School leaders have a responsibility to help students and faculty understand the challenges with post-pandemic learning, and more importantly, the solutions to these problems.
Post-pandemic children entering middle school experienced half of their school years in utter social isolation. This inhibited natural development that occurs in typical social situations. From walking school halls with peers to eating lunch together and playing in semi-organized games at recess, children missed the moments that help them learn to resolve typical day-to-day conflict. This has perpetuated an escalation in conflict beyond common occurrence. Tensions escalate as children struggle navigating how to interact with each other on a daily basis, without the benefit of learning this earlier in school.
It was inevitable that conflict would present a challenge post pandemic in the absence of instrumental social interactions. School communities are busy trying to get back to the "normal" business at hand. We are running through our day teaching children, meeting assessment and performance milestones, scurrying between ringing bells, answering curricular demands, and preparing students for the day’s rigor. Parents too, are eager to have their children return to school routine. Yet, we must realize that these children require a different kind and level of attention.
Normal conflict is resolved between individuals in hundreds of interactions throughout a day. However, schools have seen an increase in typical conflict spiraling in unusual and accelerated ways. Onlookers demand harsh discipline for unresolved conflict. While discipline is necessary for accountability, it is not the solution, at least not as a standalone. Teaching children to learn through conflict is a valuable lifelong skill, and focuses on the future.
Finding Effective and Practical Solutions
Discipline focuses on the past. As school leaders, we must ensure children move forward in these situations to minimize behavioral overreactions, not backward into regressive actions.
The post-pandemic kids need more. We cannot effectively support them until we stop blaming schools, leaders, teachers and parents and start treating students in ways that allow them to journey back to healthy wellness and success. Consider this video of a principal who resigned in frustration because of this problem. We must stop demonizing one another and work together for solutions.
Practical ways to do this are available and we should keep a trained eye on sensible evidence. Incorporating effective approaches to help post-pandemic kids recover from the absence of social interactions is one refreshing answer. Here are evidence-based, in-class practices for teaching conflict resolution, with a focus on the recognition that blame cannot enable progress, but solutions can and will.
Approaches To Help Post-Pandemic Students Learn to Resolve Conflict Constructively
1. Move kids away from primal reactions and toward deep-focus logic.
The primary causes with student conflict escalations have been simultaneous social isolation and overexposure to negative social media. Over the past few years, children spent far too much time online and physically alone. I have written about reversing digital disruption for students previously.
To help children regain social skill sets for managing conflict, move them away from primal thought processes, frequently brought on by negative social media, and enable learners toward deep focus and logic. This can be achieved by using tools and resources within classroom contexts. This serves the dual purpose of teaching children higher sets of cognition and empowering teachers to tap this mindset to help them achieve better.
2. Find wins and embrace failure
It is human nature to long for a sense of achievement, which can provide deep satisfaction. Equipping students with the tools necessary to experience the satisfaction of their successes enables them to be inspired by small wins. By fostering opportunities to recognize micro-wins, students can visualize their progress, and be further motivated to pursue additional successes. This aids resilience too, an additional skill lacking from the context of social isolation.
Students can benefit from learning that successful people actually fail more frequently than unsuccessful people. The difference is that successful people refuse to give up, and eventually stumble on their successes. Unsuccessful individuals throw their hands in the air and stop at the first or early signs of struggle. Working through failure can ultimately spur creativity and innovation.
3. Induce empathy and civility practices
When we engineer empathy, the brain's frontal lobe lights up, activating a higher state of mind. That's good news because this part of the brain is the most evolved. We sift and sort through problems, spark creativity, and you guessed it, effectively resolve conflict. Within this critical thinking area of our brain, we are engaging in higher order thinking and learning. That's a win-win for students.
Civility makes us more intelligent. As Porath explains, "Incivility robs cognitive resources, hijacking performance and creativity, so even if you want to perform at your best, you can't." Proof: those exposed to words associated with rudeness did 17 percent worse on a test of information recall and failed to spot 43 percent more math errors. In short, being uncivil, as in overreactions to conflict makes us less intelligent. Much less.
By implementing practices that promote resilience, the empowerment of small wins, and in-class practices such as the use of tech tools to tune the mind, students can sort through their challenges. That's a big victory for post-pandemic kids who suffered through social exclusion for too long. This is how we can speed up their recovery, and help them succeed.