Untangling the Drama, Compassionately.

We’ve all been there. We rush into a verbal dispute between students and must actively work to understand, assess culpability and  determine the appropriate discipline or outcome.  We also must be mindful of all of the other students in the class and maintaining their composure.  We must somehow rise above the noise and do so without barking over top of the students– causing an even more distressing situation..

Paving the way to understanding and effectively modeling this simple dispute resolution technique is an important skill to possess.  And when we rush into action, we are demonstrating to the *bystanders* a way to engage with disputing parties, exercise in maintaining composure and assisting others in getting to the root of the argument.

I have discovered a simple 2-step technique.  One that doesn’t involve a lot of practice or agility.  It doesn’t require your blood pressure to rise.  What it does require is your calm and mindful attention.


Re-direct and focus each of the students’ attention in your most authoritatively compassionate voice and posture.  Instruct them each to complete the following statement:

I am angry at ______ because _______.

Good.  Move on.  Do not let anyone get stuck or sucked back into the story.  Do not allow for rebuttals or other defenses.  Do not react or act yet.


Acknowledge & empathize with each of the students.

“I would feel the same in your situation, but we will sort this out….”
“I know how frustrating it can be – let’s see how I can help you….”

This approach allows each party to express their frustration, the teacher to establish themselves as the neutral mediating force and subsequently unswayed by the ensuing drama.  We are the tree in the storm.

When we practice a simple and deliberate approach when injecting ourselves into a dispute, we are modeling to those around us a consistent and compassionate expression of authority, while still  empathetically engaged in working towards a solution.

Infographic designed by Robert Shelton, a psychologist in a Californian high school.  Published in PsychologyToday – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201505/empathy-vs-sympathy Source: Robert Shelton