18 Tips: How to Resolve Conflict in a Homeschool Organization

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Last Updated on April 9, 2024 by Sarah McCubbin

One of the biggest struggles that homeschool leaders must navigate is how to resolve conflict and handle people situations. Most leaders don’t have a lot of experience in this area but when chaos happens it can cause distrust and negative emotions. 

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The good news is that conflict doesn’t have to cause chaos in an homeschool group…or any organization. It can actually be an amazing opportunity to exchange ideas, clarify policies and make your organization stronger. Very few people have a lot of life experience handling conflict in a positive way.

We are not born with conflict resolution skills. For leaders to develop interpersonal skills to handle difficult situations, it takes a lot of intention and emotional awareness. New leaders are often surprised by the issues that pop up in their group. 

My name is Sarah. I’ve been a homeschooling parent for 16 years and a homeschool leader for 12. For 6 of those years, I was the Director of a homeschool co-op that had about 130 students from Preschool to High School. Our co-op was a “restarted” co-op that had been on sabbatical for a year when the previous director moved out of state.

I stepped up to lead with a group of other women. And during those six years we saw ALL KINDS of little and big conflicts pop up in our group. Maybe you can relate to the issues we had to navigate: 

  • Parents didn’t agree on the curriculum
  • Someone didn’t like a teacher
  • Hearsay that a student did or said something
  • Bullying
  • People nitpicking on how money was spent
  • People disagreeing with the leadership
  • Gossiping 
  • Parents not helping in their assigned positions
  • Teachers who were constantly absent or leaving class early
  • …and much more!
tips how to resolve conflict in a homeschool group

Fill in the blank and your brain can imagine all the issues that can pop up in a group with 50 families where everyone is a volunteer. It’s a lot. Unlike an organization with staff members, a homeschool group is often led and run by mostly volunteers. Volunteer parents are already juggling a lot in their personal lives beyond their leadership responsibilities. 

Basic Tips How to Resolve Conflict

The strategies behind conflict resolution simple steps to work toward a peaceful solution. By working step by step through a process, the involved parties will ideally be able to find the best way to solve a problem. 

1. Identify the issue causing conflict

2. Ask to speak to the Person Causing the Conflict – often people want to talk ABOUT the person or situation. It’s better to go to that person first and say, “Hey, I think we might have a problem…” 

3. Arrange for a private place to talk.

4. Present the conflict and listen carefully. Let everyone say what they need to say.  (It is helpful if someone takes notes to observe patterns). 

5. Look into the situation

6. Work together to decide the common goal in the resolution.

7. Choose the solution and specify what each person needs to do as part of the resolution.

8. Decide how to prevent the problem in the future. 

Conflict in a Homeschool Group

Disagreements are a normal part of doing life with other people. We naturally see things through different lenses. We have opinions and experiences that may lead to us seeing problems from different perspectives. All of that is normal. 

However, many people including leaders of homeschool groups have difficulty knowing how to resolve conflict when problems pop up. Some leaders are avoiders. They stick their head in the sand and don’t want to deal with problems. Others run head first loudly toward a situation and boisterously react…often stepping on toes in the process. Most people are somewhere in the middle. 

The problem with conflict is that it often arises quickly…and catches us off guard. It makes it hard to think through decisions in an unbiased way. And when leaders try to resolve a problem, members of the group may take sides or think there is favoritism. 

It doesn’t have to be that way!!

tips how to resolve conflict in a homeschool group

Effective Conflict Management Begins With Your Handbook

One of the easiest ways to have healthy relationships and positive outcomes to conflict is to begin with a homeschool handbook that outlines policies for how to resolve conflict in the group. When our co-op was officially restarted, I took on the roll of resolving a LOT of the little disagreements that came up through co-op. It was EXHAUSTING.

I was on the phone calling this person and that person…trying to get to the root of problems and find the best solution that led to common ground and mutual respect. The first year was the hardest because we had so many new components in the group…new people, teachers, location, structure, classes and more.

That first year, we were often trying to create a solution for things that were not addressed in our handbook. It felt personal somehow…making decisions that were not guided by our handbook. It took us longer to make decisions because we didn’t have a guide. So by Year 2 of our co-op restart, our board had started to added more policies to our handbook. 

Now every year, before registration for the new co-op year begins, we  update our handbook to address issues we are seeing as a repeat pattern. 

Enforcing policies that are already spelled out is MUCH EASIER than trying to navigate situations that have no ground rules in place. 

Thinking of Starting a Homeschool Co-op? I Can Help!

Have New Members Sign Your Handbook Before Joining

In order for the handbook to be a useful tool, leaders must use it as a reference at every opportunity. 

  • Visitor days
  • Orientation
  • Emails
  • Teacher Days
  • Parent Meetings
  • …and of course while dealing with problems

As you introduce new members to your co-op, refer to the handbook often so that when you need to refer to it to resolve problems, they will easily understand that this is the way your group resolves problems consistently. 

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Prevent Conflict By Asking For Input on Everything

As a board, it is easy to develop a little bit of tunnel vision when you are trying to solve problems, make a plan for the next school year or create policies. For a number of years, our board would only meet quarterly during most of the year.

The problems with that was that we would end up with a pile of things to deal with all at once. And in the interest of time, we would sometimes, work through the list quickly and make decisions so that we could move the planning for the next year forward. 

Now, our board meets monthly. The list of things to talk about is much shorter. And because we are meeting regularly, we will often use those meetings to jumpstart new topics that we will talk about with our co-op members. Over the years, I have learned that people feel valued if you ask their opinion…even if your board doesn’t choose to do what everyone suggests.

