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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 February issue of The School
This month we explore private sessions and how
important it is that student mediators employ them
As always, please send along your thoughts and
experiences. It is wonderful to hear from you!
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Separate Parties to Bring Them Together
One of the major differences in peer mediation models
is whether they employ "private sessions." This month
I thought I would explain School Mediation Associates'
approach to this issue, and a bit of related history.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, private
sessions refer to the separate meetings that mediators
can hold with parties. Each party is called in
individually to speak with the mediators while other
parties wait their turn
in an anteroom.
When peer mediation was developed over two
decades ago, our pioneering colleagues generally
took one of two divergent approaches to these
Some relied heavily on the use of private sessions,
teaching student mediators to conduct their sessions
· First, hold an early "joint session" where all
parties give an initial presentation of their concerns.
· Second, conduct a series of private sessions with
parties during which they can speak more openly with
the mediators (and vice versa).
· Finally, hold one or more "later" joint sessions to
enable parties to work out the details of any
agreement they can create.
At the same time, other colleagues--as memory
serves, particularly on the West Coast of the
US--trained students to mediate without the use of
sessions. They recommended that the entire
mediation be conducted in a joint "public" session,
without the option for mediators to meet with parties
It was black or white: either you took private sessions
during every mediation, or you never took them at all.
Both approaches seemed problematic to me.
When mediators take private sessions as a matter of
course, much of the work of exploring the particulars of
a conflict, of enabling parties to honestly share its
impact upon them, of discovering the interests behind
parties' positions, of helping parties to reflect upon
and, if they are willing, understand the other side's
concerns--in short, much of the work of
mediation--takes place in private sessions.
Better to let parties speak directly to each other, and
have skilled mediators--who know when to be silent
and listen, and when to facilitate, encourage, clarify,
probe, referee, summarize, reframe, etc.--do the same
work by following the
The heavy reliance upon private sessions seemed
particularly misguided for peer mediation,
1. One of the primary goals of the work is to enable
young people to learn the skills and attitudes that will
enable them to resolve their own problems.
2. The population we serve are students who
often have some form of ongoing relationship with one
The default, I still feel, should be to keep parties
talking directly to one another. Two
decades of experience have now shown that peer
mediation sessions can lead to optimal conclusions
for all concerned without the use of private
We do parties a disservice--we disempower them--
when we prevent them from speaking with one
But what of the alternative: of not using private
all? This also seemed misguided, for private sessions
are an extremely valuable tool.
Though it seems counterintuitive, often the best
bring parties together is to separate them.
Private sessions create a "safer space" within which
parties can explore their own thoughts and feelings
as well as consider the other party's perspective. This
can enable them to resolve their conflicts at a deeper
level than they would be able to otherwise.
Private sessions also tend to deepen the trust parties
both in the mediators and in the process, thereby
increasing the likelihood that they will
benefit from participating in it.
Survey the peer mediation field and you will still find
evidence of these
differing attitudes towards private sessions.
Our method, however, and my best advice, is to
teach mediators to have a flexible, responsive
approach to the use of private sessions.
Mediators should be capable of mediating without
but ready to use them whenever necessary.
This requires more of mediators, as they must manage
often difficult task of deciding whether and when to
take private sessions. New (and experienced!)
student mediators sometimes call for private sessions
too soon, or
they miss an opportunity to help parties by neglecting
to call them at all.
But I believe this flexible approach to private sessions
enables middle and especially high school-aged
mediators to be of greatest service to their peers.
share your experiences with
Nine Reasons for Calling for Private Sessions
1. Mediators think that the parties are not telling them
everything that is important to the dispute.
2. The parties are so angry that they cannot be in the
same room with one another.
3. One party seems scared by the other party and is
4. Mediators feel that it would be prudent to discuss
certain issues with a party in private.
5. The parties' stories don't match, so someone might
be mistaken or lying.
6. Mediators have tried many things, the parties are
still stuck, and mediators don't know what else to do.
7. One or more of the parties is very upset and needs
time to collect themselves in private.
8. Mediators think that an agreement that both parties
seem ready to sign will not work and they want to
discuss this with parties in private.
9. A mediator feels that it is essential that they speak
with their co-mediator (perhaps they sense that their
making a mistake that will ruin the mediation, or they
are finding it difficult to remain neutral).
Richard Cohen Interested in Working Abroad in 2008
||Richard Cohen is hoping to work outside the United
States for a number of months between June
January 2009. If you or your organization would
benefit from having Richard's expertise close at
hand, please follow the link below.
Response to "Listen Like My iPod"
In last month's newsletter I asked you to send in
your current favorite songs. Though the response was
overwhelming, it did display a wide range of musical
taste, as you'll see below. Thanks for writing, and
This is so funny, because as I listen to my iPod and
hear songs that I don't really like, I wonder: "what are
they doing here!"
Three fave songs of the moment:
Mates of State: "Whiner's Bio"
Abba: "Honey Honey"
Los Atercipelados: "Juégale Apuéstale"
Spanish Language Mediation Specialist
Here are some of our mediators' favorite
Linkin Park: "Pushing Me Away"
Shadows Fall: "Redemption"
Rage Against The Machine: "Born as Ghosts"
Sara Bareilles: "Love Song"
Fall Out Boy: "Reinventing the Wheel to Run Myself
Tim McGraw: "Live Like You Were Dying"
Finger Eleven: "Paralyzed"
Lynard Skynard: "Freebird"
Alicia Keys: "No One"
SAC, PMT Coordinator
Nessacus Middle School
Not that these are my favorite songs, but since the
Christmas music is behind us (and I adore Christmas
music!), here are three songs that I'm listening to when
I let Media Player go (I can't say I have joined the
ranks of the iPod users!)
Thanks for this newsletter. I find it very meaningful.
Gaelic Storm: "Johnny Jump Up"
Ted Nugent: "Girl Scout Cookies"
Mozart: "Requiem in D Minor"
Robinson Community Learning Center
South Bend, Indiana
John McCutcheon: "Christmas in the Trenches"
Sapphire: "Middle Age Blues Boogie"
Lui Collins: "Step into the Water"
Youth Programs Coordinator
Keene, New Hampshire
I too LOVE my IPOD. My three favorite songs are:
Marc Broussard: "Save Me"
Dave Matthews: "Stay"
Fergie: "Big Girls Don't Cry"
Conflict Mediation Coordinator
Spencer/East Brookfield Regional School District
Here are 3 favorite songs currently:
Pink Floyd: "Comfortably Numb"
Chief of Women's Health
Here are my three:
Van Morrison: "Cleaning Windows"
Grateful Dead: "Touch of Grey"
Snoop Doggy Dogg: "Who am I?(What's my name?) "
Counselor and Peer Mediation Coordinator
Stoneham High School
I also use a music project to get my high school
students talking about respecting differences. I even
admit to them that I am not perfect, that I still
occasionally have trouble respecting others' choices.
It opens up a lot of discussion about stereotypes.
My personal favorites lately:
Eva Cassidy: "Wade in the Water"
Patti Labelle & Michael McDonald: "A Change is
Gonna Come" (Sam Cooke song)
Sonia Dada: "Cut it up and Cry"
Walpole High School
||For twenty-four years, School Mediation Associates
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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
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