Conflict Management and the Prospective Principal

By Anderson, Michael J. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview
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Conflict Management and the Prospective Principal

Anderson, Michael J., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Aspiring principals were surveyed about their perceptions and training in regard to conflict management. Subjects reported positive attitudes about conflict and were confident in their conflict management skills when dealing with students. Subjects were less confident in their conflict management skills when dealing with parents and supervisors. Conflict management training consisting of authentic, school-based activities should be intensified in principal preparation programs.


School leaders encounter conflict on a frequent basis (Martin and Willower, 1981). They are also the primary builders of consensus and collaboration on their campuses (Leithwood, Begley, and Cousins, 1992).Teachers under their supervision encounter conflict in their efforts to educate children (Cornille, Pestle, and Vanwy, 1999). While conflict can be negative and destructive, it can also result in positive changes within an organization (Putnam, 1997). Researchers have identified the knowledge base and skills necessary for the development of successful school leaders. Conflict management is among those skills (Wilmore, 2003). However, few public school leaders have had the support and training necessary to engage in constructive conflict management, further limiting opportunities to teach and model conflict management skills to others (Coleman and Fisher-Yoshida, 2004). This study focused specifically upon the following questions about conflict management skills in future campus administrators:

1. What are the main sources of conflict management training for prospective school leaders?

2. Within which conflict management contexts do prospective school leaders need additional training?

3. What perceptions do prospective school leaders have about the frequency of conflict they will encounter relative to the following sources: students, parents, teachers, and supervisors (superintendent, assistant/associate superintendents, director, and executive directors).

Theoretical Perspective

Several researchers have contributed to the study of conflict management in organizations. Thomas (1976) suggested that five distinct styles of conflict management exist within organizations, including collaboration, accommodation, competition, compromise, and avoidance. Katz and Lawyer (1993) submitted that effective approaches to conflict include reflective listening, maintenance of civility, separation of positions from interests, and the delineation of group goals along with consideration of the interests of all who have a stake in the problem. Deutsch (1994) maintained that unfavorable social contexts required conflict managers to be skillful at removing themselves from the context in order to observe and make conscious decisions. Deutsch and Coleman (2000) developed large-group conflict management methods designed for three major purposes: creating the future, approaching work, and addressing specific problems. Welch (2001) developed the O.F.T.E.N. strategy for conflict management, consisting of observation, feelings, thinking, expectations, and negotiation.

The need for effective conflict management training methods was addressed by Horowitz and Boardman (1994) who recommended formative and summative evaluation of programs to determine the best methods. Bartsch and Cheurprakobkit (2002) determined that principals in their study considered conflict resolution training to be a staff development priority. Cornille, Pestle, and Vanwy (1999) recommended continuing education for teachers, emphasizing the most effective styles of conflict management for different situations. Deutsch (1994) suggested that effective conflict management training must emphasize social and cognitive skills. However, Deutsch maintained that training which focuses upon social and cognitive skills is difficult because of the lack of realistic feedback and because these skills cannot be developed through independent practice (Deutsch, 1994).

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