Here’s How Educators Can Stop Excessive Conflict in Schools

School conflict

Summary: In every work setting, especially in schools, there is a time when individuals throw up their hands and ask, “Why can’t we all just get along!” Here are tools and techniques that answer this question and create a more efficient, collaborative culture for educators.

Dear Dr. Sylvia.

Why does conflict run rampant in today’s schools?

The violence is out of hand, and the fear of shootings and physical and verbal fights is contagious.

Whenever there is a loud sound, most of us (adults and youngsters) all freeze.

For example, It has not always been like this. I have been a Superintendent in a suburban school district for the past 18 years. The children and parents were always so respectful.

Even the “problem kids” and, might I add, the “problem teachers” and the “problem parents” were not as nasty as they all appear today.

What is going on? I know it’s not just my district. It’s everywhere.

We have lost the art of consideration and respect for each other.

In addition, why do most of us shy away from conflict? I see it every day with my leadership team.

For example, some argue that we spend too much time discussing!

Based on your work with behavior patterns, here are the ones I see so clearly.

Firstly, there are the deniers. They have on “rose-colored glasses” coupled with a deer-in-the-headlight stare and pretend there is no conflict. For them, the world is still flat! These I have labeled as the “Who? What? Nah” individuals

In the same vein, superachievers rush to solve problems without spending the time to “pull out the weeds” and see beyond the obvious. They must be first in everything, And even worse, they defend their right to be right. They are the “me, me, me” people.

 And the avoiders find reasons to leave a contentious meeting early to avoid discomfort. I call them the “gotta go” folks.

Leadership teams can learn to observe patterns and cut conflict by at least half.

Sadly, we keep getting stuck in the mud and blame each other. Therefore, I need help. How can I support my team, get past the obvious, and find the fundamental issues?

Can you offer my leadership/administration teams suggestions on what we can do? We are losing time, and, of course, the youngsters are also being impacted. There is too much bitching and judging.

You can include the School Board in this discussion.


Tired of Conflict

Dear Tired of Conflict,

The number one question I get daily is about constant work conflict.

All things considered, I hope you have teachers and other administrators with all the skills to teach excellent subject matter.

However, I guarantee you will all fall down the rabbit hole of finger-pointing and blaming if your administrators and teachers cannot get along.

That is to say, handling conflict is the #1 issue that can derail career success.

Therefore, I want to give you some ideas to guide you. The focus is understanding how to de-stress volatile situations and quickly and effectively make positive changes.

Learn why flare-ups at school happen so consistently.

I would like you to consider the power of this word: PATTERNS!

Above all, conflict runs rampant because we all bring our behavior patterns from our original organization, the family, into work with us.

Think about it this way for a moment. Someone always telling you what to do may get you into a tailspin, just like your big brother, who always bossed you around.

Likewise, another co-worker always asking you to help finish a project because they are late to complete it will remind you of a sister who was a procrastinator, and you constantly had to bail out of trouble.

Subsequently, we tend to respond to the present situation with old behaviors that continue to trigger upset in the workplace.

Hence,  this is when logic goes out the window, emotions take over, and it is often not pretty.

Today’s educators are stretched beyond limits in terms of workload, contributing to tensions.

Think of it this way: Do you behave like a thumb-sucking toddler or a bratty pre-teen when stress hits the hot button? It happens to the best of us.

However, I have seen that when teams can work together to finish projects and solve problems, they can work faster and smarter, even with heavy work assignments.

Thus, it is all about how th staff can begin to untie the “knots” of the “nots” that pile up.

The word NOT can become a KNOT that keeps people stuck from moving forward

I have seen those who work together “beat the clock” and have a fantastic, even fun, time of project completion because the team members have been able to harness and redirect old, outdated patterns from the past and support each other’s creativity.

That is to say; I think there is too much focus on “not enough time” and “not enough resources.” The magic can happen when a basis of trust and cooperation develops in leadership teams. Then there is smoother sailing through difficulties.

Educators can help each other avoid or diffuse flare-ups

For this reason, learning about the 13 most common patterns we all bring from home to work is invaluable. Conflict diminishes when a whole team becomes responsible for seeing their patterns and how to transform them.

Indeed, when everyone is accountable for how they come across and treat others and agrees to change the negative patterns to their positive opposite, work flows smoothly, and people love to work together.

