Creating Safe and Drug-Free Schools: An Action Guide - September 1996

A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Conflict Resolution

Too many of our young people are caught up in conflicts every day that they do not know how to manage--teasing, jealousy, and physical aggression. Juvenile delinquency and violence are symptoms of youth's inability to manage conflict in their lives. Teaching youth how to manage conflict in a productive way can help reduce incidents of violent behavior. Conflict resolution education is a beneficial component of a comprehensive violence prevention and intervention program in schools and communities.

Conflict resolution education encompasses problem solving in which the parties in dispute express their points of view, voice their interests, and find mutually acceptable solutions. Conflict resolution education programs help the parties recognize that while conflict happens all the time, people can learn new skills to deal with conflict in nonviolent ways. The programs that appear to be most effective are comprehensive and involve multiple components such as the problem-solving processes and principles of conflict resolution, the basics of effective communication and listening, critical and creative thinking, and an emphasis on personal responsibility and self-discipline.

According to William DeJong, a lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health, "The best school-based violence prevention programs seek to do more than reach the individual child. They instead try to change the total school environment, to create a safe community that lives by a credo of non-violence and multicultural appreciation."1 Most school violence-prevention programs include conflict resolution education.

Effective conflict resolution education programs can:

Four Common Strategies for Approaching Conflict Resolution

Experts identify four school-based conflict resolution strategies that can be replicated in other settings. These are commonly referred to as: (1) Peer Mediation, (2) Process Curriculum, (3) Peaceable Classrooms, and (4) Peaceable Schools. The Peaceable Schools model incorporates the elements of the other three approaches. In all four approaches, conflict resolution education is viewed as giving youth nonviolent tools to deal with daily conflicts that can lead to self-destructive and violent behaviors. It is up to each local school district to decide how conflict resolution education will be integrated into its overall educational environment. The expectation is that when youth learn to recognize and constructively address what takes place before conflict or differences lead to violence, the incidence and intensity of that situation will diminish.

The program examples provided below empower young people with the processes and skills of conflict resolution. However, youth need to know that conflict resolution does not take precedence over adult responsibility to provide the final word in a variety of circumstances or situations. Conflict resolution has a place in the home, school, and community, but it can only supplement, not supplant, adult authority.

Peer Mediation Approach

Recognizing the importance of directly involving youth in conflict resolution, many schools and communities are using the Peer Mediation approach. Under this approach, specially trained student mediators work with their peers to resolve conflicts. Mediation programs reduce the use of traditional disciplinary actions such as suspension, detention, and expulsion; encourage effective problem solving; decrease the need for teacher involvement in student conflicts; and improve school climate. An example of a Peer Mediation program is We Can Work It Out, developed by the National Institute for Citizenship Education in the Law and the National Crime Prevention Council. The program promotes mediation, negotiation, or other non-litigating methods as strategies to settle unresolved confrontations and fighting.

One Albuquerque elementary school principal reported, "We were having 100 to 150 fights every month on the playground before we started the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution's Mediation in the Schools Program. By the end of the school year, we were having maybe 10 (fights)."2 Other elementary schools using the same Peer Mediation approach to conflict resolution education reported that playground fighting had been reduced to such an extent that peer mediators found themselves out of a job.

Process Curriculum Approach

Teachers who devote a specific time--a separate course, a distinct curriculum, or a daily lesson--to the principles, foundation abilities, and problem-solving processes of conflict resolution are implementing the Process Curriculum approach. The Program for Young Negotiators, based on the Harvard Negotiation Project, is representative of this approach. Participating students, teachers, and administrators are taught how to use principled negotiation to achieve goals and resolve disputes. This type of negotiation helps disputants envision scenarios and generate options for achieving results that satisfy both sides.

