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The conflict pyramid: A holistic approach to structuring conflict resolution in schools

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This paper examines how the conflict pyramid, originally defined and used by Richard Cohen, can be used as a model to describe the relations between different conflict resolution education programs and activities included in the programs. The central questions posed in the paper are: How can Richard Cohen’s conflict pyramid be used as a model for describing the relations between different programs and activities? In what way do we need to elaborate the conflict pyramid? How can the elaborated conflict pyramid help teachers and teacher training students to sort out what or which programs and activities to implement and use in school? The number of different conflict resolution education programs has increased immensely over the years. There is a large variety of programs and no systematic way of choosing which one to use in school. Elements of the different programs sometimes overlap but programs are still not alike. Not surprisingly, teachers and other adults in schools often raise the question of what conflict resolution program they should use. Cohen visualises the ideal system of conflicts and conflict resolutions in school environments as a pyramid with four levels: conflict prevention, conflict management, third party support and, finally, stopping destructive conflicts by means of arbitration. This article contains theoretical reflections, developed through a literature study, in order to examine and discuss the use and potential use of this model.
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The conflict pyramid: a holistic
approach to structuring conflict
resolution in schools
Ilse Hakvoort
a
a
Department of Education, University of Gothenburg,
Gothenburg, Sweden
Version of record first published: 16 Sep 2010.
To cite this article: Ilse Hakvoort (2010): The conflict pyramid: a holistic approach to structuring
conflict resolution in schools, Journal of Peace Education, 7:2, 157-169
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Journal of Peace Education
Vol. 7, No. 2, September 2010, 157–169
ISSN 1740-0201 print/ISSN 1740-021X online
© 2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17400201.2010.498997
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The conflict pyramid: a holistic approach to structuring conflict
resolution in schools
Ilse Hakvoort*
Department of Education, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
Taylor and FrancisCJPE_A_498997.sgm
(Received April 2008; final version received 19 April 2010)
10.1080/17400201.2010.498997Journal of Peace Education1740-0201 (print)/1740-021X (online)Original Article2010Taylor & Francis720000002010IlseHakvoortIlse.Hakvoort@ped.gu.se
This paper examines how the conflict pyramid, originally defined and used by
Richard Cohen, can be used as a model to describe the relations between different
conflict resolution education programs and activities included in the programs.
The central questions posed in the paper are: How can Richard Cohen’s conflict
pyramid be used as a model for describing the relations between different
programs and activities? In what way do we need to elaborate the conflict
pyramid? How can the elaborated conflict pyramid help teachers and teacher
training students to sort out what or which programs and activities to implement
and use in school? The number of different conflict resolution education programs
has increased immensely over the years. There is a large variety of programs and
no systematic way of choosing which one to use in school. Elements of the
different programs sometimes overlap but programs are still not alike. Not
surprisingly, teachers and other adults in schools often raise the question of what
conflict resolution program they should use. Cohen visualises the ideal system of
conflicts and conflict resolutions in school environments as a pyramid with four
levels: conflict prevention, conflict management, third party support and, finally,
stopping destructive conflicts by means of arbitration. This article contains
theoretical reflections, developed through a literature study, in order to examine
and discuss the use and potential use of this model.
Keywords: conflict resolution education; conflict pyramid; school settings;
constructive conflicts
Introduction
Since conflict resolution education emerged from social justice concerns during the
1960s and 1970s, the popularity of conflict resolution education programs has
increased sharply with the number of programs multiplying rapidly and different
forms of the programs being implemented in schools (Bickmore 2002; Jones 2003).
Elements of the different programs sometimes overlap but programs are still not alike.