As an illustration, in many school districts I have worked with, there is a program for administrators and teachers to become certified stress masters.

Here the staff can gather information about the patterns of being a denier, avoider, and superachiever, to name a few, and what to do when these behaviors start to show up when stress is high.

This is the way OUT of excessive stress and conflict. When patterns are Observed and how they develop and are Understood, they can then be Transformed.

Here is an example of conflict resolution in action

One primary pattern in all school systems is the procrastinator. The procrastinator drives the rest of the team crazy by prolonging deadlines and making everyone look bad. Procrastinators are often mainly afraid they will be judged (as they were as kids), and so they extend the agony of being criticized by being late with assignments. Here is where a more profound knowledge of patterns can win.

Here is what is important to consider now. The worst judgment is not doing your job promptly. For example, a conversation with a procrastinator goes like this “I know you have the ability, and yet you keep us all waiting because of your lateness with projects. I wonder if you were judged as a kid. You don’t need to answer this; it may be inaccurate. However, what would be helpful is for you to do some personal work to figure out where you were judged in the past.

Often, this short discussion and an agreement to help with a timeline are enough for the procrastinator to begin the change process.

Avoid the “pattern clash” triggered by ingrained, outdated patterns.

These were often the stars at home and school, and being “top dog” to lease others is deep inside them. Another case is the clash of two superachievers. Second place was never good enough and caused tension for the whole group.

Again, it may be best to talk with each one separately about the havoc the behavior of stepping on toes is bringing to the team. First, it is vitally important to acknowledge how good the individual is. Hint: super achievers can never hear you unless they get a compliment first.

Once these individuals see that greatness comes from a group effort, they can be brought together to blend their skills. When I did this, the two who were back-biting and fighting verbally became excellent colleagues and loved talking about how well they now get together. Then the picture is painted about the rewards of becoming a creative collaborator.

How can tension among employees be avoided?

Tensions come with the territory of daily life when individuals learn to arrest their negative patterns and transform them into positive ones.

For example, an avoider becomes an initiator of solutions rather than a runner from challenging times.

What I KNOW is that when we are responsible for our behavior rather than finger-pointing, we look at our part in an issue where conflicts and tensions do not last as long and go to a deeper place of hurting each other. The theme is “faster and smarter” through the dense woods!!

What types of personalities clash the most? And why is this so?

It will help if you become very aware of what pushes your buttons. For example, Suzie can say, “Let’s finish this on Thursday,” and you think, “Great idea.” Later, maybe Connie says, “Let’s finish this on Thursday,” and you think, “What does she know? She should just be quiet.” Ahhhh, why is one fine, and the other is super annoying? That is the time to reflect on who Karen reminds you of earlier in your life.

It is time to do personal work first to be the best leader you can become

Also, in “Don’t Bring It to Work,” you can learn more about these patterns and how to transform the ones that get in the way.

This works as effectively with the children. Those who procrastinate and hand in homework late often fear being judged. Acknowledging the fear and encouraging

Again, the best career advice is to get to know yourself, what makes you cringe, who drives you crazy, and how you handle those situations. A pattern-aware leadership quiz on the website is free, and you can always call our office for some extra advice once you see which patterns have YOUR name on them.

There are also examples of better communication around conflict in my new book “Invisible Stress (It’s NOT What YOU Think).”

The way OUT of constant conflict starts with personal work on YOU

The way OUT of pattern repetition is to Observe the patterns, Understand how they began, and then Transform them into the healthy and positive opposite.

For example, the procrastinator becomes a “realizer” who promptly completes work.

We can help each other become our best selves. And as educators, you can help the next generation learn more effective ways of responding rather than stay trapped in outdated information.

Here’s to your success,

Sylvia Lafair

PS. Please celebrate with me. For the eleventh year in a row, I am on the prestigious list from  of the 30 top leadership gurus for 2023. Have a glass of champagne, tea, or kombucha on me. Tell me if you toasted me, and I will send you a fun surprise.

PSS. My newest book “Invisible Stress (It’s NOT What YOU Think), is an excellent introduction to understanding the patterns at work and how to transform them. I have done this with administrative teams and also pods of teachers. There is a four-module online program that we are offering to school districts at a steep discount. Contact me at for more information.

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Sylvia Lafair

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