our 4Rs+MTP research program.