Have you ever witnessed conflict in a group? It is not pleasant. The tiny community of Cades Cove, Tennessee, had two Baptist churches. This pioneer village in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains had a population of only 685 at its height, but the Baptists could not worship together. A historical marker explains that the Baptist congregation split over a conflict on missionary work.

Conflict is very common in families, churches, and communities, and it can arise in a homeschool group also. Disagreements may stem from many sources, including unmet expectations, differing goals and views, misunderstandings, or hurt feelings. Fortunately, conflicts can be reduced in several ways.

Be Proactive

Proactive steps prevent tensions from growing into conflicts. Successful homeschool groups can be proactive by fostering an attitude of respect, sharing decision making among several people, crafting policies, and having a clear mission that everyone understands.

Attitude of Respect and Cooperation

An attitude of respect and cooperation lessens conflict. A group can foster an attitude of respect by emphasizing important values in life. The Mason Homeschool Co-op in Cincinnati, Ohio, has several practices that reinforce their values. They are a Christian homeschool group and begin each co-op day with prayer, depending on the Lord for wisdom, safety, and guidance. Group prayer emphasizes their foremost value: dependence on God. Secondly, they value families and the role of parents. Leaders defer to a child's parents in regard to any decisions that directly affect the child. Specifically, the leaders will go to a parent first with a behavior or discipline problem rather than instituting co-op-wide discipline policies. This practice establishes respect for the parents and their unique values and parenting styles.

The Mason Co-op requires everyone at the co-op to volunteer for two hours during each co-op day and then allows one "free" hour without obligations to teach or help in a class. This policy promotes the values of cooperation with others and caring for self. A co-op member said, "This co-op is better than others, because here everyone helps out; it's not just a few people doing all the work." Sharing the workload fosters cooperation. Offering free time to a homeschooling mother demonstrates respect for her need for refreshment, relaxation, and a chance to connect with other moms.

Examine your co-op practices to determine if they promote your group's values and priorities. For example, if your group professes that parents are the primary teachers, then conflicts may arise over having too many paid instructors.

Shared Decision Making

A board of leaders that discusses policies and problems can do a lot of preemptive work to avoid conflicts. One person should run not try to run a homeschool group single-handedly. The decision making should be shared among a board of at least three people. The Veritas Homeschool Co-op strives to have a good representation of co-op members on their board, including both new and experienced homeschoolers. Before the board makes major decisions, like a change in the time or date that the co-op meets, they question a few members for feedback. This helps to break the news gently and allows members a say in what happens in the group. The Veritas board makes decisions as a group, and this lessens conflict significantly.

Policies

A homeschool group needs a policy manual to guide it through decisions and conflicts. The primary purpose of a policy manual is to avoid problems before they come up. For example, if a member wishes to bring a sick child to co-op, but the policy states that sick children remain at home, a leader can avoid conflict with a parent on co-op day simply by pointing to the policy. A policy manual is best written when cool, impartial heads prevail. A policy manual might include the following topics: