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Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the February issue of
Mediator, the first issue of 2009.
This issue explores the importance, not of students
conflicts, but of educators resolving their
conflicts with one
Please send along your thoughts and
experiences. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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|Educators Resolving Conflict|
There is one class of school-based conflicts that
consistently fly over
the radar of most peer mediation programs: those that
For the most part, this is by design. Peer mediation's
primary focus is
on empowering students to resolve their own
There are many reasons for this student focus, not the
least of which is
that schools tend to exaggerate the normal, human
hesitance to resolve
I don't claim to understand this, but it seems that many
stress of the job, the chronic feelings of powerlessness
educators experience, school structures that can
teachers, perhaps even the types of people who are
education--combine to create a "conflict-averse"
culture in schools.
If getting educators to agree to resolve their own
conflicts was a
precondition for implementing peer mediation
programs for their
students, there would be very, very few peer
I am convinced, however, that one relatively
cost-effective way to improve schools is to encourage
their interpersonal conflicts.
Many educators are quite skilled at resolving
that arise at school--either on their own or with the
help of trusted
But many are not so inclined.
In almost every building there are educators who have
along. And in some schools in which I have worked,
administrators have not been getting along for a
decade or more.
These educators bring conflict avoidance to a high art!
Of course, avoiding conflict can be a sound
strategy. When you
see the other party regularly, when you don't feel
strongly about the
issues involved, when you need time to collect
you are certain the dispute cannot be resolved...in all
instances and more, avoidance can be a wise
But in too many schools, educators avoid
interpersonal conflict to their
own, and their schools', detriment.
The most profound price is paid by educators
enjoyment of their jobs, their ability and desire to
devote themselves to
their work, even their performance...all can be
negatively impacted by
living with prolonged interpersonal tension.
Fellow teachers and administrators also suffer when
deadlocked in conflict. It is stressful to be a bystander,
colleagues behave badly, not knowing exactly how to
make it better.
Ongoing interpersonal conflict among educators also
students. For one, the more that educators respect,
trust and support
one another, the more they will be able to generate
feelings among their students. And compelling research suggests that
students perform better academically when
they feel connected to
supported by their teachers.
But take heart! The good news is, first and foremost,
what readers of
this newsletter know very well: mediation and conflict
I have had the privilege of facilitating many mediation
educators. Whether the focus is on understanding an
misinterpreted history--why did you make that
include me in that project?, not invite me to that party?,
embarrass me in
that meeting?, not return those materials?--or
differences in educational philosophy and practice,
the results are
usually quite positive.
Most often, educators are glad they chose to
participate. Many report
feeling "lighter" and able to devote more of their
creative energy to
Even more exciting: In part because of the increasing
reach of our
own field, more administrators and teachers:
1. understand the importance of helping their peers
2. have the skills and the courage to do so.
It takes a sensitive leader to effectively encourage
others to resolve
disputes, even more so given the unique obstacles
implications, time constraints, space limitations) in
leaders need the skill to hold fellow educators to a
high standard while
also maintaining strong, trusting relationships with
them. (What our
restorative friends at IIRP call "high control/high support.")
It is not easy for anyone to seek assistance to resolve
interpersonal conflict. These school leaders work to
transform this act
associated with shame and humiliation to one that
and maturity, professionalism and commitment.
The current economic climate will only increase the
educators face. Budgets will be reduced. Class sizes
have to go up.
Leaving a bad situation for a position in another
system will not be an
option for educators. Fewer will choose to retire.
In these times--in all times--school leaders must help
resolve the interpersonal conflicts that prevent them,
and their schools,
being the best they can be.
Thankfully, more school leaders are doing just that.
your thoughts? Please
respond so we can all learn
Look for additional information from School
Mediation Associates on
this topic in the months ahead.
|Response to "Peer Mediation's Missing Stage...Increase Understanding"|
We received many responses to
last issue of The School Mediator.
number of them follow below...
This month's newsletter really struck a chord with me. I
In training adult peer mediation coordinators, I have
difficult yet important
to convey the idea of sitting back and letting the
disputants talk to
each other. I
think there is a fear of losing control over the situation.
If the disputants don't have the opportunity and
talk to each
other, however, not only do they have difficulty
each other, but they
also don't have a chance to practice negotiation--an
Thanks for bringing attention to this.
Leigh Jones-Bamman, State Education
I loved this month's newsletter. As a Transformative
is our core theory: creating understanding is all about
empowerment (self) and
When parties are clearer about their situation (feelings,
and resources) they become stronger and more open to
things in the other parties. As empowerment and
become more able to use their own problem solving
creative and make decisions. I believe this is the most
way to support
conversation between the parties.
At our Center, we use this core theory to inform all of
work. It is hard to train young people in this approach:
them structure (we
don't use a step system) without taking the parties' own
Still, self-determination is more likely to happen when
can be clear
about their role and support parties' compassionate
Linda Hendrikson, Conflict Management
Conflict Resolution Center
Grand Forks, North Dakota
The peer mediation model that I have used and refined
years on Cape
Cod, Massachusetts includes an "increase
that I call "The
Exchange." It is all about getting the disputants to
mirror each other.
Peer mediation is one of the best programs I have ever
because it allows me to "teach a man to fish." I walk
away, and the
I just retired after 20 years as Youth Program Director
Sheriff's Office. Now I'm doing substance abuse
another agency as
well as working in the county jail (where we have
the drug treatment unit!).
Barnstable County Sheriff's Office
I read with great interest about the experiences
The School Mediator
and hope to learn from them.
With respect to your mention of an additional stage
mediation model, I
absolutely agree with the concept of
both parties trying to have a better understanding of
point of view. When all is considered, their lack of
understanding may have a lot to do with why there is a
the first place!
I have a greater understanding of the importance of
later in my life. I don't mind admitting that for my first 54
only heard and
did not listen. Through my studies, and in
conjunction with a huge attitude change, I am becoming
listener, and subsequently learning so much more.
Teachers who take the time and effort to educate the
generations in the
skills of mediation, are doing them a great service,
with tools and
the understanding to assist them throughout their lives.
North Queensland, Australia
As always, I enjoy The School Mediator.
In response to the latest issue, I'd hate to think of
understanding" as a
discreet stage of the mediation process. I think we do
work as mediators
when we encourage students to engage directly with
Opportunities to hear and be heard are present from the
parties walk in
the door until the time they leave (and beyond)!
You got me involved in this issue of The School
with the heading about
"the missing stage."
I know you are aware of what I am going to
say, but I can't
resist adding to what you said: when the Increase
work is done
well, the mediator lets go of control of the process and
themselves through the remaining steps with the
Sally Pope, recently elected Town
Southampton, New York
| ||For twenty-five years, School Mediation Associates
has been devoted to the application and promotion of
mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform
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of thousands of people around the world.
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