Overviews of selections of conflict resolution programs exist, although overviews are
never complete and do not address relations between programs. The fact that conflict
education programs are not only labelled conflict resolution or conflict mediation
makes it even more difficult for teachers to orient themselves in this area. I found
program descriptions labelled as value education, violence prevention programs, anti-
bullying programs, citizenship education, peace education and social emotional learn-
ing. Sometimes these labels reflect the dominant focus or main goal of the program,
*Email: Ilse.Hakvoort@ped.gu.se
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158 I. Hakvoort
although this is not always the case. Even if the relationship between conflict resolu-
tion education and, for example, violence prevention, social justice and responsible
citizenship is somehow easy to understand, these relations need to be studied and
described to deepen our understanding. In general, schools do not want to follow
Bodine and Crawford’s (1998) suggestion to just start somewhere with the implemen-
tation of conflict resolution. Schools feel a need to motivate a conscious choice and to
find arguments to convince decision-makers. For a long time I have been searching
for a model that could guide me in structuring my thinking about working with
conflict situations and conflict education in the school context; a model that describes
the relations between existing programs. Several years ago, I learned about Richard
Cohen’s conflict pyramid and have used his model in my teaching ever since. His
original model helped me structure my thoughts about conflict resolution education.
Through the years, discussions with colleagues and students stimulated elaboration of
the model, in particular with regard to its dynamics. This paper examines how the
conflict pyramid, originally defined and used by Richard Cohen, can be used as a
model to describe the relations between different conflict resolution education
programs and activities included in the programs. The central questions posed in the
paper are: How can Richard Cohen’s conflict pyramid be used as a model for describ-
ing the relations between different programs and activities? In what way does the
conflict pyramid need to be elaborated? And how can the elaborated conflict pyramid
help teachers and teacher training students to decide what or which programs and
activities to implement and use in school?
Previous studies of conflict resolution education programs
In the last decade, several reviews appeared describing a selected number of programs
(see Bodine and Crawford 1998; Johnson and Johnson 1996; Jones 2004; Sandy and
Cochran 2000). The evaluation reviews in international journals mainly reported on
programs from English speaking countries, with description and effectiveness of
single programs as their focus and not the relationships between programs.
Regarding the effectiveness of conflict resolution programs, it is important for
decision makers in the school to know that research reviews point in a positive direc-
tion. For example, Johnson and Johnson (1996), who studied evaluations of peer
mediation and conflict resolution education programs in a cooperative learning
context, reported increases in students’ conflict knowledge, self-reported prosocial
behaviour and negotiation skills and positive impacts on classroom climate. Jones
(2004) reported that conflict resolution education programs increased ‘students’
academic achievement, positive attitudes toward the school, assertiveness, coopera-
tion, communication skills, healthy interpersonal and intergroup relations, construc-
tive conflict resolution at home and school, and self-control’ (239) and that ‘there is
substantial evidence that CRE improves school climate and classroom climate’ (240).
According to Bodine and Crawford (1998, 103–14), research provides strong evidence
for establishing conflict resolution programs in schools. They reported on studies
showing that students developed an understanding of conflicts and improved their
skills in handling conflicts constructively following the implementation of conflict
resolution programs that were based on the negotiation theory. In addition, researchers
reported on studies showing a decrease in violence, physical aggression and harass-
ment as well as a reduction in the time teachers spent on conflicts and discipline
(see Bodine and Crawford 1998; Bickmore 2002).
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Journal of Peace Education 159
Besides effectiveness evaluations studying the school situation before and after the
implementation of a program, several conflict resolution programs were developed
using action research, for example, DRACON. The Swedish partners in the interna-
tional DRACON project worked closely with school staffs for four years while devel-
oping and evaluating their program (Malm and Löfgren 2007; Friberg et al. 2005). The
final program was implemented in two schools and evaluated. Friberg et al. (2005)
reported that in some schools improvement in conflict resolution skills was noticed;
in others this improvement was not clear. Peer mediation proved to be successful.
Core areas in conflict resolution education
To be able to reflect on the relations between different programs systematically,
program foundations (that is, their main focus and theoretical basis) and major core
areas are of particular interest. What are recognized as core areas in conflict resolution
education? Firstly, social and emotional competencies (including empathy, compas-
sion, respect for others, effective listening, perspective-taking, and emotional aware-
ness) have been identified as a core area (see Jones 2003). Secondly, communication,
negotiation, dialogue and collaborative problem-solving are considered to be impor-
tant areas for inclusion in conflict resolution education aimed at providing a basic
understanding of the nature and dynamics of conflict situations and an awareness of
how we respond to conflict. Other identified core areas are bullying prevention, peer
harassment, restorative justice and mediation (including peer mediation). It is not very
common that all major core areas of conflict resolution education are included in one
program; it is more common that programs focus on one, or sometimes two, of the
identified areas. Theoretical frameworks for the different core areas can vary. When
different programs contain identical goals and include the same core areas and theo-
retical ground, they can be experienced as being very similar. In general, it can be said
that most programs aim to combine intellectual frameworks with practice, giving
students the opportunity to test their newly learned knowledge and skills in simulated
conflict situations.
