Back to School Series: Managing Conflict with Staff


Conflict with classroom staff can add a lot of unnecessary stress in our jobs.  Tensions can distract us from getting done what needs to get done.  Unfortunately, dealing with staff conflict is just part of the gig.  And just like the other parts of being a classroom manager, nobody really gives us the proper tools for how to handle classroom conflict.  The biggest challenge is being that we’re in a position of managing, but we can’t enforce any punitive consequences.  We are in a very tricky position as special educators.
This is why we have been discussing heavily the elements of behavior change that rely on teaching and positive reinforcement.  We make our best efforts to avoid these types of situations using antecedent strategies.  However, even the most well-seasoned special educator will have a run-in with a staff member that won’t follow behavior plans, complain in front of the students, or not follow school-wide rules. 

 Teach the skills that are incompatible

We have discussed teaching behaviors so that we can hopefully avoid unpleasant situations.  This works for the stuff that you might witness that we couldn’t foresee when training.  This is for behaviors that are aggravating, but not too big of a deal.  Again, it’s a matter of teaching behaviors, especially teaching those that are incompatible with the problem behaviors.  Things like leaving personal items around the classroom could be an example of something that is unpleasant, but not a pressing issue.

Have a sit-down

Sometimes you have to just be blunt with people.  Tactful, but blunt.  Make sure these conversations happen one-on-one, as opposed to in front of other staff.  Use language that put the onus on you.  For example, instead of saying “you should be….” Start with “I need you to….”  Take the time to train staff if necessary.  In my experience, most paraprofessionals appreciate when the teacher is direct and tells them what they need to have them do. 

Don’t take it personally

There’s going to be times when you must work with staff members that attitudes that just plain suck.  Despite your best efforts, there are just some people that will come in with a not-so-great attitude.  Just keep working to the level you’re capable.  Praise them when they do something right.  Model a positive attitude.  Sometimes there are going to be outside factors that have nothing to do with the classroom that you can’t change. 

When to take it further


Sometimes you might be in a situation where you can’t manage the behavior alone, such as safety issues.  Make sure you document instances and discuss with administration so they are on board.  If your administration is on your side, you can attempt to rectify the problem by having a sit-down with the staff member.  This way, at least your administration has your back if the situation doesn’t improve.  If the situation doesn’t improve, it may be time to have a sit-down with administration.



Conflicts with classroom paraprofessionals can cause unnecessary strain on our jobs.  Read about what to do when you need to manage conflict in your autism classroom.

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