The way a teacher defines course expectations, describes them in the syllabus, and uses them in testing and grading strongly influences student attitudes toward the instructor.
Establishing a formal social contract for classroom behavior also helps reduce the probability that conflicts will escalate beyond desirable levels.
When the methods of prevention don’t seem to to work, then try to use the acronym SOAR UP. Stop the situation from continuing, think of Outcomes, Assess the Situation, React, Use active listening techniques, and Prepare for the next time. Let's look at each of these steps in more detail.
Stop the situation. If a nasty argument is breaking out in your class, stop the situation. This is important to do when tempers flare. Sometimes a few seconds of silence is enough to calm down angry students.
Think about what Outcomes you wish this situation to have. Do you want your students to learn from this situation? Is there anything to learn from this situation? Does the conflict have to do with the course expectations?
Assess the situation and determine the underlying cause of the argument. Once you determine the cause, ask yourself how you can keep it from occurring in the future.
React to the student’s comments. You need to do this carefully and focus on the errors in arguments structure and factual knowledge rather than on the behaviour in the classroom. If you have determined the cause of the problem, then likely you will be able to address the issue as a misunderstood argument. Taking this route also allows students the opportunity to look at the argument from a different perspective. They may even learn something when you react to the comments.
Utilize active listening techniques. Paraphrase what the student said to confirm that you are indeed interpreting their argument correctly. Use language that encourages students to share their views but still allows the student to separate the issue from their emotions.
“You sound angry.”
Saying this acknowledges that emotions have come into play.
“You seem upset about this issue, why is that?”
This statement allows students to finish their statement and express themselves, but it is offered in a safer environment in which the conflict has been stopped.
“ Tell us more about your viewpoint.”
This statement allows the student to explore again the issue safely but also gives them a chance to separate the emotion from the issue.
Prepare for the next time you teach the course. If you were able to identify what sparked the challenging moment, take the time to reflect on the situation and determine if you can eliminate this situation in future iterations of the course. This may require clearer outcomes in the syllabus, or avoiding specific language when speaking about a topic. Taking the time to prepare is crucial to avoiding future situations.