Sustained dialogue: A means of conflict management in secondary schools in Ndola District, Zambia
This study was conducted to investigate Sustained Dialogue approaches as a means of managing conflicts in secondary schools on the Copperbelt Province in Ndola district. A well-tested but little known approach to conflict management whose design transform relationships into more constructive ones could be applied. It was through such transformation of perceptions, attitudes and relationships that the parties themselves became capable of constructively dealing with factors that caused conflicts. This approach was called Sustained Dialogue. The study was guided by the following research questions. What were the main causes of conflicts in secondary schools in Ndola district? , How were conflicts managed in secondary schools in Ndola district? , How effective was sustained dialogue as an approach of conflicts management in secondary schools in Ndola district? and the last question was, are school administrators in Ndola district trained in conflict management methods? This study used descriptive qualitative research design. A sample comprising of the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS), Head teachers. Heads of departments( HoDs),Guidance and counselling teachers and teachers , was used to investigate the extent to which sustained dialogue approach was been used in their respective schools. These categories of officials in the school were purposively selected because they were key persons believed to be reliable for the study, participants were assumed to be information-rich, and they were to provide research sought data as they were involved in the administration of their respective schools as well as in conflict management. The research instrument used was a semi structured interview guide which was administered to the respondents and a purposive sampling procedure was applied. The data collected was presented in emerging themes and subjected to qualitative analysis where, Frequency distribution tables, percentages, and charts were used to present data. The findings showed that, the concept of "Sustained Dialogue" referred to a situation where by people kept on talking over an issue that occurred between two or more parties with the view of preventing the escalation and minimizing the occurrence of conflicts until a solution to a problem was found. The concept of "Conflict" was viewed as a misunderstanding between or among people who fail to agree on a certain issue. The study showed that school administrators managed conflicts through trial and error as they were no specific guidelines to how conflicts could be managed. The findings also showed that some school administrator used reflections, retreats, talks, outings and meetings to manage conflicts in their respective schools. Conflicts were also managed through transferring of teachers from one school to the other and even surrendering of teachers to the DEBS by their head teachers. It was however, important to note that when conflicts arose in schools the culprit in most cases was transferred or surrendered .This actions caused conflict spiral It was therefore important that sustained dialogue be applied because it transforms and build a relationship which was cardinal for a good pupil-teacher performance. Relationships should be mended even after conflicts. Effective communication was therefore, essential in analysing conflicts in secondary schools as well as in identifying their root causes. The findings showed that the causes of conflicts in secondary schools varied. These include, lack of proper communication, failure to meet deadlines, dictatorial tendencies on the part of school administrators, differences in perceptions on management of certain issues in the school and laxity in implementation of school policies; favouritism among teachers by administrators and lack of respect and belittling of others. These causes of conflict need to be dealt with through continuous talking. School administrators had been adversely affected by lack of knowledge of conflict management therefore they needed to be trained in conflict management methods, since the root causes might be unique. In conclusion, this study showed that administrators in secondary schools were not using sustained dialogue as a conflict management approach. This was reflected in the responses given by the participants during interviews. There was no single method which could be used on its own. Conflict management methods supplemented each other in managing conflicts. The same was true for strategies and activities employed in conflict management. No single strategy or activity was said to be responsible for managing conflicts on their own. Most participants were in agreement that they did not use Sustained dialogue approach; but the situation just dictated to use whatever was workable at that particular moment. However, even with that situation dialogue and counseling seemed to be clearly identifiable as conflict management approaches and within each one of them there was Sustained dialogue embedded. This study had revealed that, the DEBS was central to mediating conflicts. When the head teachers had failed to reach an agreement with some teachers the DEBS came in to resolve the existing conflict through arbitration of which the result could be a transfer.