Basic terminology
It is useful to outline some of the basic terminology in the area of conflict resolution
education. The three central concepts that will be discussed are conflict, violence and
peace (i.e., ‘approaching or getting towards peace’).
The concept of conflict
With regard to the concept of conflict, Davies (2004, 9) summarized Isenhart and
Spangle with the following list of definitions: ‘real or apparent incompatibility of
interests or goals’, ‘a belief that parties’ current aspirations cannot be achieved simul-
taneously’, ‘a struggle over values and claims to status, power and resources’ and ‘an
intermediate stage of a spectrum of struggle that escalates and becomes more destruc-
tive’. Davies (2004) linked the description of ‘the universal nature of conflict with the
more crucial question of where it stems from and what people do with it’ (9).
Valsiner and Cairns (1992) distinguished two theoretical perspectives in the scien-
tific discourse (e.g., in sociology and psychology) on social conflict: a ‘harmony or
consensus perspective’ and a ‘conflict perspective’. While the harmony or consensus
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160 I. Hakvoort
perspective emphasises the negative connotations of the term conflict and has ‘social
conflict as an anomaly to be eliminated’ (21) as its common language, scientists who
adopted a conflict perspective view conflicts as natural and ‘a possible mechanism for
development’ (21). In the harmony perspective, social order is established or status
quo maintained by uniting human beings, their values, norms and views on reality. In
the conflict perspective, conflicts are used to facilitate change, development and modi-
fication of the existing social order. Bodine and Crawford (1998), Cohen (1995/2005)
and Deutsch (2000), among others, represent the conflict perspective, stating that
conflict is a normal part of life and thus also a normal part of school life. Deutsch
(2000) elaborated the concept of conflict by distinguishing between destructive and
constructive conflicts. A conflict is in its essence neither destructive nor constructive,
although it can become destructive or constructive depending on how we are able to
handle it. Conflicts can be referred to as neutral.
As regards the relevance of conflicts for the development of the individual,
developmental psychology theorists claim that a conflict is both needed and important
in order to stimulate change (Hakvoort 2002; Shantz and Hartup 1992). According to
Shantz and Hartup (1992, 2), ‘conflict has been widely recognized as a central force
in developmental change, for both good and ill’ and ‘most developmental theories are
dialectical ones’. These theoretical reflections support the perspective that individual
children in conflict are in the process of developing and learning. Trying to take away
their conflicts or taking over their conflicts would mean taking away an opportunity
for them to grow and learn.
Social psychology theorists argue that conflicts arise in groups during a so-called
storming stage (see Johnson and Johnson 2006a). During this stage, ‘Members often
confront their various differences and conflict management becomes the focus of
attention’ (28). A conflict stage is needed for the group to develop as a group.
The concept of violence
As regards the concept of violence, a differentiation between direct violence, indirect
or structural violence and cultural violence is often used, in line with Johan
Galtung’s theoretical perspective (Galtung 1996). ‘Direct violence relates to physical
acts resulting in deliberate injury and killing’ and ‘Indirect violence refers to
violence by omission’ (Davies 2004, 11), for example, lack of protection and access
to resources. Cultural violence, according to Galtung (1996, 196), refers to ‘those
aspects of culture…that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural
violence’.
