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Educators from Carolina Friends School in Durham explore the relationship between health and education.

Libby Pittman Pendergrast graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in child development. She joined the CFS staff in 1973 and leads the Campus Early School for students ages three to five. Charlie Layman has been on the CFS staff for more than 20 years. He teaches reading and writing and creates the Design Technology classes in the Lower School. He also supports his colleagues as the Staff Clerk. Christel Greiner Butchart has been teaching in the CFS Middle School for six years, including now the Conflict Resolution course. She is the recent recipient of the Rotary Peace Fellowship to study Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Queensland in Australia. Sherri Moore-Mott joined the CFS community as the Upper School Guidance Counselor and Learning Services Coordinator in 2006. She received her BA (English/Writing) and MED in counselor education from ECU and her M.DIV from Duke; she also completed a year-long residentcy in clinical training at DUMC.

is an independent Quaker school serving students 3-18. Contact the school at:
4809 Friends School Road
Durham, NC 27705
Telephone: ( 919) 383-6602;

Ages & Stages:
Conflict Resolution at Carolina Friends School

By Libby Pittman Pendergrast, Charlie Layman,
Christel Greiner Butchart, and Sherri Moore-Mott

Conflict is an unavoidable experience in the life of all of us, including children. As teachers, we are grateful to be a part of an educational community that believes “… that peace is not the absence of conflict but the peaceful resolution of conflict” and understands that “the resolution of personal and interpersonal conflict is a lifelong task.” (Carolina Friends School Statement of Mission and Philosophy) This belief leads us to devote careful attention to teaching conflict resolution and related skills and habits in age-appropriate ways throughout the “ages and stages” of students’ lives at CFS.

Early School Students (ages 3 to 6)

Young children are by nature egocentric. When they enter a school environment there are many opportunities during the school day to experience conflict. All throughout the day a child will experience internal and external conflict. The sharing of materials is often at the heart of conflicts in Early School, as is the sharing of ideas and adult attention.

Libby Pittman Pendergrast
Early School

We approach conflict resolution from a developmental point of view. In our family-grouped classroom some of our students are very young three-year-olds. For the first part of the school year when a conflict arises, teachers will have to describe what is going on for the children and provide them with the language to use in identifying the problem and a solution. With continued support and guidance from the teachers, the children gain more experience in resolving conflict; they grow in their ability to describe the problem, take turns talking, and brainstorm solutions. We are very big on “the next time,” helping children understand that resolving conflict is about what you learned when you grabbed that toy out of your friend’s hand, or maybe even hit them when they tried to grab it back, and what you will choose to do next time something like that happens.

We want our children to believe that they are problem solvers and that there are often several solutions to a problem. Adults sometime underestimate the ability of children to solve their own problems. With guidance and support from their teachers, children begin to feel confident in their problem solving skills and are eager to share them with others when the need arises.

Lower School Students (ages 6-10)

In Lower School, we begin teaching conflict resolution skills on the first day of the school year. In the early weeks of the year, students are invited to design classroom rules, consider queries that help them reflect on their actions, and engage in structured conflict resolution practices. Role plays are fun and effective ways to help them learn these important skills.

Charlie Layman
Lower School

Key questions help children navigate conflicts that arise for them. A flow chart is posted in every classroom:

  • Does someone need help right away? If yes – get a teacher. If no – go to question 2.
  • Can we solve the problem ourselves? If yes – arrange for a conference during which we agree to listen, speak respectfully, and come up with a plan. If no – ask a teacher to help facilitate a conference.
  • Evaluate how the process works.
  • Seek further help if needed.

It is common for us to gather after snack or lunch recess, especially at the beginning of the year, to talk with students about playground experiences, thus fostering shared responsibility for the social fabric of our Lower School community.

Middle School Students (ages 10-14)

In the Middle School, conflict resolution is woven throughout our curriculum. Each second-year (sixth-grade) student takes a class called Conflict Resolution for one trimester. In the class we practice self-awareness, group building, specific conflict resolution skills, and giving back. We also do an in-depth study of current and historical peacemakers. In addition to the Conflict Resolution class, we also teach electives that support these skills, particularly building teamwork and collaborative learning. The elective called Rehearsal for Life uses theatre to offer authentic places where kids can practice life’s most challenging moments.

Christel Greiner Butchart
Middle School

Our Middle School has a strong social curriculum that exists within and beyond the classroom. Our Fourth-Year Leadership Program provides student-led leadership opportunities. Each student who is new to the Middle School receives a fourth-year (eighth-grade) student mentor, to help those new students feel welcome and connected in our community. Our annual Adolescent Issues Forum enables students to sign up for workshops that focus on self-awareness, development, and interpersonal relationships.

The most in-depth work we do with conflict resolution takes place in our Advisory program. Each student has an Advisor who helps to navigate the terrain of pre-adolescent life in the Middle School. When conflict occurs, staff and advisors work closely with the students who are involved to empower their practice of effective conflict resolution.

Upper School Students (ages 14-18)

In the Upper School, conflict resolution is woven into the fabric of everything we do. We understand that conflict is a normal part of the human experience, and can be positive if it fosters emotional honesty, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, having empathy for others, and truthful dialogue. Dialogue about peaceful alternatives over violent anger-driven behavioral choices becomes thematic within the academic exchange in most of our classes.

Sherri Moore-Mott
Upper School

Further, this theme threads its way through how we govern ourselves as a community, leading us down a path of collaboration rather than competition. We believe that collaboration values others’ differences as strengths, includes all parties involved, respects delaying quick decisions, and pushes us to reach consensus regarding the best outcome for the community as a whole. Additionally, we tune into our innermost selves in our weekly silent meeting where we become still to further reflect on this theme and our role within it.

Overall, we teach our students to take ownership of conflict resolution in positive ways, akin to our expectation that they take ownership of their learning. Specifically, there are five ways in which students actively engage this process:

First, there is the Staff Student Discipline Committee (SSDC). The SSDC is comprised of staff and students that represent all grades. Conflict resolution is part of the process and the product, whereby collaborative efforts through dialogue are utilized to identify how a student, who has in some way broken the communities’ trust, can make amends. On any given council, the committee must come to consensus with regard to appropriate consequences.

Second, there are Peer Counselors. This suggestion came out of the Clerks Committee (our form of student government—the third way that students own this process) when they were discussing bullying on our campus. They wanted students to have trained peers that they could go to as a middle space before approaching the guidance counselor and/or their personal advisor or other staff member.

Fourth, there are Student Ambassadors. This class, led by the Upper School’s Head Teacher, is an intentional space wherein members serve the community by providing a link between teachers and students. They observe classes and interview students in order to provide constructive feedback to teachers.

Fifth, there are Town Meetings. If a difficult issue arises in the community, we call a town meeting, which includes our entire Upper School community, to discuss the issue openly and honestly. We sometimes use the Agree/Disagree model as a basis for discussion.

Finally, there are hundreds of personal conversations between staff and students, wherein conflict resolution gets processed and heard. This endeavor is at the heart of my job as the guidance counselor, so I find that it is incredibly important to help students reflect on their thinking processes that lead to feelings and subsequent behaviors, and how alternative choices, when necessary, might be made. Through and through, collaboration is the singular thread that weaves together the whole Upper School endeavor.