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School Mediator's Field Guide:
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Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the January issue of The School Mediator.
This month's issue discusses where coordinators
should go during peer mediation sessions.
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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Coordinators: Please Leave The Room
With more than two decades of practice under our belts,
seasoned peer mediation practitioners generally agree
on the fundamentals of how to operate a peer mediation
There are a few issues, however, about which
disagreement is still profound. One is whether adult
coordinators should remain in the room during
peer mediation sessions.
When we conducted a survey of peer mediation programs
in New England ten years ago, we discovered the community
split down the middle on this issue. About half of
the coordinators felt it was essential that they remain
in the room during mediation sessions. The remainder
considered this same behavior inappropriate and counterproductive.
I line up with the latter group. As a rule, adults
should not be in the room during student mediation
Why? Because an adult presence unwittingly impacts
what happens during the session. Having an adult in
the mediation room can:
* Compromise peer mediation's implicit message
to young people that a) they are quite capable of
resolving their conflicts on their own and, b) "talking
out" conflict is a normal part of life, not
something you do only when an adult is present
* Minimize student parties' sense that it is
their responsibility to find a way to resolve
* Inhibit student parties, who might decide
that it is not safe to be completely open and honest
about their situation
* Inhibit student mediators, who become cautious
and less likely to develop confidence that they can
mediate on their own.
Given how I feel about having an adult in the room,
you can guess how I react to coordinators who sit
at the table with the parties (!), or programs
that employ a model in which an adult is always one
of the co-mediators.
There are compelling reasons to have an adult
in the room during a session, however. These circumstances
* a particularly difficult case in which mediators
and/or parties might need extra support
* an indication that the situation could be
explosive and therefore would benefit from an adult's
calming (and perhaps intimidating) presence
* when coordinators want to evaluate or give
feedback to mediators, perhaps because they are new
or as part of their ongoing development
Another wholly practical reason why coordinators remain
in the room is simply for lack of space. When mediation
sessions are conducted in the coordinator's office
or classroom, often there is no alternate place for
the coordinator to work.
So coordinators sometimes remain in the room, even
under ideal circumstances. But best practice is
to have the coordinator outside of the mediation
room whenever possible.
When coordinators are in the room, they should not
sit at the table. After introducing themselves warmly,
coordinators should strive to be unobtrusive (sit
in a corner, face away from the session, correct papers,
make non-private phone calls, etc.). You can keep
an ear on the proceedings so as to give mediators
feedback later, but don't intrude unless it is absolutely
When coordinators are not present during the session,
they should nevertheless stay close by--in the next
room or down the hall--in order to offer assistance
to mediators when needed.
One often-cited yet exaggerated reason for remaining
in the room during mediation sessions are "legal considerations."
In fact, if a coordinator uses common sense and does
a reasonable job of "preventing harm" while supervising
sessions, remaining in the room is usually not warranted.
(For more information, see "Appendix A: Legal Considerations
of Peer Mediation Programs" in Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools
What do you think? Please share your experiences and reflections
about where coordinators should be during peer mediation
Peer Mediation Beyond North America
A future issue of The School Mediator will
feature descriptions of a few of the numerous peer
mediation efforts outside North America.
If you are involved in such an effort and would like
to inform others about your work (and perhaps receive
resources and support), please send information to
Response to "Omar's Absence"
A few of the responses we received to last month's issue of The School Mediator are posted below. The issue
concerned the emotional burdens that many students
carry to school. Thank you to all who responded.
Those of us have done conflict resolution work with
young people know of what you speak in this issue.
I hope thousands of people read your newsletter. If
teachers could only realize that one can bring difficult
subjects up with students without knowing in advance
how to "fix" things.
Nowadays, advisories give many schools another place
for these types of discussions to happen, and your
newsletter shows powerfully how important and valuable
(and relatively easy) it is to accomplish.
Nancy Grant, Mediator
Bureau of Special Education Appeals
In mediation training, students learn listening, reframing
and brainstorming skills that are essential when addressing
an interpersonal conflict. And so when students discuss
issues other than mediation during the training, I
view this as an opportunity for them to apply what
they have learned.
For me, the ultimate goal of mediation training is
the development and enhancement of empathy. When I
accomplish this goal, I feel the training has served
Curry Bailey, School Safety Liaison
School District of Philadelphia
One of the driving forces behind conflict and aggression
is people's difficulty dealing with bereavement and
loss. It never ceases to amaze me when you realize
the situations some children live in and their wonderful
capacity to make sense of things with which we adults
Reading this issue reminded me of some of the children
and young people I have worked with over the last
30 years (14 in a mediation service). It also reminded
me how children can, if given the space, explore painful
and difficult issues; how good children are at articulating
these issues in straightforward language understood
by their peers; and why peer mediation is such an
important tool in schools.
Carol Barrett, Director
Family Mediation Lothian
Your article illustrates how we must be mindful of
other people's perspectives. When people do things
that make us angry, we need to stop and think about
what may be going on for them.
Unfortunately, children see too many things that they
shouldn't, and carry those burdens too young. This
is even more reason why we need to give children and
adults room to talk about their feelings and teach
them safe outlets for their frustrations.
Customized Training Solutions
The story was very touching, and it could have taken
place in any classroom of students on any given day.
Stories like this need to be publicized for teachers
It can become overwhelming to discover students' personal
histories, but without this knowledge we are left
teaching to students' intellectual selves rather than
the whole child.
Your article also reflects the extraordinary resiliency
that most children bring to bear when things get tough.
Donna Georges, Freshman Dean and Health Director
Amesbury Public Schools
twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been
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in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools
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