October 2016

Dealing with Conflictjessica-whitehead
By Jessica Whitehead

During my first year as a Teaching Assistant, my worst nightmare happened—a student was unhappy with their grade— and was sending me increasingly threatening emails. In my personal life, I avoid conflict like the plague, and I have turned ghosting into an art form. As a Teaching Assistant, I couldn’t ghost my student, so I had to learn how to deal with conflict in a professional manner. I learnt a lot from this first conflict, and I found out after having a meeting with the student, that they were feeling overwhelmed in the course and the conflict was quickly resolved. Throughout my time as a Teaching Assistant, I have dealt with other unhappy and sometimes aggressive students. With these experiences, I have developed diffusion techniques, which make the inevitable conflict in the classroom more bearable.

From my experience, here are my top tips for dealing with conflict in your tutorials:

  1. Keep your course director in the loop: It is important to let your course director know when there is a conflict in your tutorial and ask for their direction. They will give you good advice on how to handle the problem and may step in if needed.
  2. Ditch the email: I have found that email communication often exacerbates conflict and having a face-to-face conversation helps to diffuse the situation.
  3. Put Yourself in the other person’s shoes: This might seem like common sense, but I found it helpful to try to empathize rather than negatively judge the other person. Most of your students have to juggle outside work, long commuting hours, and are dealing with financial struggles—a little understanding can go a long way in conflict resolution.
  4. Seek Help: Despite our best intentions, sometimes conflict can escalate to an unhealthy level. At this point, you need to seek outside help. A great on-campus resource is the Office of Student Community Relations (OSCR).

With these techniques, I have become well versed in dealing with conflict, and I am now no longer stressed when a student contacts me with a dispute.

The Teaching Commons is another fantastic resource for learning how to deal with conflict. If you would like to find out more about conflict resolution, please join me on November 24th, for a workshop with Mariela Giuliano called Dealing with Classroom and Student Conflict. You can submit your “burning issues” about conflicts you are dealing with confidentially, and we will help you come up with strategies on how to address your particular problems. We will also give you a more comprehensive overview of prevention and management techniques that will help you head off common points of conflict before they start.