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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 October issue of The School Mediator.
This month I discuss the dissapointing reality that we only train a lucky few students to mediate.
As always, please send along your thoughts.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Peer Mediation Exclusivity
I have heard every manner of criticism leveled at peer mediation over the years.
Some of it arises from a lack of understanding of the program.
Some is just sour grapes: The harshest critics usually have another pet form of conflict resolution program.
And some is right on the money, or at least close enough to warrant my attention.
One such critique that has gnawed at me goes like this:
Peer mediation invests too much time and energy into a small cadre of future mediators, while the overwhelming majority of students in a school receive very little.
Of course, this is not true. School mediators give back to their peers by helping them resolve conflicts. In this way--and as an increasing body of research bears out--peer mediation has a direct and often profound impact upon both individual students and the wider school community.
In addition, this "too much to too few" criticism could be leveled at any school club or team (the drama club, the football team, the school chorus, etc) in which educators invest extra energy, attention and resources into a select group of students.
Still, the exclusivity of peer mediation bothers me.
In an ideal world, every student would be trained to be a mediator. After all, being able to resolve conflicts effectively is a skill that every student needs.
There have been a few peer mediation approaches that have claimed to "train" all the students in a school to be mediators. I wonder about the veracity of these claims, however.
In an especially committed elementary school, perhaps this is possible.
But given the funding, time and logistical constraints within which middle and high school educators work, providing top-quality mediation training to all students seems an impossibility except under the most unique circumstances.
One thing that can be done is to expose ALL students to conflict resolution and mediation concepts through the curriculum.
Some educators have created stand-alone, semester long classes on conflict resolution/mediation. Many others integrate lessons about conflict resolution into health and even English and History classes.
Of course, even this is difficult to achieve. There is only so much time in the day (and there are no questions measuring conflict resolution ability on standardized tests!).
But introducing conflict resolution concepts and skills to all students is possible.
Does it make it any easier for coordinators of established mediation programs to turn away dozens of students who want to be trained as mediators for lack of space? Not really.
Does it minimize my own regret that I can't enable every student to experience the sometimes life- changing impact of a high quality mediation training? Not really.
During the final exercise of our peer mediation training, the now wide-eyed student mediators stand in a circle and offer closing comments. Typically this turns into a spontaneous celebration, with students expressing how important the training has been to them, appreciating each other, and noting in particular how comfortable they have come to feel with one another even though they are all so different.
I have been through this drill hundreds of times, and it is always very satisfying.
During these moments, however, I often think of all of the other students in the building. Any one of them, were they lucky enough to be part of the training, would likely be standing there saying (and experiencing) the same thing.
It makes these supremely sweet moments just a little sad.
I don't know any way around this. Do you?
Share your thoughts...
A couple of noteworthy responses we received after the last issue:
I agree with you completely about the confidentiality requirement for parties. I think it is a decision that the parties can make on their own.
I would go even further than a request, and ask parties what they want to do about talking outside the room.
I just sent your old issue on spirituality in mediation to a group of transformative mediators and it hit a chord with them.
Sally Ganong Pope, Fellow,
Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation
It is inspiring to read the mediation newsletter. It is also something that I use to show my mediators that they are not the only students in the country choosing to follow the violence-free path.
Please keep up the good work. Again thank you.
Famatta T. Massalay
Queens, New York
|For twenty-one years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.
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