Patfoort (1995, 2006) distinguished two systems in human interactions: a violent
system and a non-violent system. By collecting stories from all over the world, she
found that the violent system is the most common one and we can recognize its
elements everywhere. According to Patfoort, the root of violence is ‘an unbalanced
relationship between two positions of power’, symbolized by a capital M (Major) and
a small m (minor) (the M-m system) (1995, 17). Intentionally or unintentionally,
someone in the relationship is put in a minor – a ‘less value’ – position. It is fairly
common for a person who deviates from the norm in a specific situation to be regarded
as less valuable. A second category of elements of violence is related to communica-
tion as a means of power (29). ‘Via communication, a Major-minor relationship is
created or an existing Major-minor relationship is reinforced’ (34). We use arguments
(positive, negative and destructive) to put ourselves in the Major position. We can
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Journal of Peace Education 161
hear, for example, terms such as slow, unconcentrated and disobedient used to label a
child who needs more time to learn compared to the average classmate who fits into
the school system, a child who finds it hard to sit still during class when asked by the
teacher and a child who does not feel like listening to what the teacher wants to say,
respectively. In the third category of elements of violence, Patfoort refers to conse-
quences of the M-m system (43). For example, frustration, uncontrolled energy,
distrust, punishments and the feeling of owning someone is stressed as a consequence
of the M-m system. The stories Patfoort collected show that people do not want to
remain in a minor position very long and they try to get out of it. The only way most
of us know to get out is to place ourselves in a Major position. One way of doing this
is to place the opponent in a minor position. If the opponent is too strong, too powerful
or there are too many of them, it is possible to get out of the minor position by finding
another person who is weaker and not involved in the dispute. When nobody can be
found to put in the minor position, violence will be internalized and people will harm
themselves (Patfoort 1995).
The concept of peace
With regard to approaching peace or moving towards peace, peace educators and
researchers differentiate between peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding. ‘At
the peacekeeping level, educators use violence prevention activities to create an
orderly learning climate in schools’ (Harris and Morrison 2003, 11). Johnson and
Johnson (2005, 2006b) define peacekeeping as imposed peace. A powerful third party
ends violent behaviour by separating the disputants, although the conflict itself is not
dealt with. The relationship between the two parties is referred to as negative interde-
pendency, with one party imposing peace as the winner and the other party as the loser
(a win/lose situation). Peacemaking and peacebuilding are referred to as two levels of
consensual peace (Johnson and Johnson 2005). Peacemaking is regarded as consisting
of negotiating an agreement, a ceasefire, and mediating between two parties in
conflicts. Peacebuilding deals ‘with the structural issues and is aimed at creating long-
term harmonious relationships based on mutual respect and social justice’ (Johnson
and Johnson 2005, 283). With consensual peace, relationships are based on positive
interdependency where all parties in a conflict can win. According to Johnson and
Johnson (2005), we need to teach students ‘the competencies and values they need to
build and maintain peace on a consensual basis’ (280).
The conflict pyramid
Cohen (1995/2005, 35) theoretically visualises the ideal system of conflict resolutions
in school environments as a pyramid with four levels.
Figure 1. The conflict pyramid
The lines dividing the four levels are not distinct lines; none of them is ‘water-
proof’, although meaningful when describing the dominant focus of each level. Cohen
does not explicitly refer to the conflict pyramid as a theory. In the present paper, the
conflict pyramid is used as a useful working model for reflecting on the relations
between different conflict resolution programs. The pyramid has been elaborated over
the years by extending the discussion about its dynamics in order to build a holistic
view of conflicts and conflict resolution as practised in teachers’ daily work. To
understand Cohen’s conflict pyramid, it is necessary to describe the content of the four
levels. Afterwards, the elaborated dynamics of the pyramid will be presented.
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162 I. Hakvoort
Level 1
The first and bottom level of the pyramid is named ‘conflicts that never occur because
of the supportive school environment’ (Cohen 1995/2005, 35), and when conflicts
arise they are easier to handle because of working social relations (briefly referred to
as ‘prepare’ or ‘prevention’). Similarities between Cohen’s first preventative level and
peacebuilding can be found. On the first level, we find all kinds of activities that
prepare for a supportive school environment such as effective classroom management,
a democratic school structure, engaging curriculum, value education, discussing
morals, ethics and deeply rooted attitudes, working with self-esteem, group dynamics,
empathy training, emotional awareness, communication exercises, group processes,
effective listening, perspective-taking, life orientation, classroom massage, circle time
discussions, and social competence, etc. There are a large number of programs that
have social and emotional competencies as their dominant focus; for example, Second
Step (information available at http://www.cfchildren.org/), EQ (emotional intelli-
gence), circle time (Mosley 2005), and social emotional learning (SEL).
