This paper examined the principals’ strategies in managing conflict in secondary schools in Nigeria. Conflict as a concept has become so pervading, that it is part of life and existence itself. The paper looked at meaning, levels, types, causes and effects and concept of conflict management strategies. It was recommended among others that th e guidance and counselling committees in the schools should be strengthened so that they can educate the students on better ways of handling conflict. School authorities should complement reward students’ good behaviors and to encourage them to behave well in school. Peer mediation teams should be established with selected students who are well behaved and equipped with conflict resolution skills to help the schools handle interpersonal conflict. This group could be trained periodically by the district education office, civil society, or any community-based or non-governmental organization which is interested in conflict management so that basic schools in the district would have relatively reduced conflict environment. It is also necessary for students to be educated on all the conflict resolution mechanisms in the schools and sanctions for certain offences.
In life, conflict is an inevitable phenomenon in any system that requires human being, their presence and interaction in its operations. It is therefore easy to say that life without conflict is incomplete. Individual often finds him/herself, at crossroads over certain decisions. Organizational members (including family members) often clash over vital decisions involving resources, policy issues and/or direction, matters of communication and interdependence. There can be conflicts about (a) the perception of how things are (conflict of facts); (b) how things should or ought to be (conflict of values); and (c) who is entitled to have what (conflict of interests) (Onwe & Nwogbagba, 2014). It is therefore not an aberration to expect conflicts in school management systems. However, these conflicts and crisis sometimes grow to enormous proportions where they become detrimental to the involved parties and the organisations as their regular occurrences largely affect effective management and productivity. It is in the light the implications of conflict and crisis for management and productivity that we deemed it necessary to examine their causes in the school system.
In Nigeria and most other parts of the world, conflicts occur from time to time and students are being controlled and guided in schools by rules and regulations, school time table and curriculum contents etc. these however affects students’ behaviour and learning, teachers who implement the organizational control patterns are also faced with other statutory duties such as updating continuous assessment records class registers, diaries and scheme of work. The principals and teachers do have constraints than any other as they are required to be diligent, honest and responsible, irrespective of the conflicts that could arise in the schools while performing these roles. Therefore, when conflict arises, they must be managed with a view to resolving them, using either of these strategies: integrating, compromising, avoiding, and dominating.
From the forgoing, it should be stated that the school as a social system has its own norms and values and it is characterized by complex relationships between members of the system: principals, teachers, non-teaching staff and students. Due to the high degree of interdependence of duties and individual differences in role expectations, conflicts do arise from different circumstances and situations among members of the school system and would be addressed by the application of the above mentioned strategies.
Concept of Principal
The word principal may mean different things to several people. It is commonly and frequently used with reference to educational institutions. There can be no simple statement as to who a principal is, for our idea of a principal depends to some extent on our perception of him, especially of the way he carries out his task or deals with problems facing him. The principal is regarded by some people as an administrator because he administers the affairs of the school. He is also regarded by other as a dictator because he gives orders and gets things done quickly without question. In the school situation he may be called a disciplinarian and a manager, because of the way he handles discipline and runs the affairs of the school (Ogbu, 2014).
Onyeike and Nwosu (2018) posited that the principal is a standard setter, one who leads in the development of an aspiration and expectation on the part of both teachers and pupils to do good work. He assists the teachers with their problems of improving methods, materials and evaluation and thus provides a good measure of quality control. Principals can help teachers improve their testing techniques and develop their ability to analyze and interpret data. The principal as an administrator needs to possess certain administrative skills to effectively perform his duty. Bennel (2004) stated that within the secondary school system, the principal stands out as the chief executive of the school; he is also the school administrator, the instructional leader, the personnel manager for both the pupils (students) and staff personnel.
Concept of Conflict
Conflict as a concept has become so pervading, that it is part of life and existence itself. The term conflict has been defined differently by several scholars. Chukwu (2014), defined conflict as the behaviour of an individual, a group, or an organisation which impedes or restricts (at least temporarily) another party from attaining its desired goals. He furthered stated that although conflict may impede the attainment of one’s goals, the consequences may be beneficial if they produce new information which, in turn, enhances the decision-making, lengthy delays over issues which do not importantly affect the outcome of the project, or an disintegration of the team’s efforts.
Adeyemi and Ademilua (2012) defined conflict as all forms of opposition, disagreement, friction between two or more parties and it manifests in the forms of arguments, protests, demonstration, aggression and other destructive behaviours. In the same vein, Mboya, Kiplagat and Yego (2017) defined conflict as a dispute, opposition or disagreements between individuals or groups of people. They further added that conflict occurs when people take opposing stands concerning issues and this can be expressed verbally or through actions. This indicates that conflict occurs when one party suggestion and interest is being opposed by another party. The researcher defined conflict as the disagreement or opposition between two or more parties arising from difference in value, interest and role preferences.
Stretching further, Onyedike (2011) defined conflict as opposition of persons or forces that give rise to some tension. Thus, it is a kind of disagreements or opposition between groups, individuals or between the organization and an individual or groups of individuals. Ohwnon, Omotor and Atubi (2012), defined conflict as range of arguments, tensions and violent that occurs both within and between states. They furthered stated that conflict is present when two or more parties perceive that their interests are incompatible, express hostile attitude or take, pursue their interests through actions that damage the other parties. These parties may be individuals, small or large groups and countries.
