Assessment Models in Education and the Science of Conflict Management

In July of 1999, Jessica Katz Jameson, of Bowling Green, presented a comprehensive model for assessment and management of intra-organizational conflicts. The model represented a theoretical model for the assessment and management of conflict that included guidelines for selecting appropriate conflict management strategies based on the situation. This paper will reflect content and relational types of conflict, fairness, long-term goal outcomes, interests-based concept, and the sources of conflict.

The science of conflict management is to select the most effective strategy and attempting to apply it to the situation. Conflict styles are very habitual. These styles of resolving conflict are typically chosen based upon the end result desired.
The true definition of a conflict is to identify the nature of the conflict. Ms. Jameson’s research suggested several avenues that may be useful in addressing the content of the conflict. These areas include: task versus relational issues, objective versus subjective, and issues of policy interpretation versus policy change. Within the confines of conflict, analysis of the issues involving conflict has been separated into four areas: personality conflict, policy/procedure conflicts, conflicts over authority or responsibility, and resource scarcity conflicts.

Content conflicts are also identified by the length of impact it has on the organization. Short-term impacts may include hindering productivity or creating unwarranted disruption. Long-term impacts may include the possibility of recurrence and damage to past and future professional and non-professional relationships.

In reviewing Ms. Jameson’s findings on the dimensions of content in conflict, it reminds me of a specific incident. At the school where I currently teach there are two professional positions known as “IRS” specialists. Initial assumption would be to include the subject of taxes or the government, however, the IRS actually “stands-for” internal resource specialist. The role of this job is to provide support to the faculty by means of funding and resources. The two IRS at my school are two men who have been working in the Brockton school department for well over 60 years combined. Both of the men are slated to retire at the close of this school year. One of the men was involved in a conflict over the authority and responsibility of his job. An English teacher who questioned the purpose of having “any” internal resource specialists in the building initiated the conflict. The teacher did not see the need for the position because she felt that she was not being supported by means of resources (books). The IRS person was a man by the name of Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones is a very pleasant gentleman. He has dedicated his life to education. Mr. Jones used to be a junior high principal in Brockton before he was forced to relinquish his position due to stress. Mr. Jones had suffered a small stroke while working as principal. The school system of Brockton did not want to lose Mr. Jone’s talents as an administrator and leader and offered him the role of IRS. Mr. Jones has been working in this capacity for the last seven years. However, many feel, me included, that Mr. Jones has been retired in his own mind the minute he left the role of principal. Mr. Jones lacks the passion for his job and has decided to end his educational career quietly.

Mr. Jone’s lack of involvement has created a conflict with one teacher. She has verbally questioned “what” exactly Mr. Jones has ever done to support her? This conflict has created substantial tension, animosity, and annoyance within the school. The faculty is divided among those that respect Mr. Jones and remember him when he was a principal to those that did not know Mr. Jones prior to working at South Junior High School and only judge him on his recent short-comings.

This type of content conflict is probably going to exhibit a short-term impact, as the only thing it might affect is the day-to-day operations of the school. It will be a small disruption that will ultimately be blanketed by the summer days that lie ahead.
The method that Mr. Jones has decided to use for resolving the conflict is simply to avoid it. Typically, Mr. Jones would probably attempt to accommodate the teacher but it is apparent that he is “counting the days” until retirement and doesn’t care. The type of personality that best fits Mr. Jones is to describe him as an expressor, someone who exhibits charisma and uses a friendly face to solve problems. At one time in Mr. Jones career, probably early on, he could have been considered a goalie personality type. When he was young he was driven to succeed and have a positive impact on education.

The teacher involved in this conflict has stated many times that in the six years she has worked with Mr. Jones, he has never asked her if she needed anything. She is very adamant in making sure that everyone knows that the English department has a budget of well over $4000 each year and she has never been approached to order new books or supplies. Her personality type can be characterized as a datacrat. Of course it is easy to assume that most English teachers are datacrats because they are typically organized and are comfortable with the written word.

It is my belief that whomever assumes the role of IRS next year will have to deal with this conflict in September. Mr. Jones will be off enjoying his retirement while the English teacher and the new IRS person hopefully discuss expectations and open communications for the new school year.

Relational types of conflict occur between two or more individuals who have prior experience together. The basis of this type of relational conflict includes trust issues, balance, conflict history, conflict management success, and interdependent versus independent.