Level 2
Level 2 is referred to as conflicts resolved by negotiating with each other (briefly
described as conflict handling or conflict management) (Cohen 1995/2005). In spite
Figure 1. The conflict pyramid.
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Journal of Peace Education 163
of a supportive environment, conflicts exist and need to exist. It is important that
conflicts can be handled or managed in such a way that the outcome of the conflict
will be constructive and thus promote the growth of individuals, groups and/or insti-
tutions. Destructive outcomes do not lead to growth. A supportive school environment
(see Level 1 of the conflict pyramid) will help the actors involved to solve conflicts
constructively. Students and adults in the school, however, also need to be educated
and provided with knowledge and tools when conflicts occur. A large range of
programs exist that explicitly focus on basic conflict resolution knowledge aimed at
providing a basic understanding of the nature and dynamics of conflict situations and
an awareness of how we respond to conflict. They often include conflict analysis,
negotiation, dialogue and collaborative problem-solving, and strategies for observing
our own and others’ prerequisites and circumstances in specific conflict situations.
Several of them have their roots in humanistic psychology (e.g., in human need theo-
ries), for example, non-violent communication (Rosenberg 2003) and non-violence
education (Patfoort 1995, 2001, 2006). In Patfoort’s work, power and imbalance in
power relations are also central. Other programs have their roots in Piaget’s cognitive
developmental theory, such as the Iceland model (Nemert 1997), based on Selman and
colleagues’ approach in the form of interpersonal negotiation strategies (INS), and
peer conversations (Edling 1999). The Iceland model combines Piaget’s stagewise
thinking on perspective taking (i.e., social cognitive development) with John Dewey
‘learning by doing’. In peer conversations, perspective-taking is regarded as funda-
mental to conflict resolution. Bodine and Crawford (1998) report on exemplary
conflict resolution programs that have their roots in negotiation theory, such as a
‘youth-oriented adaptation of the Harvard Negotiation Project’ using ‘the principles
espoused by Fisher, Ury and Patton in Getting to yes’ (62). Further, there are programs
combining drama and conflict resolution, for example: forum theatre (Boal 2000) and
DRACON (Grünbaum and Lepp 2005; Friberg et al. 2005). While forum theatre is
clearly based on critical theory thinking, including power relations, in the description
of DRACON (Malm and Löfgren 2007) references to human needs thinking and
Dewey’s ‘learning by doing’ can be found. Johnson and Johnson’s conflict resolution
program ‘Teaching students to be peacemakers’ (TCP) has its theoretical basis in two
social psychological theories: the dual-concern theory and the social interdependence
theory (Johnson and Johnson 1995).
Several programs with conflict resolution as their main focus contain activities
related to the development of social and emotional competencies (Level 1 activities).
The conflict resolution programs DRACON, nonviolent communication (NVC), non-
violence education and TCP also developed and included a mediation section.
Level 3
Everyday school and classroom realities show that not all conflicts are or can be
solved, handled or managed by negotiation. Students and teachers sometimes need
others to be mediators. Cohen labeled Level 3 as ‘conflicts that are mediated’ (Cohen
1995/2005, 35). A third party is needed so that the parties in the conflict can restart
communicating with each other. Intractable situations need the help of a mediator.
Conflict resolution models or programs that focus on the interventions of third parties
include, for example, peer and school mediation (Cohen 1995/2005; Hareide 2006)
and Mythodrama (Güggenbuhl 1996). In addition, very competent drama teachers are
able to work with escalated conflicts using the forum theatre method (Boal 2000).
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164 I. Hakvoort
While Güggenbuhl works in the Jungian tradition with Mythodrama, where different
mediation programs have their theoretical roots is not clearly stated. It can be antici-
pated that several of the peer mediation programs have their roots in human needs
theory and negotiation theory.