Ositoye, Adebayo, Alade and Omolade (2012) attributed conflict to be a clash of interests, values, actions or directions that often spark the phenomenon (conflict). Therefore, conflict exists when the reduction of one motivating stimulus involves an increase in another, so that a new adjustment is demanded. In addition, conflict is the inability of one of these parties i.e. managers and workers, to reach agreement on any issue connected with employer-employees interaction, whether or not this ability results in strikes or other forms of protestations.
Conflict is equally a mental or spiritual struggle within, often unconscious, resulting from the opposition, clashing or variance of opposed principles, statements, arguments or the simultaneous functioning of mutual exclusive impulses, desires or tendencies. Onoyase (2010) defined conflict as the violent collision, a struggle or context, a battle or a mental struggle which can be destructive in any organization.
Oresajo (2016) noted that conflict is not always negative; but the way it is handled may produce negative impacts. He further stressed that conflicts can be used constructively, if handled properly. For instance, we live in a world where everyone thinks and acts differently; meaning that we do not perceive things in the same way. Therefore, differences are bound to arise from time to time on various subject matters that are expressed through various ways. Every time when conflict situation arises, where differences are being identified, it must be addressed and an appropriate resolution must be reached. Failure to address differences will eventually lead to crisis and undesirable consequences. In an organization, crisis situation does not arise over the night. In most cases, differences must have been on for a period of time, neglected, left unattended to, storing negative energies, which eventually is bound to bust one day. When it happens, those responsible are surprised, then question of "how this could have happened?" will come to mind. In fact, one should be surprised, how come people just left this unnoticed, unattended to that has become so big a crisis (Sudhakar I. Prabuhttp://www.tpmc.in/lew.html). Conflict is endemic in all social life. It is an inevitable part of living because it is related to situations of scarce resources, division of functions, power relations and role-differentiation (Bercovitch, 2011).
Conflicts may exist when students violate the school rules, students not doing manual work, students not respecting teachers, students engaging in vices like theft, fights, bullying or not attending lessons; teachers not respecting the principal or not completing curriculum, the principal’s style of leadership demeaning teachers and disregarding students, among others (Mboya, Kiplagat & Yego, 2017). These conflicts have negative effects on the school administration; lowering teachers’ morale, students’ discipline and also hampering the general interpersonal relationships in an institution of learning (Okorji & Nzekwe, 2019). Bano, Ashraf and Sumita (2013) stressed that conflicts are not always bad. The concern is how they are managed. When conflicts are constructively managed, they add value to the organization as opposed to when they are poorly managed; they turn destructive (Mboya, Kiplagat & Yego, 2017).
Levels of Conflicts
These are the common types of conflicts existing in public secondary schools that school heads need to know and learn how to manage them effectively. These conflicts occur at the work place when two or more people disagree over issues of organizational substance and or experience some emotional opposition with one another (Ignace, 2014).
Level I: Difference
At this level, the goal is to resolve the conflict. There is a free exchange of undistorted information. The emotional tone is that anticipation and confidence in the ability of the parties to resolve the differences.
Level II: Dispute
At this level, the goal has shifted to losing as little as possible. The exchange of information has now become guarded. The parties in the conflict often prepare calculated or rehearsed or premeditated as opposed to spontaneous messages. The emotional tone has becomes that of forced politeness and anxious impatience.
Level III: Contention
At this level, the goal is no longer to find mutually acceptable level of gain or loss, it is to win. The parties exchange information not for the purpose of resolving the problem but to prove something. The emotional tone is stressful. Exchanges are heated because the parties fear losing. At the later stages, the parties are frustrated and exchange anger toward opponents and sometimes their partners.
Level IV: Limited Welfare
The goal is now to diminish the opponent’s power so that the opponent is no longer a threat. Both parties to the conflict begin actively to seek out political allies. Whatever facts were originally at issues are completely obscured. The fight has taken on a life of its own, the emotional tone is to hurt, anger and disgust.
Types of Conflicts
Nnam (2013) identified five types of conflict and these include:
Conflict within the individual: This arises from uncertainty about organisation expectation or the situation where work conflict with other demands personal to the individual (intra personal).
Conflict between individual: This is usually caused by personality difference, for instance, conflict between the manager and the subordinates (inter personal).
Conflict between individuals and group: This arises from the methods adopted by an individual to conform to the group norms (Intra Group conflict).
Conflict between groups in the same organization: This arises from series of factors such as role conflict, power struggle and so on. For instance, management and line staff conflict, labour management conflict (Inter Group conflict), etc.
Conflict between organizations: This is usually caused by economic factors such as innovation, price war, market share conflict etc (Inter organizational conflict).
Causes of Conflicts in the Secondary School System.
Onyedike (2011) identified various causes of conflict in secondary school. These include;
1. Lack of Motivation: For employees to stay on the job and become effective members of a workforce they have to be motivated so as to drive the required job satisfaction from their jobs. He further stressed that, it is recognized that the success of any school programme depends on the performance of teacher.
2. Anti-authority may result to conflict in secondary school. Thus, in every school, there are some people who are chronically anti-authority. They always complain and feel oppressed by the establishment. Any impersonal bureaucratic behaviour is perceived negatively and subsequently highly resented. For example some staff will frown at any little demand such as signing the time book as repressive. Such chronic deviants easily become the convenient rally point for growing dissatisfaction in others (Onyedike, 2011).