Students learn conflict resolution at trustees' conference

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Photo: from left, Hafsa Maqsood, Shaye Anne Pierson, Grace Gunderson and Rachel Schuck attended a workshop at last week’s Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta fall general meeting.

Four high school students from Palliser Regional Schools learned conflict resolution skills at a day-long workshop offered by the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta.

The Oct. 20 session was part of the PSBAA’s fall general meeting. While school board trustees were in their own professional development sessions, more than two dozen students from across the province worked with consultant and conflict resolution expert Maurice Fritze.

Representing Palliser at this event were Grace Gunderson of Picture Butte High School; Hafsa Maqsood of Calgary Islamic School Akram Jomaa Campus; Shaye Pierson of Coalhurst High School; and Rachel Schuck from Heritage Christian Academy.

Maqsood, a Grade 12 student, says attending the provincial conference was an opportunity for personal growth in more ways than one.

This was her first overnight trip away from home, pushing this self-proclaimed introvert out of her comfort zone.

“I was rather nervous,” she says. “But everyone was so welcoming.”

She says Fritze’s session was her favourite part, as students learned about their own conflict personality styles.

The personality test came as a surprise, as Maqsood learned she is collaborating when it comes to handling conflict. She predicted she’d be more accommodating, giving in to others rather than trying to find a win-win solution.

Once back home from the Edmonton conference, Maqsood says she immediately did personality typing on her younger siblings.

She says she was thrilled to meet with other students from Palliser and beyond. The teens “exchanged Snapchats and Instagrams” and were able to “bond over a short amount of time.”

Gunderson, a Grade 10 student at Picture Butte High School, described the day as “enlightening.”

“I didn’t expect to have as much fun as I did,” she says.

She says one of the fun and challenging activities was a role playing opportunity. Students were paired off in a conflict scenario and were asked to adopt a conflict personality style different from their own. She played a homeowner concerned that  a large tree planted by a neighbour posed a potential safety hazard to her house.

“I always thought I was a compromising person, and this verified that I’m like that,” she says.

Gunderson says she was also impressed to learn about the work of school board trustees as advocates for students.

She and her conference roommate, Rachel Schuck from Heritage Christian Academy, “talk every day,” and the four Palliser students “clicked right away” when meeting for the first time.

The students will be attending Palliser’s third annual student leadership conference, “Discover U: Find the Strength in Us,” Nov. 9, where they’ll have another chance to connect in person.

“I’m excited to see them again,” Gunderson says.

Maqsood says she’s looking forward to sharing what she learned about conflict with her student leadership peers at AJ campus.

“One thing I really want to share with other people was about conflict resolution,” she says. “It’s a really important skill to have,” at school, in the community and even globally.

One critical piece of advice Maqsood took to heart was to be a good listener. In a conflict situation, listen to the other person’s point of view and summarize what you hear them say before you rebuke their viewpoint in any way.

Gunderson and Maqsood say they’d never met a school board trustee before, but having spent time with them, both have a new appreciation for this level of local government.

“I didn’t realize how large the role of the trustee is and how much politics is involved,” Maqsood says.

The students also attended a speech by Sandra Jansen, a Calgary Progressive Conservative MLA who is now vying for the party’s leadership.

This is the second consecutive year that PSBAA has invited member boards to invite students to participate as part of the association’s emphasis on student voice in education.