Level 2 and Level 3 of the conflict pyramid can be referred to as peacemaking.
What educational programs on Level 1 (peacebuilding) and Levels 2 and 3
(peacemaking) have in common is a conflict perspective, which acknowledges that
both parties (be they individuals, groups or institutions) have their own stories, their
own truths, their own needs and need to be heard. They aim at (re)establishing
communication and cooperation between the conflicting parties (like consensual
peace), sometimes referred to as restorative justice.
Level 4
The fourth level of the conflict pyramid includes ‘arbitrated conflicts’ (referred to as
the STOP level). Conflicts are not resolved, they are stopped, and parties are sepa-
rated as in the case of peacekeeping (i.e., imposed peace). While the importance of
teaching consensual peace (Levels 1, 2 and 3) in education practices is indisputable,
I would argue that reflections on peacekeeping cannot be ignored when we think
about and work with conflicts and conflict resolution in the school system, as
Johnson and Johnson (2005) suggest. Even if all the students and adults in schools
were to be taught the competencies and values of consensual peace, it would not
mean that visible (physical) direct and invisible (non-verbal and verbal) indirect
violent situations do not occur. That would be an ideal learning situation, but not a
realistic one. When extreme violent situations occur, we do need to know what to do
about them. It is unlikely that Johnson and Johnson (2006b) want us to believe that a
situation of violence and hostility should continue to exist. According to them ‘The
consensual approach to peace is based on reaching an agreement that: (a) ends
violence and hostilities, and (b) establishes a new relationship’ (Johnson and
Johnson 2006b, 149).
Sometimes actions and behaviour in violent and hostile situations need to be
stopped before dialogue and contributions from both parties in order to handle the
conflict can be thinkable. Peacekeeping in the school environment can be regarded as
being related to our deeply rooted values, morals and ethical discussions in social
interaction. When is a conflict so violent that teachers need to stop it? How can they
stop it? What behaviour is not acceptable? When is discrimination/exclusion not
acceptable? What rules do we need if we want to create an institution where every-
body can feel safe, comfortable and able to learn on their own terms? What are teach-
ers allowed to do? What do the lawmakers prescribe? Ongoing violence and extremely
aggressive behaviour block our ability to achieve constructive interaction and our
process of learning. Consequently, teachers, adults in and around the schools, as well
as students, are also in need of knowledge and tools to handle these situations. Adults
in the schools need to be able to clarify and discuss with the students what is permitted
and what is not permitted in the school, how rules can be constructed, what our barri-
ers are, and ethics and morals in our social interactions. Everyone who works in
school understands that bullying is prohibited by law, while conflicts are not. It is
violence, discrimination and abuse that may arise when the conflicts escalate that are
discussed in legal texts. Sometimes, references to our formal and informal systems for
our social interaction are needed, reports to the police are made, headmasters need to
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Journal of Peace Education 165
sanction students by expelling them, etc. However, as the fourth and final level is the
top of the pyramid, this level needs to be very small!
The dynamics of the conflict pyramid
To be able to use Cohen’s model as a theoretical working model to structure our think-
ing about conflict resolution education, the dynamics between the four levels of the
pyramid need to be discussed. First of all, as Cohen indicated, all four levels of
the conflict pyramid need to be addressed at the same time. For example, two students
are sent to the headmaster because they physically attacked each other for the second
time in one week. The headmaster makes it clear that physical violence is unaccept-
able behavior in the school and that there will be consequences in the form of expul-
sion or a report to the police if they continue. Based on the assumption that behavior
will not change by stopping it, measures on pyramid Levels 3, 2 and 1 need to be
reflected on and taken immediately to avoid a reoccurrence of this situation. In prin-
ciple, it is necessary to return to a lower level as quickly as possible.
