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School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment,
Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the May issue of
This month I discuss a few of the apparent
limitations of some popular peer mediation models.
take a moment to
send along your
thoughts and experiences.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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| Model Problems
Most peer mediation programs train mediators to follow a
specific structure or set of steps each time they
Student mediators depend upon these mediation
"models." In fact, mediators usually have the steps on
paper in front of them while they conduct sessions.
To illustrate, the steps in the early phases of a
mediation session might typically include the following:
-Welcome the parties
-Explain the ground rules
-Listen to the first party
-Ask questions of the first party
-Summarize the first party's story
How did peer mediation pioneers come up with the steps
in their mediation models?
For the most part, they made them up.
That's right. They applied their own experiences as
mediators, their knowledge of other available models, and
their understanding of young people and what they need
when resolving conflicts, and they simply made them up.
As a result, we now have a multiplicity of peer mediation
models applied throughout the world.
I think this diversity is good for a variety of reasons.
But I am not a relativist. I believe that there are
practices, or at least better practices: Given a
age group, setting, and type of conflict, some models will
produce better results--sounder resolutions, greater
personal growth, more efficient use of time--than
Certainly on balance, peer mediation models are far more
similar than they are different, more like comparing
different varieties of tomatoes than comparing a tomato
to an onion.
But the differences can be dramatic (especially to
someone who spends much of his time thinking about this
One model might direct mediators to ask parties what
they want at the exact moment that another model
would have mediators ask each party to summarize the
other's perspective. One model will encourage parties to
directly to each other when another will separate the
parties and have them speak to the mediators in private.
As far as I know (someone correct me if I am wrong), no
research studies exist that have isolated and then
measured the effectiveness of one mediation model
against another. Quantitatively speaking, then, we are in
the dark: we have little data to help determine whether
one model works better than another.
For me, however, three particular aspects of middle/high
school models are red flags of their potential deficiency.
Unfortunately, I see them surprisingly often.
As I have described in a previous issue of this newsletter, I am far from
infallible. But if your model recommends
any of the three actions below, you better have a good
reason (which I hope you will send to me!).
1. Parties are asked to resolve their conflict very
Here, mediators ask parties "What do you want to solve
this?" immediately after the disputants describe their
stories. The first party to speak actually explains how
they want to resolve the problem before hearing
other party's perspective. This leads to shallow
agreements and wasted time by encouraging parties to
Instead, we want parties to learn as much as they
about the problem, including, if they desire, about the
other party's perspective, before they commit to
how they want to solve the conflict.
2. Parties are never encouraged to speak to each
This limitation upsets me greatly when I come across it.
these models, mediators are always the communication
"go-between." Parties explain their initial stories to the
mediators, who then quickly separate the parties and
meet with them in private, and finally the group
assembles so that everyone can be informed (by the
mediators primarily!) of what has been said and what is
Mediators need to get out of the way, and let the
parties--the people who are going to have to
after the session--take a more active role in addressing
each other and their concerns.
3. Models that take a rigid approach to the use
One of the major differences in models, dating back to
the earliest days of peer mediation, is whether to employ
"private sessions." Private sessions refer to when
mediators meet with parties separately and explore their
perspectives in private. To my mind, they are an
essential tool. But problems arise when mediators are
required to take private sessions every time they
parties from speaking directly to one another as
described above) or not at all (leading to shallow
resolutions because "deeper" issues never surface).
Mediators should be encouraged to use private
as needed; not every time or not at all.
The mediation model that you use does make a
What are your thoughts? And how does your model
Respond and have your insights sent
across the globe.
View the most current iteration of School Mediation Associates' 5-stage mediation model (used for students ages 12 and up), as well as the drawings we use to "illustrate" our model.
| Response to "Peer Mediators Caught in Drug Bind"
Below are a few of the comments we received in
response to last month's newsletter about drug use and
confidentiality in peer mediation.
Ten years ago, when I first started as a peer mediation
coordinator, a student approached me to conduct a
mediation concerning a drug sale and payment that had
not been made. She had great concern about physical
I didn't do a lot of soul searching. I simply found the
first couple of mediators who walked past my office
during passing time. It must have been the
end-of-the-day Friday type thing.