At my school there are several faculty members who are currently dating. I have always sworn off this notion because of the possible long-term affects it may have on the working environment due to a break up. My father has always told me “you do not sleep where you eat” which means you do not mix your personal and professional lives. The teachers that are dating find themselves trying to play both sides of internal conflicts. For example, Mr. Sullivan will side with the argument that languages are important on the junior high level only because his girl friend happens to teach Latin. Otherwise, he might think a different way. His personal relationship with a colleague has created an accommodating conflict style. In many ways, he has lost some of his influence due to conflict of interest.

It is my opinion that it is vital to understand and identify the source of the conflict. The nucleus of the conflict is where the problem originates and typically, where it will also end, if possible. Understanding the origin of the conflict will ultimately determine the resolution strategy. In order to defeat or compromise with the opponent, you must first understand your opponent. In order to defeat a conflict you must understand the where the conflict started and who is involved in the conflict.
When parties come together to resolve a conflict it is important to exercise the concept of fairness. Fairness is the way a solution to the problem is assessed as being more than equal. Equality suggests balance. Fairness is not about balance. Fairness is about satisfaction. It is also about procedure. The procedures that lead up to a resolution must be fair. The long-term goal outcomes of conflicts include improving relationships, preventing repetition, teaching parties better conflict resolution, altering work structure, clarity, learning without resolving, workable solutions, and finding a pragmatic solution.
Goals are important in working with conflict. As we have already studied, that conflict is inevitable. Conflict is not something strictly seen only in our personal lives. Conflict is also prevalent in our professional lives as well. In fact, it is my opinion that I experience and witness more conflict in the work place than in the home place. In keeping with the research presented by Ms. Jameson, suggests that the concept of fairness is closely associated with short-term goals and not long-term goals. However, long-term goals need to exhibit fairness in conflict resolution.

At my school last year a teacher was accused of adultery by his wife. The teacher in question made this information available to some of his colleagues. Unfortunately, some of his colleagues, who he trusted, offered this information to other faculty members. In fact, it was also mentioned later that some teachers had briefly discussed the issue to students. The male teacher had two objectives in mind: vindication and maximizing recovery of the situation. This could be considered a short-term fix with a long-term effect. The long-term goal would be for the teacher to improve his relations at home and hopefully address the conflicting issues with his expressor type colleagues who in bad judgment have decided it is more important to be “center stage” than it is to be fair to a friend.

The interests-based concept is the only part of the research presented by Ms. Jameson that involves situations involving unions. I found this interesting because as a teacher, I am part of a teachers union. Interests-based is about disputants trying to reach an agreement on their own. This concept always involves third parties such as supervisors, peers, mentors, or human resources. In many cases it can involve a union representative. For example, initially the salary accreditation committee at my school was not prepared to accept the classes taken at Touro University International because the format was online. However, I presented the college and it’s reputation and accreditation to the committee. The vice president of the teachers union represented me. This gentleman actually works at my school. The committee voted in my favor and my salary was increased as I had completed four courses worth 16 credits. The conflict-management style used was mediation. All of the strategies included in interests-based concepts are considered informal. However, mediation can be considered formal, especially when it involves the use of an external provider.

Interest-based is when you look out for your own. It is what some would call the “CYI” rule. The rule is also called “covering your interests”. A form of positional negotiation style is typically warranted in these types of conflicts. I know that when I enter a conflict I am interested in taking a side if I know I have a chance of winning. I tell new teachers that you have to “pick your battles”. Not every battle is worth fighting. For example, I have never been a teacher to send students to the office for chewing gum. In fact, if I did, the vice-principal would probably think I had lost control of my classroom. However, there are some teachers who will spend useless hours arguing with students who wear jackets in class during the colder months. The student handbook states that all jackets be stowed in their lockers. However, these same students cannot afford nice sweaters to wear in school. Most only wear t-shirts underneath; no doubt the same shirt they slept in. I choose not to fight that battle. It is not worth it. The conflict is not worth the aggravation and in all fairness; I never want my students to think of me as the enemy. I am not there to yell at them, I am there to educate them. I am there to enlighten them. I have taken upon an interest-based concept without using mediation. I have decided to use the technique of avoidance. I have decided that a minute rule of jacket wearing does not warrant my attention. I am more interested in classroom behavior and respect to the educational environment.

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