The Surprising Key to Academic Success Isn’t In a Textbook

Meet Emily Huff, she’s a professor at Seattle Pacific University, a mother of 2, a Child Sponsorship Coordinator for Share International, Inc. and Caleb Hope Foundation, and an educator for more than a decade.

When Emily first became a teacher, working with underserved elementary school students, she noticed something. They needed better skills for getting along if they were ever going to be able to get on to the work of academic success. So, she started the process of teaching conflict resolution to her grade schoolers…and it worked!

I asked Emily to share with me the basics of the model she developed with her students, because, I think conflict resolution isn’t just for kids- adults can use these skills everyday, too.

So without further ado, please welcome Emily to the Front Yard Frontier family. The following is a guest post from her on what she calls ‘The 4th R’, Resolution.

We all know the 3 R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic, and we would all agree that these are important skills to master in school.  Davis and Porter nicknamed conflict resolution as the “Fourth R” in the 1980’s,  and I believe this still holds true today- perhaps now more than ever. 

Coleman McCarthy, founder for the Center for Teaching Peace, observes that it is hard to deal with conflict through mediation, collaboration and other non-violent means. “We don’t know because we weren’t taught” and the result of this neglect in our society is “peace illiteracy…a land awash in violence.”

Many people are not able to be effective in their careers or stay in healthy relationships not because they don’t have a good knowledge base but because they do not have good communication skills.  In teaching conflict resolution skills over the years to preschool through college students, I have seen that these are essential foundational tools that we need to build healthy relationships all through our lives in family, friendships, and work. 

I want to echo the first part of what Robert Fulghum wrote over 25 years ago when he said: “All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.”

I’ve used the same protocol for conflict resolution with my seminar class for college freshmen and with my own children when they were preschoolers, and they have been effective across the board.      

The next time you have a conflict right in front of you, try these 6 steps taken from a book I used when I taught elementary school called Talk it Out by Barbara Porro:

  • Stop and cool off. I cannot emphasize this step enough. Passions will always win unless you take the time to stop in the heat of a moment and cool off before you try to engage in a rational conversation to resolve the conflict at hand. Do whatever you need to do to regulate your emotions or to make sure that the person you are fighting with has also taken time to cool off. Otherwise, you will waste a lot of time, and the conflict has a high chance of a turning into something worse than what you started with.
  • Talk and listen to each other. Use a talking stick and a listening stick with younger children to help them know when it’s their turn to talk and listen, or use them as adults with a sense of humor thrown in to ease the tension. J Then use “I-messages” to communicate your feelings. Be slow to speak and quick to listen in this step which takes a lot of self-control and practice to be graceful here.    
  • Find out what you both need. The goal of talking and listening to each other is to be able to gain perspective to reframe the problem of what you both need. Asking the question “Why?” can sometimes can help get to the bottom of this step.  Another term that has been helpful to me was from a TED talk by William Ury, a world renowned mediator, who encourages disputants to “go to the balcony” and detach in order to see the problem as if you were a third party.
  • Brainstorm solutions. This creative thinking strategy of thinking of possibilities is important is the next step in finding resolution. Come up with as many ideas as you can and withhold comments about the ideas in this step.
  • Choose the Idea You Both Like Best. The goal is to find a win-win solution here that takes into account the needs and perspectives of both parties. This can be done verbally or in written form as you can then vote on each idea and look for one that works for both of you.
  • Make a Plan. Go For it! The more specific the better in creating an action plan so that this is likely to be an effective solution that makes lasting changes in the relationship.  Attach a time frame when necessary and assign who will be responsible for each part of the plan.  

Mother Teresa said, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” We have a lot of work to do, but it all starts with a few baby steps here.  Try out these 6 strategies when a conflict pops up for you this week, and I believe you’ll see that this fourth “R” really does come in handy. 

Thank you, Emily for sharing with us today!


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