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CHECKMATE: Resolve Conflict One Move at a Time

Teachers I meet say that classroom management is one of their greatest concerns. Moreover, teachers share that managing conflict between students can be overwhelming. So, what is an effective way to manage conflict between students in a classroom? I found that teaching students simple, consistent strategies – (move, ignore, I-message, tell an adult, class meeting) can be likened to the moves you would use in a game of chess – works best. Chess is a nonthreatening way to consider conflict, and it made our classroom discussions about conflict resolution much more meaningful.

Develop A Routine

Each morning, my class began with a brief reflection of our classroom agreements (mutual respect, attentive listening, no put downs, right to pass), what to expect for the day ahead, and what to do when we encounter conflicts in class or on the playground. This daily ritual set a positive tone for the day’s classroom interaction. And while we discussed what to do if we had conflict, we often used the example of chess as a metaphor. Chess pieces make predictable moves, and so do people.

Rather than simply retaliate in anger or frustration, students explored how to use non-violent options through the following question: Which choice is likely to have the best result with a particular student? 

Make Your Move

My students learned that, while conflict is normal, it must be addressed in a thoughtful, methodical way. I explicitly taught them how to use and test each of the following conflict resolution moves:

  • Ignore – Do not acknowledge the distraction or offense
  • Move – Separate yourself from the conflict
  • Use an “I-Message” – Verbally address the offense. “I feel ________, when you _______ and I would like you to stop please.”
  • Tell A Responsive Adult – Involve an adult that will support you in resolving the conflict
  • Class Meeting – Put your issue on the agenda for a class meeting ​

Teach Responsibility

In my classroom, students were responsible for using one or more of these moves to navigate conflict. On the surface, these are seemingly simple strategies. But the larger goal is to have students stop, think, and respond in a strong, victimless way, and take responsibility for the way in which they choose to solve conflicts.

Conflict is difficult, and students need our support. For more information about classroom management and conflict resolution, go to We have compiled free, helpful tips and strategies for teachers based on real classroom experiences.

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