At any rate, they were successful in assisting the parties
to come to an agreement. It never did become violent.
The biggest fallout was that one of the mediators had
sincere concerns about the use of drugs and needed to
Mediation coordinators are exposed to poor decision
making by young people all the time, and there are few
issues that don't have a reportable
component--under-aged sex, drinking, driving under the
influence, assault and battery, threats, cheating, theft,
etc. It is always appropriate for the mediation
coordinator to "be the adult" in private during the intake
interview, but to go beyond
confronting (and perhaps giving personal
advice) in private, to reporting information to outside
sources, is a
If students knew their issues were open for review
outside the program (and they will know!), we in effect
take from them the opportunity to deal with their
conflicts in a productive manner.
Students will not feel
safe enough to try mediation if they do not feel
protected by confidentiality. The exceptions, including
threats to do harm to oneself or others in the future
should always be honored, but these are stated in our
opening remarks and the parties know these before they
Peer Mediation Coordinator
Anchorage, Alaska, USA
I agree with your article. For a peer mediation program
to be successful, the school must have mediators who
are willing to follow the guidelines. On numerous
occasions while training especially high school students,
this question of drugs and drinking always is asked.
It is hard for the mediators to make the right decisions.
As you stated, if they inform the Coordinator, then they
run the risk of not being trusted, which could have a
negative impact upon the program. On the other hand,
they might miss a disputant who is calling out for help.
My call is to have the Coordinator explain the
responsibility of being a mediator. If a student does not
feel comfortable with that, then as you have said, they
should not be given this responsibility.
The success of the program is based on the fact that all
mediators accept their responsibility, even if it means
having to listen to negative comments. In the long run, I
do believe those students will be able to live with the
decisions they have made.
J. Frank Rizzo, MHR
Peer Mediation Coordinator
Amigos In Mediation
Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Schools are safety nets for kids. We see the conflicts,
problems, the family issues, the depression, the eating
disorders and the
drug abuse, to name a few. Kids count on the adults to
pick up on their red
I have been a Health teacher, a district-wide Substance
Coordinator and now a Safe Schools Program
Coordinator. Currently, I supervise peer mediation for 22
My advice when training coordinators is yes, peer
mediators must disclose any
potential harm that they may witness during the
mediation sessions to their
Although the pattern of abuse that you describe in your
pertinent to adults, it is not always true for
adolescents. Adolescent drug use is often at the root of
the conflicts presented in the
mediation ("I only did it because I drank too much...was
money..etc.") Any use can be dangerous and lead to
other behavior problems.
Awareness of substance use indicates a need for the
adults to respond. By
Safe and Drug Free Schools mandates (a federally funded
program that almost
all schools access) and No Child Left Behind, it would be
difficult for an
adult to try to explain why they did not report
information to the substance
abuse specialist in their school. Only a professional can
determine the extent
of the problem and make appropriate referrals when
So my advice to Peer Mediation Coordinators is this: be
very clear during student
training that substance abuse is going to be responded
seriously but confidentially. It is not something that the
students nor the
adults should determine as a problem or not. It is our job
to get people
help. Those students should be referred to the SAP to
word of caution to adults other than certified counselors,
there are no
confidentiality laws that would protect a teacher in
information and not reporting it. If we suspect a child is
being harmed in
any way we MUST report that to the proper people in
the school. If you do
not have a Student Assistance Program, then talk to
guidance. The principal
and assistant principal can also help you with this
This comes up a lot, and once you establish a pattern to
respond, it becomes
easier to handle. Peer Mediation is one way to help
young people deal constructively with their problems
numb out with drugs.
Safe Schools Coordinator
Manchester School District
Manchester, NH, USA
| About Us
For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates
has been devoted to the application and promotion of
mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform
schools into safer, more caring, and more effective
institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens
of thousands of people around the world.
Call us: 617-926-0994
Post us: 134w Standish Road,
MA 02472 USA
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