The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. IV, 4/05

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Peer Mediators Who Misbehave

Response to "Call Me Richard"

About Us





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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
more info


Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
more info


Welcome to the April issue of The School Mediator.

This month, in response to a coordinator's question, we explore how to address mediators who misbehave.

As always, please send along your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates


PS: If you receive this free newsletter directly from us, you are already on our subscriber list. If a colleague forwarded it to you, you can easily subscribe by sending your email address to sma@schoolmediation.com.

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  • Peer Mediators Who Misbehave

  • I recently received this email from a peer mediation coordinator. I have decided to respond here, and hope you will be inspired to share your own thoughts and experiences.

    We have some very talented student mediators who recently got into trouble at school. Although the violation was not hurtful toward others, it was a blatant violation of our code of conduct. We believe that the students need to be removed from the team because they can no longer be considered positive role models. However, our population is smaller than most public schools and the pool of mediator candidates is significantly less. Does anyone see a way where these students can maintain their Peer Mediator status without sending the wrong message to other students? Thank you very much!


    We all learn about peer mediator misbehavior the hard way. My first lesson was swift and profound.

    We had just completed one of our earliest peer mediation trainings. The next day, one of our shiny, new mediators beat up another classmate. With brass knuckles!

    Besides inspiring humility concerning the limitations of my work, this experience quickly forced me to consider how to address mediators who misbehave.

    We all know that peer mediators are held to the highest standards by their teachers and peers.

    And when peer mediators misbehave and make poor choices, it damages the credibility not only of the students involved, but of the peer mediation program as a whole. How are students to trust mediators' guidance when those same mediators can't even conduct themselves appropriately?

    But to the coordinator's question above--can "students maintain their Peer Mediator status" when they behave poorly?--I answer with a wholehearted yes.

    Certainly when students take actions that are extremely offensive or inconsistent with the expectations of a mediator (like Mr. Brass Knuckles above, or a student who shares confidential information), they must be suspended from serving as a mediator.

    For all but these most egregious misbehaviors, however, we must employ a more nuanced approach.

    But this does not regularly happen. It has long troubled me, for instance, how quickly educators kick misbehaving peer mediators off their mediation teams.

    If one views being a mediator as a privilege, I suppose it makes sense to withdraw the "privilege" from students who misbehave.

    But I view being a mediator as a responsibility, not a privilege. When students don't fulfill this responsibility, rather than merely withdrawing the responsibility, we need to help them a) address the consequences of their lapse, and b) learn to fulfill the responsibility more effectively.

    Nobody is perfect, certainly not the diverse group of students we recruit to serve as mediators. Remember: We recruit some students specifically because of their familiarity with the disciplinarian's office.

    These last students especially need more opportunities, not less, to develop their conflict resolution skills and gain the insight that comes from mediating the conflicts of others.

    If peer mediators break school-wide rules, the disciplinarian can mete out the appropriate consequences.

    We should focus on healing rather than on punishment, informed by the question at the heart of all restorative practice: How can the harm be repaired?

    Some questions to guide us in this process include:

    1. How can we make it clear to the offending mediators that their behavior is unacceptable and harms the program?

    2. Are the offending mediators committed to remaining part of the program, and furthermore, are they willing to repair the harm they have caused? (If not, it makes sense to part ways.)

    3. How can we involve other mediators, and even members of the wider community, in determining how to repair the harm.

    4. How can we repair the damage done to:

    ·individual students who were hurt by the mediators' behavior?
    · peer mediators' faith in one another?
    · the school community's faith in mediation and in the mediators?
    · the offending mediators' belief in themselves?


    Every case is different, but a quick brainstorm of generic actions that might be taken includes:

    * An open letter to the school community
    * A presentation at an assembly
    * A public apology to the people who were harmed (with the permission of those people)
    * An outreach campaign featuring the offending students, with the tag line "Everyone makes a mistake now and then"
    * A written or verbal apology and explanation to the mediation team
    * The offending mediators' commitment to seek assistance, with an action plan to prevent the misbehavior from occurring again


    In the end, we still might have to terminate a student.

    But we should strive to use the crisis that results from mediator misbehavior as an opportunity to grow and improve: and that includes the individuals involved, the peer mediation program, and the school as a whole.

    Please share your own experiences handling mediators who misbehave. We can all learn from you.


    More information on Restorative Justice

  • Response to "Call Me Richard"

  • A few of the responses we received to the last issue of The School Mediator are posted below. That issue explored the issue of the personal relationship (or lack thereof) between educators and their students. Thank you to all who responded.


    I read your newsletter and agree that students should be able to mediate on their own. I also let the kids call me by my first name because I think it levels the playing field. I felt like that was not the norm, but after reading the newsletter, it reassured me I was doing the right thing :)

    Anonymous


    Upon reading this issue of "The School Mediator," I felt thrown back 8 to 10 years when I was still doing this work. Your experience parallels mine exactly! Thanks for good memories--especially when the teachers commented on their students with respect, increased interest and sometimes, deep surprise. Those were lovely moments, like in a mediation when a misunderstanding suddenly clears up.

    Liz Wally
    Dallas, Texas


    Your article is very interesting as usual, and I would like to contribute something from my efforts here in Greece, where I am exploring the possibility of Creative Conflict Resolution on the basis of Human Rights in schools, through trainings of teachers and students.

    A few days ago, one of the teachers who participated in an interactive seminar told the Assistant Head that she worried that now that students had used her first name, she might get "disrespectful attitude." I knew she would not, and time would show how students really appreciate the atmosphere of confidence built in such workshops.

    Two days later, the worried teacher expressed satisfaction. One of the participating students, who previously had never addressed her, now begins each day by greeting her politely and saying "Good morning, Ms. X." He uses her first name, but in a warm and respectful way.

    Niki Roubani, President
    European Network Of Women
    Athens, Greece


    In response to your last newsletter regarding adults using their first or last names: When I worked at Andover High, running their Peer Counseling program, the kids called me Rebecca. But since working in Melrose, I have the kids call me Ms. Mooney, just because that's what they'd call any other adult in the school. My feeling is that it doesn't matter. How you treat students is what determines their comfort level with you. In other words, it's not "all in a name."

    Rebecca Mooney
    Melrose Alliance Against Violence
    Melrose, MA

  • About Us
  • For 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
    Email us: sma@schoolmediation.com
    Web us: www.schoolmediation.com
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    Watertown, MA 02472 USA
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