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Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the December issue of The School Mediator.
This month's issue is about the emotional lives
As always, please send along your thoughts and experiences.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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It was a typical group of peer mediation trainees.
When we arrived at their middle school to conduct
the third and final day of training, it had been almost
a week since we were last together. Students were
chatting excitedly, moving heavy library tables so
we could sit in a circle.
The coordinator, Mr. Base, immediately pulled us aside
and said that one of the trainees, Omar, would be
absent. His father had committed suicide the previous
Sunday. Today was the funeral.
We quickly decided to revise our agenda so that we
could discuss Omar's loss.
We began the day as always: with a warm welcome and
a review. Students stood in a circle and one by one
offered something they had learned from the previous
two days' work. They were engaged, funny, impressive.
Then we pulled the chairs close. Noting Omar's absence
and the reason for it (the students already knew),
we "opened the floor" for students to share their
thoughts and feelings.
One of Omar's friends, Allie, was the first to speak.
She had known Omar's father, and she said that Omar
didn't want lots of people approaching him to talk
about this. (Omar had attended school since
She also noted that recently a friend of hers
had threatened to commit suicide. Allie claimed to
have prevented this friend from doing so by staying
with her for two weeks, day and night, until she changed
Had Allie informed an adult about this situation?
Allie is twelve.
Perry then described, with aching disbelief, that
his own stepsister had attempted suicide earlier this
year. It was near impossible for him to understand
how she could do such a thing. "And she didn't think
about how it would affect me..."
A short silence.
"My mother died almost a year ago." It was Christina,
a girl whose hyperactivity and general goofiness had
challenged us during the training.
Christina said that sometimes she wants to talk about
her mother's death, and other times she doesn't. Sounding
mature beyond her years, she described it as a "process
you go through."
Christina was soon sharing the details of her mother's
illness. When she described the yellowish cast of
her mother's skin when her father found her, she was
overcome with grief.
And so it went; the tissue box passed from student
A boy who had hardly spoken in the large group had
lost a parent a few years ago. A girl broke into tears
just at the thought of losing one of her parents.
Another remembered her parents crying at the kitchen
table after the death of her grandfather.
Everyone, adults and students, offered advice and
An hour passed.
When Niki, dressed in factory-disheveled skater clothes,
began explaining how her parents divorced when she
was four, and how she had made the mistake of keeping
her feelings inside for so long, one thing was clear:
The students could have gone on for another hour.
Reluctantly, we told the group that we had work to
do, that we had to get back to the mediation training.
After general words of appreciation and offers of
ongoing assistance from the school counselor who had
joined us, we took a short break.
Then, awkwardly at first, we resumed our agenda and
focused on peer mediation.
Before long, students were again engaged in roleplays,
exploring the intricacies of their responsibility
regarding confidentiality, and playing silly games
An observer who arrived later in the day could never
have guessed what we had discussed that morning.
It was just a typical group of peer mediation trainees.
Share your thoughts....
*The identities of these students have been changed.
Response to "Peer Mediator Diversity"
We received many responses to last month's issue of The School Mediator concerning peer mediator
diversity. I have posted a number of them below:
One addition to your list of reasons for selecting
a diverse group of peer mediators: To help students
who aren't over-acheivers. Being a mediator gives
them self-confidence and a sense that they have something
to offer. (i.e. The experience is important for the
peer mediators themselves, not just for the program.)
The Mosaica Center for Conflict Resolution Through
I read your article about peer mediator diversity
and agreed with the reasons you give for promoting
it. Like you, I found that schools often want to select
"stars" when they begin a mediation program.
Which brings me to another reason for promoting diversity
--the most effective (star?) mediators sometime comes
from the ranks of kids who are least likely to be
selected as peer mediators. A case in point is Felix
(name changed) who was in a special-ed, self-contained
classroom. He had low test scores, poor grades; even
his teacher said he "does not have what it takes to
become a peer mediator."
Another teacher in the school, however, saw something
in Felix that others did not. She fought for him,
and he was selected for the training.
It soon became clear that this boy, who could not
sit still in class, who could not multiply fractions
or write a cogent essay, was gifted in working with
others as a mediator. He could "read" others; he could
soothe their emotional pain. Felix was indeed a "star".
Being mindful of diversity increases the probability
that we will discover students whose special skills
are not tapped into by the academic life of many schools.
Ridgewood, New Jersey
Author of Smart School Leaders: Leading with Emotional Intelligence
Honestly, I think that we are looking for students
who can handle missing class time (both for the training
and when we call them out to conduct a mediation).
It is not realistic to think that they will mediate
during non- academic time because it hardly exists
with time-on-learning requirements.
This is why a large number of the students chosen
as peer mediators are "honor roll kids." They may
look diverse, which is helpful, but we cannot allow
students who are in the behavior room or who are the
"street kids" to be mediators if their grades are
going to suffer. Because teachers will stop supporting
the program. It is a double-edged sword.
Gardner Middle School
Why is the coordinator picking the mediators in the
Students will know best who they will trust to mediate,
and by being involved in the selection process, they
will have more of a sense of ownership of the scheme.
Students also have a better idea of the emotional
intelligence of their peers; staff tend to focus on
Often we hear of students being chosen by their classmates
who staff would never dream of choosing, but who turn
out to be wise choices. Staff have their own prejudices,
and may overlook "troublemakers" who nevertheless
have leadership skills and credibility with their
Of course, after a student vote, you may still end
up with many of the schools' social groups underrepresented.
So give the coordinator clear guidelines on a selection
process which involves student participation (e.g.
by class vote) and then additional selections by staff
(or student council) with diversity in mind.
School Councils UK
I am the Conflict Resolution Coordinator at an inner-city
middle school, where the majority of the students/families
live in poverty. We have a large Hispanic population.
Our second largest student group is African American,
then Caucasian (European descent) and finally our
Arab- American students.
I want to say "Amen" to your article about peer mediators
and the importance of having a diverse group of students.
It is also a good idea to have students who have experienced
conflict in their lives and who have been through
mediation as parties. They learn from the experience
and they can relate to the students they are mediating!
Sometimes these same students need a little more supervision/practice
to polish their skills, but since they often are not
involved in other school activities, peer mediation
can become one of their most important connections
to the school.
Thanks for the comments about diversity.
Luis Munoz Marin Middle School
I agree with you wholeheartedly. It would not be in
the best interest of the school to have all the high
achievers as peer mediators.
People ask me why I don't always take the academic
achievers and I tell them that it is because the students
who come to mediation are very diverse and already
feel like they don't fit in.
In addition, students who need to gain confidence
and a purpose in school can make great mediators.
Some of my best mediators come from various economic
backgrounds as well as academic backgrounds. Not only
does having a diverse group of students help other
students understand that a mediator is a person just
like themselves, it also gives the student that mediates
a sense of belonging to a group and helps them make
better life choices.
Howell High School
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