Secondly, it is anticipated that levels can become larger and can shrink. Levels can
become larger by paying attention to them. For example, Level 4 becomes larger if all
our efforts and time are focused on sanctioning students. How can levels become
smaller? It is assumed that levels can shrink when attention and time is given to the
level directly below. Consequently, the first, preventative, level needs the most atten-
tion, work and focus. The following Levels 2, 3 and 4 also need our attention, but to
a lesser degree. I found support for my hypotheses in Hareide’s (2006) work. He
reported that the size of the four levels is not absolute. According to him, the pyramid
form looks more like an inverted pyramid in most schools. Hareide argues that the
focus of the school is located on the top (Level 4 STOP). Much time in school is
devoted to stopping unacceptable and inappropriate behavior and fights, to reprimand-
ing students who do not adhere to the rules and to stopping destructive conflicts
between students, between adults and students or between adults themselves. The
picture that has emerged in conversations with our students, while reading various
surveys and information in the media, however, is not of an inverted pyramid as
Hareide suggested. Also, there are said to be many preventive interventions (Level 1)
while there are relatively few and sometimes no measures at Levels 2 (handle) and 3
(help). This means that in reality the pyramid looks like a sandglass.
Thirdly, deleting a level of the pyramid is assumed to be impossible. Putting a lot
of effort into conflict prevention is very important but does not mean that conflicts
will not occur. Accepting conflicts as a normal part of school life means that they will
always occur and when they do, teachers, other adults in the school and pupils need
to have the knowledge, skills and insights to know how to deal with them. It is not
very likely that unresolved conflicts will disappear; it is more likely that they are given
space to escalate, transform and resurface repeatedly. They can become intractable
conflicts. Conflicts that escalate are often more visible and probably more destructive.
Coleman (2000) writes that when conflicts are intractable they are ‘recalcitrant,
intense, deadlocked, and extremely difficult to resolve’ (429). It is my belief that a
rather widespread myth exists about a direct link between conflict prevention and
intractable conflicts. That is, conflict prevention reduces intractable conflicts. In other
words, peacebuilding is linked directly to peacekeeping. I would argue that there is
only an indirect link: Level 1 of the conflict pyramid can be linked to Level 4 of the
pyramid by means of Level 2 and Level 3.
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166 I. Hakvoort
Where do we start as teachers?
In the jungle of many programs, the question arises ‘What conflict resolution program
should I use when I want to handle conflicts in my classroom and in the school where
I am working?’ Our thinking and discussions can be structured by applying the
conflict pyramid as a theoretical working model.
It is possible to start with an overview of the kinds of conflicts that exist. Teachers,
other adults and pupils in the school can identify, map and analyze the everyday
conflict situations they experience in their classrooms and in the school. A reflective
process that allows inquiry and discussion is considered essential for examining and
assessing conflicts experienced in the classroom systematically and carefully. It
depends on how actors involved in conflict situations interpret what is happening,
whether a situation is defined as a situation where different interests, views, perspec-
tives, goals, etc, conflict. The interpretation of situations is an important key. This
means that actors need to tell their stories.
Different conflict situations require conflict resolution measures on different
levels. As a general principle, the course of a conflict situation, including the degree
of difficulty, is useful. Repeated disturbances would require measures on the pyramids
first level; clear clashes require measures belonging to the second level; crisis on the
third; and conflicts that require authority intervention by the school or legal interven-
tions need measures that belong to Level 4.
An issue requiring extra attention is the following: strategies chosen to handle a
conflict need to be adequate and appropriate to the conflict. This means that repeated
disturbances do not need to be addressed by means of legal solutions. However, in
schools, using a rule-driven strategy (Level 4 strategy), regardless of what would be
an adequate strategy for the conflict situation, is fairly common. For example, three
five-year-old children are involved in a conflict about their roles in a game and the
conflict needs to be addressed with a conflict resolution strategy that belongs to Level
2. However, the preschool teacher feels obliged to inform the children about class
rules such as ‘in our class everyone is nice to each other’ or ‘in our class everyone is
allowed to join in when we play’ (a Level 4 strategy). Unawareness of the rules was
not causing the conflict, the children were well aware of the rules, although they did
not know how to be nice when one of them tried to force them to take on a role they
did not want to have. After identifying, mapping and analyzing conflicts in school, the
following questions need to be asked: What level needs our attention because we have
so many conflicts that need to be addressed with strategies on that level? Is this some-
thing we would like to change?