Best Books on Leading Homeschool Groups

Refer to Your Handbook When Conflict Arises

We started to realize we might have a problem one year when we had a problem with a teacher. She was leaving her class about 15 minutes early each week to pick up her son from a nearby career center. This wasn’t something she had addressed before agreeing to teach…and it wasn’t something she ever mentioned to the board. We had to discover it after it had been happening for awhile on top of other issues we had been having. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work. But we didn’t have THIS issue spelled out in our handbook. While we were in the process of trying to resolve things with a positive outcome, the teacher said, “What policy in the handbook have I violated by leaving early?” The board was all a little surprised. I mean…we didn’t have a policy about that. We just assumed that it was understood.

The situation with the teacher spiraled over almost a month with a handful of different issues. Other members were talking. People started taking sides. It felt tense.

At that point, we realized that we simply COULD NOT include every scenario in our handbook. It wasn’t possible and some situations were so unique that we didn’t really want to develop a whole policy to address them. So, we decided to include a single sentence our handbook that said something like this. “Any issues that arise that are not addressed in this handbook will be decided by the board.” 

For whatever reason, it just made it easier in the future to point people to the handbook and remind them that the board would decide issues that came up. Having that disclaimer alleviated so much stress in the problem because we felt like it gave us something to easily refer people to. 

tips how to resolve conflict in a homeschool group

Your Handbook Should Have a Conflict Policy and Discipline Policy

The two biggest sources of disagreement in a homeschool co-op are going to be disagreements between adults…and then discipline problems with students. Hopefully both are rare!

However, the best thing you can do is to have BOTH policies written up BEFORE you need them. Your conflict policy specifically needs to include how individuals handle interpersonal disagreements between each other…and when an individual has a problem with the whole board. (Imagine if your board went rogue and was not doing what the members wanted in any way.)

Here is a Sample Handbook with both kinds of policies included. 

Include Your Board Member’s Contact Information In Your Handbook

Near the beginning of your handbook, it is a good idea to put the names of all of your board members and their contact information. When someone is new to a group, it can be hard to remember who is who and what their roles are. Our handbook has our email and phone number and our board roles. If you have committee heads, you might want to include them here as well. 

*Note* – If you put a copy of your handbook on your public facing website, you may want to post an edited copy of your handbook without your board member information to post publicly.

Communicate in Writing via Email During  a Difficult Conflict

If you are in the middle of a conflict where emotions are running high, it is a good idea to slow things down and communicate via email. When you communicate via email, you have a written record of what was said (and not said.) Someone difficult members will talk around and say “this person said this” etc. By keeping the communication in writing only, you can BCC other members of your board when you are replying to a member. 

In addition, during a difficult time, it can be helpful to appoint one person as the one dealing with the disagreement. That way all communication is going back and forth between them and the other party…but there aren’t separate conversations happening with other board members. The designated communicator can BCC their communication to the board so everyone is informed. 

If a Conflict Is Unresolvable, Consider How to Amicably Part Ways

In conflict situations, it isn’t always possible to find a way through it where everyone stays in the group. If the board decides that a member and their family need to leave, consider how you may offer a peaceful resolution. Maybe the children can finish the year (if co-op is nearly over.) Maybe the family receives a partial refund. Maybe they can come to social events but not the regular co-op. Every situation is unique and different. 

If possible find a way to part in a healthy way. 

Several years ago, our co-op went through a terrible split after I stepped down as Director. It was surprising and terrible and divided friends. In the end, the two groups parted ways, but the ones hurt the most in the split were the kids. In the year after the split, I saw moms second guessing themselves and kids hurting. While it is not always possible to avoid damaging relationships, it may be if both parties reach a mutual understanding that they can agree with. 

​If needed  work with a Neutral Third Party

 Call a Homeschool Group Consultant

Last year, I had the privilege of helping  homeschool leaders work through a variety of problems. In one situation, I had a leader contact me who knew another leader  had a problem with her, but due to personality and communication differences was struggling to figure out why and what she should do about it. It was incredibly insightful for her to have the self-awareness to solve her side of the problem before it escalated. We worked together for a few sessions over a 6 week period and she was able to resolve the situation gracefully. 

As homeschool leaders, we find ourselves in the middle of conflicting parties at times. As part of effective conflict resolution, sometimes we need to seek outside help. The third party may not have any more expertise than the leaders, but sometimes the third party can lead to better results because they act as a sounding board for both sides of the issue. 

If you or your group need help navigating group conflict, don’t hesitate to reach out. As a leader, you are great at fixing things. But if you come up against something that is causing you a ton of stress, its not worth it to figure it out alone. In my experience, it can be lonely at the top and it doesn’t have to be that way. I’d love to help you figure out how to solve your group’s problem in a way that leads to a better understanding of each other and unity going forward.

Let  your leadership style take the healthy approach that in conflict everyone CAN win. Healthy relationships can be restored and difficult situations can become valuable learning experiences for everyone involved IF that is the goal and if that is cultivated. 

Sarah McCubbin, founder of Ten Minute Momentum, is dedicated to helping parents confidently parent their kids by teaching life skills, social skills and leadership skills. As a child she was the kid that never quite fit in and is on a mission to help others understand the building blocks we all need to be successful adults. She lives in Ohio with her husband Mike, and 9 kids ranging in age from 5 to 21 where they use homeschool, private school and public schools for their kids education!

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