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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/June issue of The School
Mediator. This is the last issue for the 2007/2008
This issue explores the importance of accepting when
parties cannot or will not resolve their conflicts.
Please send along your thoughts and
experiences. It is always great to hear from you.
Thanks for your ongoing support, and have a wonderful
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Letting Things Be Wrong
I just read The Open Road, a book about the Dalai
Lama written by his old friend, the peripatetic writer Pico Iyer.
The Dalai Lama is a remarkable man. Of special
to us is his extraordinary commitment to non-violence,
particularly in regard to the conflict between China
China has systematically worked to extinguish Tibetan
culture. They have murdered over a million Tibetans,
waste to all but 13 of the 6,254 monasteries in Tibet,
forced the Dalai Lama to live in exile for almost 40
Despite this, the Dalai Lama refuses to demonize the
Chinese. He works tirelessly for Tibetan freedom, but
unwilling to take action that, however emotionally or
satisfying in the short term, would be
long run. He prays for his oppressors as well as for
For now, he lets things be wrong.
I do not have the expertise to comment on the efficacy
Dalai Lama's approach to the Tibetan conflict. (Not surprisingly, some
frustrated Tibetans find fault
I can say, however, that the Dalai Lama's restraint is
important model for our work as mediators.
We mediators strive to fully understand parties'
enable them to gain as much perspective on the
they are willing to acquire, and if possible, to help
an acceptable resolution.
But we must also find a way to live with the fact that
might be unwilling or unable to resolve their conflict.
In addition to helping parties make things right, we need to be able to
let things be
One of the many conundrums of mediation practice is
mediators who can let the process unfold,
to whether parties reach a resolution, actually
chances that parties will be able to do so.
Why is this so? My best guess is that helping parties
and explore their predicament, and then tacitly
situation for what it is, demonstrates an uncommon
respect for parties.
This creates space for what in a previous issue I called the
most profound yet under-appreciated forces in human
relations: people's desire to live in harmony.
Demonstrating such non-attachment, however, is
A range of factors make it difficult to refrain from
parties towards resolution. A short list includes:
Are we worthy?
Every person wants to feel competent, skilled and
accomplished. It is normal for mediators to want
reach agreement in part because of what it
us (i.e., that we know what we are doing, that we add
Mediators need self-confidence, as well as a balanced
understanding of their own strengths and limitations,
able to resist this often subconscious influence.
(Note: This is a thorny issue, because mediator
or lack thereof, does indeed have an impact
parties are able to resolve their conflicts. More on this
We are compassionate
No healthy person wants others to suffer, and it is
to assume that the parties would suffer less if they
way to resolve their dispute. It requires (and
emotional maturity to witness the stress and pain of
yet not feel compelled to "make it all better."
We want to feel good
It feels better, on a purely physiological level, when
tension between parties has dissipated and they
session with a sense of relief. Even though it might be
appropriate given the circumstances, when sessions
parties distrustful and unsatisfied, it just feels bad.
wants to feel bad?
Our next paycheck is at stake
It is even more complicated for those who get paid to
The individual/organization paying the bill (whether
one of the parties or not) will usually be happier if the
resolve the conflict. A lasting resolution is more likely
to future business.
These dynamics remind us of the need to guard
tendency to push parties to resolve their conflicts.
Of course there is a place for
parties to resolve a dispute, even strongly encouraging
Part of the art of mediating, requiring sensitive timing
phraseology, is knowing how to encourage parties in
that is respectful and ultimately empowering.
It helps too to remember that there are many legitimate
reasons why parties do not choose to resolve
Perhaps the time is not right. Perhaps parties are not
psychologically ready to face the feelings (shame,
jealousy, loss, etc.) that would enable them to move
Perhaps, too, resolving a conflict would not be in
interests: They might know from past experience that
counterpart will not follow through, or they have other
interests that are best met by continuing the conflict.
This all sounds complicated, and you might be
Can young peer mediators do this? Of course. Just
handle other aspects of mediation in age-appropriate
usually effective ways, student mediators can let their
decide. And they learn more as they go, just like the
Next time you prepare yourself (or your mediators) for
it is certainly fitting to get ready to help parties make
But take a lesson from the Dalai Lama: Strive, also, to
willing to let things be wrong.
Work hard, create a space for peace, and hope for the
Ultimately, it is out of our hands.
Response to "The Best Parents in Human History"
We received a large amount of mail in response to
the last issue about parenting and conflict resolution. Thanks for
your insights, and sorry we couldn't print every one.
True enough, conflict practitioners face "normal" bouts
of what may be considered some very uninspired
turf parenting moments.
However, we're lucky enough to also be familiar with
the "unconditional apology" when we fail to apply our
best skills. A pure, unadulterated acknowledgement
we handled something badly (really badly
puts us in the big leagues of loving parenting.
In addition, with two of my three girls trained as peer
mediators, I'm quickly warned not to pull out my little
toolbox of what they view as contrived methods when
relating to my own flesh-and-blood. Always being
controlled can be just as unhelpful as being overtaken
with bad emotions. When we're trained as mediators,
sometimes we should be given the caveat: "Warning:
Don't Try This at Home."
Finding that harmonious groove of being genuinely
reactive and applying our conflict resolution skills in
same breath requires a conscious and constant
on some days, for sure. But on those days we hit it
--practically by accident--we deserve to whisper:
"Huzzah for me...the mediator at home!"
Mid-Valley Private Mediation Center
Rosendale, New York
Pity I've been too caught up in the humdrum race for
survival to respond to your painstaking efforts as much
as I would like! Know that I try to read your newsletters
and whenever I can, I borrow freely from your ideas.