Further, it is important to understand what kinds of conflict resolution measures
are already being used in the school. These measures can be placed on the different
levels of the conflict pyramid. Maybe teachers find that the conflict pyramid for their
school does not have the shape of a pyramid because certain levels clearly dominate
while others are missing. For example, the main focus of the school is on prevention
and handling conflicts, but there are no explicit ideas nor is any work done on Level 3,
‘conflicts that are mediated’. In addition, it is possible that many Level 4 conflict reso-
lution activities exist and that the staff of the school would like to minimize the
number. Answers to the following questions can be found when studying conflict
resolution activities: Does the conflict pyramid for our conflict resolution activities
have the shape and form of a pyramid? Or are there levels that are too large or too
small?
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Journal of Peace Education 167
Finally, it is also important for the individual teacher to ask her or himself the
question ‘What is it I would like to work with?’ Some teachers prefer drama, others
feel more comfortable with communication and language.
Discussion
The overall aim of working with conflicts and conflict resolution in the school setting
is to increase knowledge, insights and skills concerning how to act non-violently and
handle conflicts creatively and to reduce the occurrence of visible (physical) and
invisible (non-verbal and verbal) violent situations. Previous effectiveness studies
reported that there is sufficient evidence to state that conflict resolution education
programs have positive effects. While this evidence helps teachers and other adults in
and around the school to understand that conflict resolution education needs to be
implemented, it does not help them to answer the question of which program or
approach to choose. This last question can only be answered if we are able to describe
the relations between the different programs. Grounded in a theoretical discourse, I am
convinced that the elaborated conflict pyramid can provide support. Using the conflict
pyramid as a theoretical working model will make it possible to reach a better
understanding of which programs suit a particular school context.
However, several issues, which are not addressed in the discussion of the conflict
pyramid, are important for our work with conflicts and conflict resolution in schools.
They are, firstly, the distinction between and effect of different implementation
approaches. Bodine and Crawford (1998) identified four basic implementation
approaches: conflict resolution education has been implemented: (1) as a separate
course, (2) outside regular class time (the process curriculum approach), (3) is
included in the core subjects (the peaceable classroom approach), and (4) as a compre-
hensive whole-school approach where all members of the school learned and used
conflict resolution principles and learned about the process of conflicts (the peaceable
school approach). Johnson and Johnson (1996) referred to two approaches and made
a distinction between cadre and total student body programs. While cadre programs
focused on training a small number of students, total student body programs empha-
sized the training of all students. Secondly, the ‘educational level’ has been mentioned
in the literature as an important factor that influences our work with conflict situations.
Preschool, elementary, secondary, upper secondary and high school contexts create
different conditions for what can be learned and how programs can be implemented.
On an individual level, for example, preschool and elementary school children differ
in their emotional, moral, social and cognitive development. In the case of organiza-
tional complexity it can be stated that high schools often have extremely complex
structures that influence the implementation of conflict resolution programs.
The next step in the examination of the use of the conflict pyramid will be to test
it empirically in the different school environments. Detailed descriptions of everyday
conflict realities are needed in order to study the ways in which students, teachers and
other adults experience, face and handle conflicts. This will give us an overview of
what conflicts teachers, other adults and pupils experience in their classrooms and in
the school during a specific period of time. Detailed descriptions can be analyzed in
relation to conflict resolution measures. These measures can be situated in the conflict
pyramid. The types of conflict resolution education programs applied can be studied
when all the conflict resolution measures are situated systematically. It is possible that
programs cover more than one level of the pyramid at a time; for example, activities
Downloaded by [University of Gothenburg] at 03:22 28 March 2013
168 I. Hakvoort
that focus on prevention as well as on conflict knowledge and conflict resolution.
When information about the programs/activities used in the schools has been collected
and studied, the next challenge will be to make a change. It will be of great interest to
study whether systematically implemented measures on, for example, Levels 2 and 3
lead to a reduction in conflicts that need Level 4 measures.
Notes on contributor
Ilse Hakvoort is Special Feature Editor for the Journal of Peace Education and university
lector in the Department of Education at the University of Gothenburg. Her research interests
include peace education, conflict resolution in schools and children’s rights and realities.
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