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School Mediator's Field Guide:
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Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the February issue of The School Mediator.
This month's issue encourages you to formally thank
teachers who refer students to peer mediation.
Please send along your thoughts; hearing from you
is the best part of writing this newsletter.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Roses for Referrals
Biomimicry is a "new science that studies nature's models and then imitates
nature's designs to solve human problems, e.g., a
solar cell inspired by a leaf."
The concept of peer mediation has always seemed elegantly
designed to me, as if it too were based on fundamental
Think about it. Every school's central mission
is to educate young people to be effective citizens.
Students' interpersonal conflicts occur in this context,
and educators often find that these conflicts detract
from their ability to fulfill their mission.
Enabling students to resolve their own conflicts
both conserves adults' time and deepens the
mission of the school.
Peer mediation transforms a potential distraction--student
conflict-- into something that strengthens both the
institution and its constituents.
But there are rough edges. One of them concerns teachers,
especially the great majority of teachers who have
little direct contact with peer mediation.
Strange to say, but teachers are in many ways superfluous
to peer mediation programs. Sure, they benefit from
being able to work in a school where, because of the
program, students are likely to be less distracted,
to feel safer and more cared for, and to do better
But peer mediation doesn't give much directly to teachers,
nor does it ask much from them, beyond that they cope
gracefully with the hassle of allowing their students
to miss class occasionally so they can mediate.
Except, that is, for one thing: Peer mediators
want teachers to refer their students to mediation.
When teachers observe behaviors or have other knowledge
that indicates that particular students might benefit
from mediation, we want them to let us know.
Happily, many teachers do. My best estimate is that
teachers refer 15% to 30% of the tens of thousands
of students who use mediation services each year.
Here is the problem. Teachers make referrals, but
they often receive nothing in return. And I mean literally
nothing: no update, no word of thanks, nothing.
The restrictions of confidentiality prevent teachers
from even knowing what happened to the referred students
and their conflict.
This month, I would like to invite you to change that.
The idea arose during a meeting with an assistant
principal and a team of program coordinators at the
Nock Middle School in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
The assistant principal postulated that teachers hesitate
to refer students to peer mediation because they don't
find out whether the conflict is resolved.
So this team of coordinators came up with a nice idea:
give a flower to teachers when they make a referral.
Acknowledging teachers in this way obviously expresses
appreciation for their belief in the program, their
good will, and their support.
At the same time, it also serves as an outreach and
marketing tool. Other students and teachers will notice
and ask questions ("hey, what's with the flower?")
when you give them out, when the recipient carries
the flower to their room or their home, when they
notice the flower on a desk, etc.
Now flowers are both expensive and perishable. But
you don't have to break the bank buying a dozen roses
every week. The folks in Newburyport decided to give
out homemade tissue paper flowers. (And because they
gathered their peer mediators together to create them,
the bond among the mediators was strengthened.)
It might not have quite the same impact, but you could
give a card, or candy, or whatever else suits your
With Valentines Day fast approaching, I thought it
might be timely to try this on a wider scale.
How do you acknowledge teachers in your school? Would
you be willing to make an extra effort to acknowledge
teachers who make referrals during the next four weeks?
Send me your experiences by March 8th.
I'll feature them in the next issue of the newsletter.
Thanks, once again, to Amy Fleming and all the other
great folks at Newburyport's Nock Middle School
for making tissue paper flowers
Response to "Adultism"
probably received more responses to last month's issue of The School Mediator concerning
"adultism" than to any previous issue. I have posted
a few of them below:
I talk with students all the time about their high
school experience, which is numbing for many. It is
ironic that parents will frequently admonish their
children that part of growing up is learning to do
something that's required, even when they don't feel
like it. Doesn't that statement describe most of children's
and adolescent's daily life?
Even many invested students are not passionate about
learning. They are invested in being successful, which
is good to a point. But they are not enjoying learning
and growing as much as they could.