Thank you for staying on course.
I'm a mother of five who had children spread out over
eleven years. I therefore have children who regard
siblings as children: ages range between 22 to 10.
I run a democracy in my house. (Because I'm a
mediator/educator/lawyer/woman activist/writer, I know
better than to rely on the Nigerian view that age
apportions wisdom best.)
This democracy includes arguing my way to get my
point of view across, backing down when I am
convinced I am wrong (and expecting others to do the
same), shouting sometimes, and getting upset and
refusing to talk for some time. Its only guarantee is
no one is assured of getting their way on any
Our strategies might not be perfect, but nobody said
parenting was easy! When I started out as a parent,
chastisement worked a bit. (I used to have a cane in
house as some kind of sword of Damocles, but can
believe I was accused by the eldest two of 'spoiling'
their younger ones because I had stopped flogging
I'm glad you didn't have an answer to how best we
should deal with conflict in the home. At the end of the
day, love, I believe, conquers all. It is love that gives
one the opportunity to explain that there is such a
as a bitter pill!
A parent gets better by trying. Though some only get it
right by the time they become grand parents, it is
rewarding when you succeed.
Barrister Ozioma Izuora, Executive
Mediators & Advocates of Peace (LAMPAIX)
I was taken aback by your article. While I agree that
looking back is often a good way to recognize the
advances we have made, it doesn't work for me to
the leap to the "Best Parents in History," even if it may
Whether we study parenting or medicine or science,
can recognize that the practices of the day were based
on the knowledge available at the time. While we
would not likely want to perform surgery without
anesthetic, or use leaches, I believe it is always
possible to improve upon what we have
While many of us have advanced in our approach to
caring for our children, many others have fallen down
on the job. Juvenile crimes are up and the fastest
growing population of juvenile offenders is girls age
14-18. More children are on Ritalin and other mood
controlling drugs than ever before (two-year-olds are
now medicated for bipolar disorder). Yes, we know a
lot, but some of our practices are the kind that will
inspire future parents to look back to and say: "aren't we the best parents ever!"
So while the cobbler's kids have no shoes and the
carpenter's kids have no furniture, so too the conflict
practitioner's kids don't always find resolution. Yes,
kids don't wear their mittens and I find myself yelling
and scolding them - but I hope I can catch myself and
recognize what I am doing. It doesn't always stop me
from doing it, but I get closer each time.
We parents can learn a lot from our kids if we to allow
ourselves to be open to them.
Circle of Humanity
Perhaps someone could look specifically at
Over my lifetime I do not see a significant difference in
"mothering," but I believe "fathering" has come a long
way. Fathers are far more apt to be hands-on than two
By the way...The teenagers that you think will never
succeed turn into wonderful young adults; they are not
your babies anymore, but they are wonderful!
Joan Walsh Freedman, School Psychologist
C.A.G.S. (and two time Mom and three-time
Fall Brook School
What a wonderfully reassuring article. Thanks for
sharing your experiences of being a restorative
practitioner and parent. I too have been at the door
telling my son to put a coat on, telling my daughter
homework to do and when, etc. and finding my kids
reminding me none too gently that I am doing exactly
what in my day job I teach teachers not to do. "Out of
the mouth of babes" springs to mind!
It is certainly more difficult to practice what I preach
when confronted with a sulky teenager refusing to
engage in a parent-child conversation (especially
it occurs after a hard day's work and I know I have a
of washing, cooking and other stuff to do before I can
even sit down).
I hope that more times than not I manage to work as
restoratively with my own children as I do with other
people's children. When I don't, however, I know that I
can try and repair harm caused a little while later.
Your article reminded me that, on the whole, I think we
as parents are doing a pretty good job. There is a
chance that our children will grow into empathic adults
who have the skills to manage their own relationships,
including the conflicts that inevitably come with them.
Caroline Newton, Restorative Approaches
It is always with much pleasure that I read your School
Mediator newsletter. I also forward it to the group of
EURED (European Education as Peace Education)
participants, because of the useful information.
I want to let you know that you indeed have readers,
and are not working in vain. I also want to thank you
the optimistic article about contemporary parents. We
do indeed try to make the best of it and respect each
Janne Poort-van Eeden
Hilversum, The Netherlands
Very thoughtful piece. The issue of wearing not
wearing coats in winter drives me crazy. I tell my kids
not cool to get pneumonia. After a battle, my son will
wear a pull-over. But it's a battle!
I'm a single dad raising four teenagers, and it's a
challenge. However, I'm really trying not to yell. I've
gotten better, but I still have a ways to go.
Joe McMonagle, 8th Grade Counselor
Burlington Township Middle School
Burlington, New Jersey
Help the Kenyan People
||Muigai Kimani, our friend from Kenya who is now
living in New
Zealand, wrote to remind us that in the aftermath of the
election violence, there are now 350,000 "internally
persons" in Kenya. Many are living in deplorable
schools, police stations, churches and open fields.
With the recent natural disasters in Burma and China,
many worthwhile uses for our funds these days. But
no matter how little, would make a big difference in
Muigai suggests funds be sent to the Kisima Rural
Foundation, one of many Kenyan grass-roots
have banded together under the Kenya Peace &
Institute, based in New Zealand.
Contact Person: George Ndungu Kimani
Naivasha Field Office
Kisima Rural Foundation
Box 339 Naivasha
PO Box 56709 00200
||For twenty-four 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
of thousands of people around the world.
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