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The School Mediator Archive
The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools
by Richard Cohen
Welcome to the May issue of The School Mediator.
This month I share my reflections about what has kept me interested in peer mediation for so many years.
This will be the last issue of Volume IV, our fourth year of publication. I'll send out the next issue in September (which seems a delightfully long way off right now).
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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Peer Mediation for 20 Years!?
As I approach the end of my 20th year at School Mediation Associates, I find myself wondering: How has peer mediation managed to hold my interest for so long?
Part of my longevity is attributable to finding ways to keep the work interesting, be it growing the organization, coaching our wonderful trainers, writings books, refining our training program, or publishing this newsletter.
But there is enough complexity and nuance in this work--as well as non- monetary rewards--to warrant two decades of attention. Consider the following:
The Force is With Us
I work in alliance with one of the most profound yet under-appreciated forces in human relations: people's desire to live in harmony. Sure, unmet needs, politics, emotional injuries, misperceptions, ignorance, social injustice and limited resources complicate matters. But this longing is so central to human nature, and so powerful, that it often prevails against incredible odds. Being a facilitator and witness of this force is an honor, a humbling experience, and a rush all at once.
Young at Heart
Peer mediation provides me with the opportunity to work with young people, a segment of the population that is both uniquely enthusiastic and unguarded, and too often ill-treated. Though on first glance it appears that kids "have it all" these days, especially in affluent countries like the US, in reality kids are regularly dismissed, disrespected, and manipulated by adults for the latter's self-interest, laziness, and greed. Kids are generally not allowed to be age-appropriate drivers of their own lives. So empowering young people through this work is both important and enjoyable.
Which leads to the institution of public schools. Anyone who finds truth in Wordsworth's notion that "delight and liberty [are] the simple creed of childhood" would be appalled by the scarcity of both qualities in modern schools. The excitement that educators do create in their classrooms is often accomplished through sheer force of character, and in spite of rather than because of their institutions. Peer mediation injects self- determination, a sense of relevance and significance, and fun into students' too often stultifying routine.
The Next Generation
I am motivated by the long term impact of this work. We see the immediate effects: the parties who transform their lives and reduce their suffering; the mediators who report after a few months of mediating that they understand and act in the world differently than prior to their training. But my guess is that these benefits persist; that more than a few of the now 35-year-olds who were trained in the earliest days of this movement would report that their mediation experiences were formative, influencing their career choices as well as their relationships with their partners, kids, co-workers, and neighbors.
So there is a lot to chew on. And I haven't even mentioned the central and engaging challenges of teaching people to mediate, or of successfully implementing programs, or, for that matter, of figuring out how to make a living while doing it.
What motivates you to maintain your involvement in peer mediation? Please share your thoughts and reactions...
Response to "Peer Mediators Who Misbehave"
A few of the responses we received to the last issue of The School Mediator are posted below. As the title indicates, that issue explored how to address student mediators who misbehave. Thank you to all who responded.
What a timely topic! Today, my coordinator informed that we are down 3 students, When I asked her to elaborate, she informed me that one boy's parent wanted him out because he was not performing well academically (and the Principal concurred). The other two students have had an ongoing feud that sparked again during the training and twice this week.
My suggestion was not to eliminate any students, but to suspend them from taking cases. That is the privilege they earn. They should remain part of the team and should be required to attend skill-building sessions. I also offered to mediate the two students who have the ongoing conflict. This is the sort of advice I have given in similar situations, which do occur regularly.
If we select high conflict students and expect that after one training they won't be in conflict any longer, it is us who have unrealistic expectations. Behaviors, constructive or destructive, are not learned overnight. We need to support our young people who may want to mend their ways, but need time to do it.
I am forwarding your article to the coordinator. Thanks!
I have always believed that our mediators should be encouraged to use the mediation program. Student mediators who use the program set a good example for others to seek this resource as an alternative to hurt or harm.
In addition, a very important skill in mediation is empathy, the ability to think and feel like another. When mediators have the opportunity to sit in the disputant's seat, they experience life on the other side of the mediation equation. Mediators can use mediation for inter or intrapersonal conflict.
Too many adults want to hold mediators to unrealistic expectations that only JESUS can maintain. Consider that a crucial goal of mediation is transforming conflict from opposition to opportunity. Mediators using mediation to work out their conflicts are potentially better at assisting others.
Curry Bailey, Safety Liaison
Office of School Climate and Safety
School District of Philadelphia
Your last e-newsletter has been in my inbox for weeks, waiting to be read. I've finally gotten the chance today.
I just want to commend you for your approach to the issue of mediators who misbehave and for your balanced and empowering perspective on all the other issues I've read about in the newsletter. I'm so glad your voice about adolescents is available to the larger community of adults who work with teenagers!
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