The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. II 12/02

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Shy is Good

Response to "Mediators Compete"

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Welcome to the December issue of The School Mediator.

This month we explore how many "fundamental truths" of peer mediation have been modified over the years. Take a moment to send along your thoughts.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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Shy is Good
or The Death of Sacred Cows

"The hardest students to train as mediators are those who are very shy."

I have offered this stock bit of advice countless times to educators who are implementing peer mediation programs.

Only one problem. I have been wrong.

I came to understand this last month after completing yet another training in which the most talented student mediators in the group--as demonstrated by their sensitive work during small group role-plays--were the same students who never opened their mouths when sitting with the 'large group' of 22.

School Mediation Associates' trainings are as dynamic and interactive as any. It probably requires more effort to be quiet than to participate. And if I didn't know any better, I might have assumed that these quiet (read "shy") students weren't learning very much.

But here at least, the shyest students were in fact the best mediators.

What I had done, I realize now, was confuse quiet/shy with "unassertive." For it is true: Students who are uncomfortable asserting themselves with their peers don't make the most effective mediators. But this is not necessarily true of students who are simply more introverted.

You don't have to be the life-of-the-party to be a sensitive mediator.

And so, with all due respect to my Hindu friends, another of my sacred cows bit the dust.

This has me thinking about all the other peer mediation "truths" I have been disabused of by the insistent push of real world experience.

Consider these:

* Peer mediation has to be voluntary.
Now we distinguish between attending a session (not necessarily voluntary) and participating in it (absolutely voluntary)

* Student mediators should not know the parties whose conflicts they mediate.
Some programs enable disputants to select student mediators who they know and with whom they feel most comfortable-and it works.

* Adult coordinators should not be in the room when students mediate.
I have come to accept this practice, partially in response to some educators' insistence, partially because can be useful for ongoing training.

* Student parties should each receive a copy of any agreement that they create during mediation.
Problem was, they received their copies and then left them lying on a table in the cafeteria. Now many coordinators keep the only copy of the agreement in their offices.

There are numerous less dramatic (and less certain) examples. Disciplinarians who also coordinate peer mediation programs; peer mediators who receive minimal training and yet are effective; mediators who serve students older than themselves.

Not everything is relative, of course. But we all know that with maturity and experience, ones' certainties can seem not so certain after all.

Has experience convinced you that any of peer mediation's "sacred cows" should be revisited?

Your thoughts...

Response to "Mediators Compete"

Below are a few of the comments we received in response to last month's newsletter about the SCRAM program from Australia.

Actually, we do have a similar model here in the US, called Mediation Showcase. Street Law, Inc., and specifically Judy Zimmer, the author of We Can Work It Out, a classroom mediation skills program, developed the Mediation Showcase model. We used it here in Maine in the mid-90's.

Teachers agreed to use the We Can Work It Out text and practice mediations as part of their classroom curriculum. Then the classroom mediators from about a dozen schools met at our state capitol in Augusta for a round-robin "competition," playing both disputant roles and acting as co-mediators during the round robin.

We used professional mediators as evaluators, with a scoresheet. All mediators were given feedback on their skills. We did declare a "winner" at the end of the day, but it was clear all the teams really won! Several of these schools went on to develop an active peer mediation program.

There is a detailed notebook on how to run a Mediation Showcase available from Street Law. I haven't checked to see whether these Showcase programs are still being run around the country. We haven't done it again because it was a large organizational effort for us, and we already coordinate a statewide Peer Mediation Association of Maine with several conferences each year. But the model is out there!

Pam Anderson
University of Maine School of Law
Portland, Maine USA

Thank you for your succinct article on SCRAM, which picked up the essence of the competition. In Western Australia we have grappled with the conundrum of mediation juxtaposed with competition in two ways: the first round of the competition is a feedback only round for all teams and is not scored; teams can opt out of being scored and receive only feedback, in subsequent rounds, relinquishing their eligibility for the grand final.


Margaret Halsmith

My name is Kristy Filbin, I am a volunteer mediator with Clark County Juvenile Court Victim Offender Mediation Program. Our director sends us your newsletter and I enjoy these articles very much. I did not like the idea of competition either, until I came across this article that told me the original definition of competition: to strive together. So as we head into our worlds, lets "compete' for peace!

Kristy Filbin
Vancouver WA

About Us

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