1000 Subscribers and Growing!
The number of subscribers to The School
by 50 per month, and in March we welcomed our
1000th subscriber: Kenneth Fox, JD, of Hamline
University in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.
To begin his winning streak (he wrote: "This is the first
time I've ever
'won' anything!"), we sent him a copy of The School
Mediator's Field Guide.
Taking stock of our mailing list, we
discovered that in
addition to subscribers throughout North America,
individuals from the following countries subscribe
to The School Mediator:
The United Kingdom
Welcome to the April issue of The School Mediator.
The responses to last month's issue (see below) are a
testament to the thoughtfulness and passion of this
community. It is a great pleasure serving you.
This month's feature story discusses the limited
ability of peer mediation programs to create fundamental
change in schools.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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|No, Peer Mediation Does Not Change Schools
|To renovate a house, you need a hammer. For certain
tasks, a hammer is essential. But it would be lunacy to
think that you could refurbish an entire house with a
When educators first discover peer mediation, many
believe that simply implementing this program will change
their school. Back in 1984, I was one of them. I
assumed that the efforts necessary to make mediation
programs successful would inevitably and fundamentally
transform the schools in which they were implemented.
Almost 20 years later, I understand how na´ve I was. I
expected that I could renovate a house with a hammer
Now if peer mediation is a hammer, it is certainly an
impressive one: It is a powerful tool that can serve both
as a means to reinvigorate schools, and as an end in
But experience has taught me that peer mediation's
ability to influence change is most clearly felt not on the
institutional, but on the inter- and intra-personal levels.
Here are two examples of such change:
*Many students and adults integrate the skills,
attitudes and understanding about people that they learn
through mediating into the way they live their lives.
Significant numbers report that they are "never the
same," and that this work has enabled them to manage
life's challenges more skillfully.
*Parties--young people as well as adults--often
decisions during mediation that change them. Most
basically, the overwhelming majority choose to resolve
their conflicts peacefully. In addition, however, many
parties choose to learn about themselves or their
adversary, alter their behaviors or attitudes, take
responsibility for their mistakes, and even forgive
themselves or another person. All are potentially
Some might argue that these changes within and among
individuals add up; that simply having a peer mediation
program in school indicates to students that their voices
are valued; that the education of administrators and
teachers required to make peer mediation viable might
lead to more fundamental changes within schools.
I agree. Taken together, these factors can lead
shift in the way people feel about their school,
and in a
small way make schools safer and more caring places to
work and learn.
But change schools? Peer mediation hardly touches the
guts of a school, essentials like the content that
students are taught, the methodologies employed to
teach them, and the processes used for evaluation. (Not
to mention, among other factors, who students are
required to learn with, who chooses the content
educators must teach, and the setting in which students
are obliged to learn.)
I am not alone in suspecting that many core elements of
the contemporary school are worthy of re-evaluation and
potentially radical change.
But it is folly to expect that implementing a peer
mediation program does more than scratch the surface of
Every school year, thousands of students are trained to
be mediators, and these students in turn assist tens of
thousands of their peers to resolve interpersonal
conflicts. The schools in which they operate, for better
and for worse, fundamentally remain the same.
Peer mediation programs do provide educators
process that effectively resolves conflicts so that
students and teachers can focus on the task at hand.
Peer mediation programs do enable students and
teachers to convert their disputes into opportunities for
empowerment and a deep kind of learning we sometimes
refer to as personal growth. And the programs do this
within an environment that, sadly, is often lacking in
Although there is much more to be done, for me, that is
I like a good hammer.
Send us your thoughts...
| Student Mediators are Born, Not Made (cont.)
|Once again we received many responses to last
month's feature article in which an experienced peer
mediation coordinator described his difficulty teaching
students to be effective mediators. Here are just a few.
(These opinions do not
necessarily reflect the views of School Mediation
The comments in "Student Mediators are Born, Not
Made" are refreshing in their honesty, if somewhat
discouraging. It certainly does seem true that not
everyone is cut out to be a mediator, but I'm not sure
the problem rests solely with the mediators.
Much of the school peer mediation training I've seen is
heavily focused on skills, process and technique. I think
mediators will use any intervention techniques more
skillfully and genuinely if they have thought carefully
through why they are mediating, have explored what
they believe about what parties in conflict need, and
understand how the techniques and skills being taught fit
with the principles that underlie the approach.
Yes, this is (yawn) theory, but it's also the "why" that
underlies the "what" that mediators are doing.
Donna Turner Hudson
Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation
Charleston, Illinois, USA
What an incredibly arrogant and European opinion
expressed by the author of "Student Mediators are Born,
Not Made." The author may be a superb mediator, but
he is obviously not an educator.