In a North Carolina middle school with more than 700 students, conflict resolution education was initiated. The school used the Peace Foundation's Fighting Fair curriculum and a combination of components from various conflict resolution projects. After a school year, in-school suspensions decreased from 52 to 30 incidents (a 42-percent decrease), and out-of-school suspensions decreased from 40 incidents to 1 (a 97-percent decrease).3

Peaceable Classroom Approach

The Peaceable Classroom approach integrates conflict resolution into the curriculum and daily management of the classroom. It uses the instructional methods of cooperative learning and "academic controversy." The Educators for Social Responsibility curriculum, Making Choices About Conflict, Security, and Peacemaking, is a peaceable classroom approach to conflict resolution. The program shows teachers how to integrate conflict resolution into the curriculum, classroom management, and discipline practices. It emphasizes opportunities to practice cooperation, appreciation of diversity, and caring and effective communication. Generally, peaceable classrooms are initiated on a teacher-by-teacher basis into the classroom setting and are the building blocks of the peaceable school.

Studies on the effectiveness of the Teaching Students To Be Peacemakers program, a Peaceable Classroom approach to conflict resolution, show that discipline problems requiring teacher management decreased by approximately 80 percent and referrals to the principal were reduced to zero.4

Peaceable School Approach

The Peaceable School approach incorporates the above three approaches. This approach seeks to create schools where conflict resolution has been adopted by every member of the school community, from the crossing guard to the classroom teacher. A peaceable school promotes a climate that challenges youth and adults to believe and act on the understanding that a diverse, nonviolent society is a realistic goal. In Creating the Peaceable School Program of the Illinois Institute for Dispute Resolution, students are empowered with conflict resolution skills and strategies to regulate and control their own behavior. Conflict resolution is infused into the way business is conducted at the school between students, between students and teachers and other personnel, between teachers and administrators, and between parents and teachers and administrators.

In an evaluation of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program in four multiethnic school districts in New York City, teachers of the Peaceable School approach to conflict resolution reported a 71-percent decrease in physical violence in the classroom and observed 66 percent less name calling and fewer verbal insults.5 Other changes in student behavior reported by the teachers included greater acceptance of differences, increased awareness and articulation of feelings, and a spontaneous use of conflict resolution skills throughout the school day in a variety of academic and nonacademic settings.

Conflict Resolution Education in Other Settings

The usefulness of conflict resolution programs is not limited to traditional school settings. These programs are also a meaningful component of safe and violence-free juvenile justice facilities and alternative education programs. In these settings, conflict resolution programs are introduced not to replace but to supplement existing disciplinary policies and procedures. When opportunities are created to learn and practice conflict resolution principles and strategies in these settings, youth may receive positive life skills and acquire behaviors to carry with them throughout their lives. No longer do they need to feel that a crosswise look or a cutting remark requires a physical challenge that can lead to violent outcomes. They learn to control their anger and to react in a nonconfrontational manner to diffuse the situation. When youth practice conflict resolution principles and skills on a regular basis, they begin to experience greater satisfaction in their lives.

The Youth Corrections Mediation Program of the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution teaches youth and staff in juvenile justice facilities communication skills and combines the conflict resolution curricula with mediation. This program has a reintegration component in which families negotiate agreements for daily living before the juvenile offenders return home. The program emphasizes the need to model and practice communication and the problem-solving processes of conflict resolution. By providing alternatives to resolving conflicts, the program gives youth a model for positive expression and the peaceful resolution of problems. An evaluation study of the program reported a 37-percent decrease in disciplinary infractions among youth mediators compared with 12-percent for youth not trained as mediators. This study also found that the recidivism rate among youth trained as mediators was 18-percent lower during the first 6 months after returning to the community than for a control group not trained in mediation.6 The knowledge and skills of conflict resolution give these former offenders the tools to defuse or resist conflict situations and get along better with family, friends, teachers, supervisors, and fellow students or fellow employees.

Taking what they have gleaned back into the community and family settings is often the biggest challenge young people face with conflict resolution training, especially when others are not similarly trained. A number of conflict resolution education programs have either originated in the community and moved into the school or moved from the school into the community. Regardless of their origin, the programs enhance the quality of life in the home, school, and community. Parent and community conflict resolution education programs build on and complement the school program. These programs provide common vocabulary and problem-solving processes that serve as critical linkages for youth who have been trained in conflict resolution in schools.

Community Mediation Centers

Community mediation centers are located in more than 400 communities across the country. These centers, which are typically nonprofit community-based agencies, use trained community volunteers to provide a wide range of mediation services to youth and adults. Through these centers, mediation has been applied in common conflict situations found in the community, schools, and families, such as gangs, business complaints of juvenile loitering, school suspensions, truancy, and parent/child relationships, as well as in juvenile justice settings. Community mediation centers also offer training in conflict resolution processes and skills that may be used effectively in personal and professional life for all age groups. Nationwide community mediation centers have collaborated with law enforcement, schools, and other youth-serving agencies in developing and implementing community-based comprehensive violence prevention and intervention programs. A listing of local community mediation centers is available from the National Association for Community Mediation. (See contact information under "Resources.")


The effective conflict resolution education programs highlighted above have helped to improve the climate in school, community and juvenile justice settings by reducing the number of disruptive and violent acts in these settings; by decreasing the number of chronic school absences due to a fear of violence; by reducing the number of disciplinary referrals and suspensions; by increasing academic instruction during the school day; and by increasing the self-esteem and self-respect, as well as the personal responsibility and self-discipline of the young people involved in these programs.

Young people cannot be expected to promote and encourage the peaceful resolution of conflicts if they do not see conflict resolution principles and strategies being modeled by adults in all areas of their lives, such as in business, sports, entertainment, and personal relationships. Adults play a part in making the environment more peaceful by practicing nonviolent conflict resolution when minor or major disputes arise in their daily lives.


Providing guidance on conflict resolution education programs, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program of the Department of Education, has developed a guide entitled Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Organizations, and Community and Juvenile Justice Settings. The guide is designed to be a tool for teachers, administrators, school board members, school site-based management teams, and youth-serving and juvenile justice professionals to use in their strategic planning for implementing conflict resolution education programs that meet their specific needs. It also includes a reading list and annotated lists of conflict resolution programs by approach, resources, and trainers with contact information. In addition to the guide, OJJDP has a videotape from a satellite teleconference on conflict resolution education, which was based on the guide. Experts and practitioners in conflict resolution discussed the benefits and importance of teaching youth the skills to resolve disputes without violence. Model programs across the country were showcased. To receive a copy of either the guide or videotape, contact OJJDP's Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse at 800-638-8736.

For information on local community mediation centers, contact the National Association for Community Mediation at 1726 M Street, NW., Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036 or at 202-467-4769, and by fax at 202-466-4769.

For information on establishing conflict resolution programs for schools and a list of best practices, contact Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC 20202, 202-260-3954.


  1. DeJong, W. 1994 (Spring). "School-based Violence Prevention: From the Peaceable School to the Peaceable Neighborhood." Forum 25:8.

  2. Smith, M. 1996. "Strategies to Reduce School Violence: The New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution," In A.M. Hoffman, ed., Schools, Violence, and Society. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, p. 256.

  3. Powell, K.M., L. Muir-McClain, and L. Halasyamani. 1995. "A Review of Selected School-Based Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation Projects." Journal of School Health 65:10, 429.

  4. Johnson, D. and R. Johnson. 1995. "Teaching Students To Be Peacemakers: Results of Five Years of Research." Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 1:4, 424.

  5. Metis Associated, Inc. 1990. Resolving Conflict Creatively Program: 1988-98 Summary of Significant Findings. New York: Metis Associates, Inc.

  6. Smith, M. 1996. "Youth Corrections Mediation Program: Fact Sheet." Albuquerque: New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution,2.

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