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Conflict resolution in the works

Jessica Gray
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 24/06) - Yk Education District No. 1 superintendent Metro Huculak said conflicts between parents and teachers, or between the faculty themselves, are bound to happen.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Alberta teacher Jonathan Meyers plays the role of a concerned parent at a Healthy Interactions training course. Parents and teachers in Yk Education District No. 1 could see this new conflict resolution program in their schools as early as September. - Photo courtesy of Koni Macdonald

So Huculak and Amanda Mallon, president of the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association (NWTTA) have partnered up to pilot a new program designed to teach adults how to resolve their differences.

"It's a way to handle disputes," said Huculak.

The program, called Healthy Interactions, offers a step-by-step outline of dealing with issues in four categories -- program rationale, responding to needs, maintaining communications, and reaching resolutions.

The program uses processes and checklists that should be followed to resolve situations.

Learning these skills are especially helpful for teachers, said Mallon.

"It's not only needed in schools, it's needed in life," she said.

The program also focuses on keeping the lines communication open between parents and teachers.

"I've been teaching for 20 years, and for the first couple, I struggled with my communication," said Mallon.

The program was originally piloted in Alberta and sponsored by the Alberta Teachers' Association in the summer of 1999, said Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities associate director Val Riewe.

The two things people need to remember when dealing with conflicts are finding common ground and talking about the problem instead of making personal attacks, she said.

"We saw a need for teachers in particular, but all adults in schools to communicate better with each other," said Riewe.

She said many of the techniques used in the program are types of mediation, but the key to Healthy Interactions is not needing a third party to talk the problem out.

Huculak has seen positive changes in schools as a result of this program.

"There were two staff members really opposed to each other," said Huculak, talking about his job in Alberta.

"I was able to speak to them individually and then got them to talk to each other. It turned out to be a misunderstanding," he said.

Mallon said she has been working to get this program up-and-running for 18 months and is pleased the department of Education, Culture, and Employment identified Yk 1 to test the program out.

Neither Mallon nor Huculak are sure when the program will be seen in Yk 1 schools, but Huculak said he is aiming for September.

There is no set cost for running the program in Yellowknife yet, but two staff members from each Yk 1 school would have to be trained over a two-day period.

The staff members now trained as Healthy Interactions facilitators would then come back to the schools and organize four half-day sessions for all staff.

Riewe said approximately 15 school boards in Alberta can be trained for between $30,000 and $40,000.

Mallon said she has seen numbers indicating the program can be run for as low as $5,000.

She is hoping to run pilot programs in Fort Providence and Fort Simpson to see how it works in smaller communities.

"In order to sell this program across the NWT, we have to show it can work with large or small communities," said Mallon.

A report about the program and its costs will be presented to Yk 1 trustees on June 13, said Huculak.