If he were knowledgeable of the laws of learning, he
would understand when and how student mediators are
ready to perform the functions of a mediator. Just
because he has "trained," doesn't mean they have
learned! The learning process requires: readiness,
exercise, effect, primacy, intensity, and regency. If
these laws of learning are not incorporated into the
mediation training process, he has not taught and the
students have not learned.
I also find it interesting that his comments concern
non-European students. Could there be a bias? Again,
such a bias would suggest that his training is not even
He himself sounds wonderfully effective in his ability to
mediate. I'm so disappointed that he doesn't strive to
facilitate his student mediators to be just as wonderful
Office of Education, Mayor's Office
Columbus, Ohio, USA
I have been a volunteer mediator for a local agency for
about 5 years now. During that time I have taken
several mediation trainings, including neighborhood,
schools, juvenile offender-victim, workplace, and several
mediation conference trainings. I am "certified" with our
local program, and am at their highest "level" of
mediators. I also coordinated a workplace mediation
program for a year.
My own perspective is that it takes lots more than one
or two or three trainings to "make" a mediator. There
may be a few people who take to it instantly, but they
are rare, and whether they had some "mediator gene"
activated at birth, or simply other relevant life
experience, is besides the point to me.
I think mediators can be trained, but for most I think it
takes a lot more time and experience than typical
mediation trainings provide. I have observed, or
mediated with, other "top level" mediators who made
what I consider egregious errors in the mediation
process. They didn't follow the guidelines, and did not
recognize their errors. I am very sure I have done the
It is interesting to think that in 20 to 40 hours we would
expect to undo a lifetime of learning non-listening skills.
Actually, I think we can figure out ways to unlearn and
relearn, but I am not sure the trainings I have
participated in have been able to do that in those few
hours. Nonetheless, they have provided a very valuable
beginning, for me at least.
What I think is worth pondering is whether the student
trainings currently being given are producing worthwhile
results, even if they are not the best results possible.
Are student programs doing more good than harm? And
how can we change trainings to be more effective, or
have the courage to ask trainees who are not effective
to stop mediating until they can be more so?
Vancouver, Washington, USA
I'm not sure that I would say mediators are born not
made. I would say that the skills that mediators must
possess are skills that need to be learned and instilled
long before young people reach the age when they can
mediate. Social skills education should be taught schools
and more importantly at home starting early on.
Last night at a school event I noticed that a friend of my
7-year-old daughter felt left out by her and her other
I found it necessary to point this out to my daughter, as
I have with other similar situations, and to explain the
significance of her behavior. At this age, I do not
believe it comes naturally to children to think about other
people's feelings. We adults must bring it to their
I know many adults who feel that children should be left
alone to work these things out and figure out socially
acceptable behavior, but I couldn't disagree more.
Helping your child see another perspective and
understand where another person is coming from is as
important as teaching a child how to read or write.
The bottom line is, mediation training alone is not
enough. There needs to be more emphasis on
"compassion training." This I believe can be learned and
should become an integral aspect of all conflict resolution
and peer mediation efforts.
School Mediation Associates
Newton, MA USA
I often feel the same frustration about inadequate peer
mediators. I have weekly after-school meetings with the
mediators and their attendance is sporadic and attention
wandering. However, I have tried to keep two things in
mind in regards to the peer mediators:
First, when I am observing mediations and I notice that
the mediator is leaving steps out, I take silent, deep
breaths and try to wait until the last possible second
before stepping in to do the steps myself. My reasoning
is this: sometimes "failure" is the best way to learn from
Also, I try to detach my ego from the outcomes of the
mediation. I have no idea if what I perceive as a
positive outcome is what all parties involved actually
need or receive.
I feel that as mediators, we are planting seeds. Who
knows how long it will take the seeds to germinate, both
for the student mediators and the students receiving
For some students, mediation my be the first time in their
lives that they are in a controlled setting where they can
talk about conflict in a calm and rational way. In my
opinion, there is no way to quantify this experience.
There are no failures in peer mediation as long as we
enter the experience with an open heart!
Peer Mediation Coordinator
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
As a trained mediator who has trained adults and
children, I can say both groups can have a number in
their ranks that have the innate ability to mediate all
kinds of conflicts.
As for children, I have found that most schools have
short (1-2 weeks at maximum) training periods.
Substantive follow-up training must occur--having not
only the teachers reinforce skills, but also outside trained
mediators to assist (e.g., lawyers, other trained
mediators from the courts and the business sector).
Children quickly get the impression that what they have
learned is just for them and their peers in their particular
setting. Outsiders add that little extra to the training and
enables children to see that these skills truly follow them
from their school setting into the real world.
Undoubtedly, some cases (Luis and Maria, for example)
should be mediated by an adult--simply because of the
nature of the content. This is why I emphasize lots of
training for the teachers so they can assist in the
mediation of certain disputes in the schools, even those
Houston Harris County, Texas, USA
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|For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates
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mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform
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