Examining the Conflict Resolution Modes of Clinical Supervisors and Teacher Education Candidates

Article excerpt

This article explored the conflict handling modes of 63 student teachers and 36 clinical instructors participating in a preK-12 semester of student teaching. Initial results of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument indicated that both student teachers and their clinical supervisors used 'Accommodating' as their preferred mode and 'Avoiding' as their second most preferred mode of handling conflict. Moreover, a comparison of mean z-scores showed significant differences existed in the tendency to use preferred and second most used modes for student teachers and clinical instructors. Programmatic concerns for teacher education and implications related to the results of this study suggest opportunities for further study given the importance of interactions that occur among student teachers, clinical instructors, school principals, and other stakeholders within a school environment.

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Facilitating a productive and collaborative relationship between clinical supervisors and teacher education candidates engaged in student teaching is an important component of the role that education faculty play in their partnership with K-12 schools (Field Experience Clinical Practice Handbook, 2007). All of these parties must work together skillfully in the challenging process of producing the next generation of highly qualified teachers for our nation's classrooms (Teacher Education Undergraduate Handbook, 2007). Of particular interest to this research are the inevitable conflicts that occasionally arise when teacher education candidates involved in student teaching and their clinical supervisors experience problems (e.g., inappropriate candidate behavior, candidate and/or clinical supervisor displays of poor professional dispositions, and/or a lack of candidate performance of assigned duties). When these things happen, and they do (Hanshaw, 1998), any underlying circumstances should be examined and likely pathways to resolution determined in order that interpersonal conflicts do not become either threats to programmatic goals or to the intended learning outcomes planned for student teachers.

Definitions of Conflict and Conflict Resolution

The literature presents a broad landscape of definitions of conflict and conflict resolution. For example, Sweeney & Carruthers (1996, pp. 2-3) presented a summary of such definitions from the works of several other authors. Their summary was used here as a baseline to distinguish between definitions of conflict and conflict resolution:

   In relations between people, the term
   conflict can be variously defined.
   Maurer (1991) defined conflict as a
   "disagreement resulting from incompatible
   demands between or among
   two or more parties" (p.1). Other
   definitions include versions such as
   (a) "the natural disagreement or tension
   that results when people have
   different interests, opinions, beliefs,
   values, or needs" (Quest International,
   1994, p. 32); (b)"controversy
   or disagreement; to come into opposition"
   (Schrumpf, Crawford, &
   Usadel, 1991, p. 148); (c)whenever
   "incompatible activities occur ...
   (which) may reflect differences in
   interests, desires, or values.., or a
   rivalry in which one person tries to
   outdo the other" (Deutsch, 1973, p.
   156); and (d) "an expressed struggle
   between at least two interdependent
   parties who perceive incompatible
   goals (Duryea, 1992, p. 5). A basic
   assumption about such conflict is
   that it is a natural part of life
   (Deutsch, 1993; Kreidler, 1984;
   Martin & Holder, i 994-1995). Koch
   and Miller (1987) pointed out that
   controversy and conflict are a normal
   part of children's maturation and
   socialization.

Sweeney and Carruthers (1996, p. 3) go on to state that:

   Regarding the term, conflict resolution,
   Burton (cited in Sandole & van
   der Merwe, 1993) noted that conflict
   resolution is a recent concept
   and still not part of any consensual
   understanding. …