School is a lot like a (somewhat) benign prison for
kids. They make the best of it, enjoy seeing their
friends and being successful if they are (or feel
bad about not being successful academically if they
I would like to see much more choice in the curriculum
and other options besides sitting in a classroom for
6 or 7 hours a day listening to adults talk about
things that do not seem relevant to their lives (other
than getting into college). If we became more flexible
and creative about education, we would all reap the
benefit of citizens who are more active learners and
participants in social and political processes. Kids
implicitly learn conformity, obedience and passivity
in our schools, and sadly continue to manifest these
qualities as adults.
Weston Youth Counselor
Weston High School
Weston, Massachusetts USA
I absolutely agree with the article on "adultism."
Often we ask for young people's input, only to dismiss
Very well put!
Mediation Management Services
Lansing, Michigan USA
I was very interested reading your issue on adultism.
I am a senior in high school and have been mediating
in the community for the past five years. I started
mediating in seventh grade and ran our peer mediation
program. The program was extremely successful, dropping
suspension rates and was recognized throughout the
With a change in administration during my 8th grade
year, the mediation program was discouraged. It was
the epitome of your definition of adultism--zero tolerance
was imposed and the empowering philosophy of mediation
kept to a minimum. When I protested, I was condescended
to-- they were proud of their little forward-thinking
8th grader, but were deaf to my ideas.
Since then I have left school mediation and moved
to parent-teen and victim-offender, but this negative
experience has stayed with me.
Thank you very much for your article, it was refreshing
to see that someone else had identified the same problem
Vancouver, Washington USA
Thanks for making my day!
I was sitting in my office chair when I read your
article on Adultism. I laughed out loud at how silly
it would be to segregate adults by age for learning
purposes. I found myself wondering which group would
be the "best" one: the 33 year olds or the 58 year
Your article has provided thought-food as I reflect
on my parenting of my 12-year old son. I am also a
school board member of a small public school in Oregon
- so lots of opportunity to think about how we all
inadvertently squash creative thinking in our young
people--and more importantly how we stimulate and
Thanks for doing such great work!
I want to applaud you for addressing the issue of
'Adultism'. It rarely gets named - let alone addressed
- because adults are so 'conditioned' to act in this
way toward young people and young adults as well.
And when people are repeatedly exposed/targeted by
oppressive behavior (in this case, toward children),
they will act out and target others, most times without
There is little space for adults to think about these
issues (including their memories of how they were
treated and perceived as young people) and very little
clear information about how to interrupt the stuff.
What attracted me to mediation was that it was one
place where adults thought about what it meant to
fully respect young people and expect the best from
their ability to share, care and assist each other.
This was the corner stone of the early days of school
mediation and should remain so.
I am sad to say that within the last few years, I
have begun to notice the absence of this respect for
students, and it has weakened many programs.
I've noticed the lessening of working on empathy and
even the unevenness of who gets to be selected to
experience the training. I worry that programs are
leaving certain 'negative leaders' (as they used to
call them) behind - which ensures that one day school
violence will once again become an issue.
Creative Conflict Management Resources
Worcester, Massachusetts USA
I have been enjoying the Newsletters, and this one
especially struck a chord.
Since being a Grandmother and also being involved
in the UMASS Dispute Resolution Program, I've changed
my views considerably on parenting. For me, it was
specifically the Peer Mediation experience that changed
If I had known as a young mother what I know now,
I would have been much less uptight and autocratic
- you know - of the "Because I said so" school. I
would have been less focused on discipline and would
have become a better listener. (I say this with the
knowledge that we, nevertheless, have six outstanding
In fact, I now say to others that it's too bad we
can't be grandparents before we become parents. What
kids need the most is lots of Love.
On the other hand, I've also observed the ramifications
of the extreme permissiveness that seems to be so
prevalent today. I guess the hard part is discerning
the proper balance between giving children the freedom
and tools to develop their own potential and individuality,
yet providing the guidance necessary for them to also
become useful, productive and happy members of society.
Unfortunately, most of us tend to parent the way we
were parented, and there are few, if any, opportunities
to learn other parenting skills before we have children
of our own. The question is - How do we rectify that
situation? Is this another area that the schools have
to become involved in? How do we reach the parents?
How do we educate the teachers?
Winchester, Massachusetts USA
almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has
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in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools
into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions.
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