by Tavon Johnson
This post is part of a series about Mission Thrive Summer, a program of the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works' Real Food Farm that empowers youth with skills and knowledge for a healthy life.
Dealing effectively with conflict is crucial for success in all areas of life, from the classroom to the workplace to the home. When conflicts arise among the high school students taking part in Mission Thrive Summer, they’ll participate in a proven, productive way to handle them.
Last week, the program’s crew leaders, Lydia, Morgan, Jeremy, and Kyle, prepared for those teachable moments in a training session on restorative conflict resolution. This approach uses collaborative, participant-driven methods to inspire positive change and problem solving.
Carolyn Chisholm, director of Real Food Farm, explained, “It allows students to think through their own problems and learn how to deal with them on their own.” The parties involved aren’t told what to do or what will be done to them. Rather, they have the opportunity to determine outcomes for themselves.
Restorative Conflict Resolution: How it Works
In the first step of restorative conflict resolution, called the “what’s happening” phase, the mediator asks those involved, “What’s going on?” in a non-threatening, conversational way. In spite of a mediator’s neutrality, it’s not uncommon for people engaged in a conflict to express anger and fail to answer the question clearly.
Mission Thrive Summer staff practiced restorative conflict resolution in role-playing exercises. Portraying a youth who was overheard speaking badly about a staff member, crew leader Morgan sulked and refused to cooperate. Real Food Farm’s education coordinator, Molly McCullagh, played the role of mediator with great patience. Despite Morgan’s obstinance, Molly steadfastly asked, “What’s going on,” demonstrating the proper technique.
Upon hearing a reasonable answer, the mediator begins the “who’s affected” phase, which aims to coax out feelings of empathy and understanding among parties. Showing crew leaders how it’s done, Molly asked Morgan how being bad-mouth made the staff member feel.
Morgan reflected and displayed empathy in her response: “(She) was hurt by what I said I guess.” For added effectiveness, Molly asked how Morgan would feel if she herself were bad-mouthed.
The final step of restorative conflict resolution is the “how can we fix it” phase. To demonstrate, Molly asked Morgan to take ownership of her wrongdoing and spell out the steps to rectify that wrong: “We know what happened, and we know how it made those who were affected feel. So now, what can you do to make this situation better?”
A much calmer, more cooperative Morgan thought about it and concluded, “I won’t talk bad about other people anymore.”
Ultimately, the success of the mediation training won’t be measured by crew leaders’ ability to prevent conflict during Mission Thrive Summer. Rather, it will be in their ability to deal with conflict effectively, leading students to ask themselves, “What can I do to resolve this conflict?” That’s a question the staff of Mission Thrive Summer hopes participants will consider long after the program is over.