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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 February issue of The School Mediator.
This month I am delighted to highlight some recent research that demonstrates that disputants learn from peer mediation.
As always, please send along your thoughts.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Research Shows Disputants Gain Lasting Benefits
One of the reasons I was initially attracted to peer mediation was the sense that participating in mediation changed disputants: that in addition to resolving the conflict at hand, parties learned new skills and behaviors that they could apply to future conflicts.
For many years, however, there was little qualitative proof that any of the benefits attributed to peer mediation were real. We had only anecdotal evidence--anecdotes that were compelling, to be sure--but anecdotes nonetheless.
Even in 1993, when Dr. Julie Lam of Yale University--- then one of the most knowledgeable people about peer mediation research---co-authored a chapter in Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools, she insisted that most of the research studies available were flawed and of limited usefulness.
My, how far we have come.
Over the last decade, and particularly the past 5 years, the research has been very kind. Dozens of well-conceived, quantitative studies have demonstrated that peer mediation benefits students and their schools in numerous ways. (Studies that were notably analyzed in Conflict Resolutions Quarterly's Fall 2003 issue).
The short list of "proven" benefits of peer mediation has included that it:
·Resolves the overwhelming majority of conflicts mediated
·Improves students' sense of their school climate
·Reduces disciplinary actions (suspension, detention, expulsion, etc.)
·Benefits mediators by increasing their self- esteem, increasing their knowledge and understanding of interpersonal conflict, and even improving their academic performance.
But I had given up hope of researchers demonstrating that disputants receive a long-term benefit from their participation in mediation.
That is, until I read Dr. Robert Harris' study, "Unlocking the Learning Potential in Peer Mediation: Evaluation of Peer Mediator Modeling and Disputant Learning," published in the recent Conflict Resolution Quarterly.
And what a thrilling read it was!
Harris's research draws upon the work of social learning theorist Albert Bandura, who suggested that one of the important ways that people learn is by observing the actions of others. Dr. Harris studied whether high school- aged disputants learned from observing the behavior (during a mediation) of skilled student mediators.
His study appears to be the first to demonstrate that participating in a single mediation session as a party can lead to "lasting" change in a young person's skills, attitudes and behaviors.
This is truly groundbreaking.
Almost all disputants in Harris' study believed that they learned skills as a result of their participation in a mediation session. Even more striking, close to 90% reported that they had used their new skills effectively in other conflict situations since the mediation.
Disputants also reported a positive change in both their attitude towards school and their attitude toward using collaborative conflict styles.
Of course, this is only one, relatively small study. We must look to further research to bolster the contention that participating in a mediation has an enduring, positive impact upon disputants. (Harris himself is currently seeking funding to replicate his study).
The implications of Harris' findings are profound for our work, however.
Most significantly, they provide evidence that demonstrates the educational benefit of peer mediation. When I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Harris last week, he expressed the hope that his work will help educators see that peer mediation is not simply an intervention to "fix things," but instead a powerful educational tool.
Other thought-provoking aspects of Harris' study include:
The student mediators he studied had 160 hours of conflict resolution/ mediation training, far more than the typical 20-30 hours that most peer mediators receive.
Disputants reported that the most helpful skill that mediators used was their ability to be non-judgmental.
With few exceptions, student mediators in the study did not take private sessions.
Harris found that the longer the mediation session, the increase in lasting benefit to parties.
Harris now recommends that peer mediators say explicitly to parties that one of the goals of mediation is to help them develop skills and behaviors that they can use to resolve future conflicts.
I highly recommend Dr Harris' report in CR Quarterly. If you prefer going to the source, the link below will enable you to purchase a copy of his dissertation for US$41.
I guess good news does come to those who wait.
What are your thoughts?
Order Dr. Harris's dissertation (it is order #3068636)
Response to "Young Mediators Better Than Adults"
We received a number of responses to last month's issue concerning the advantages young people have as mediators. Below are a few of those responses:
I agree that young people are best suited to resolve their own conflicts in peer mediation. This conviction is the basis for the peer mediation club we want to set up this month at the University of Abuja, in Nigeria.
We got the go ahead in December of last year, but it is with trepidation we set out, this being the first of its kind in Nigeria. Of course there have been peace clubs and the like here, but guided by your books and insights and the fact that traditionally, age-grades have intervened in disputes in most African societies, we believe it will work.
We are called Mediators & Advocates of Peace. As an NGO, you already hit the nail on the head in your books, when you identified funding as a major problem. We hope we will strike a cord with the university community to elicit the help we will need. I want to thank you for the good work you are doing. Please let us have any guide that occurs to you that we will need. We are already working with your books.
LAMPAIX (Le Alliance des Mediateaurs de la Paix)
Although most of your reasons for feeling that young people make better peer mediators are well taken, I still feel that it takes a finesse to run a mediation with the true spirit that mediation was intended.
Though I have trained and mentored many student mediators, only a few middle school-aged mediators have impressed me with the ability to develop questions and assist the participants in discovering what the heart of their issues are.
Too many times the peer mediators go through the steps of mediation without any depth, depth which is essential to help develop resolution (or at least understanding) between the participants.
Because of this, it is really important that "kids" mediate with experienced mentors. It takes practice and patience to develop the skill of really getting to the heart of the matter.
In our recent project of peace education last summer (lesvos dikeli 05) we created a peer mediation/conflict resolution group of students and adults, all trained to work for the two weeks of camps in Greece and Turkey.
We noticed that often the twelve-year-old students understood the feelings of adults (who they saw as colleagues in the group) better, or expressed this understanding in better terms, than the adults themselves. One reason might be that those in a position of less power look more carefully at those who possess decision- making posts: their well-being is dependant on them.
Often a child would ask for a mediator to come to the assistance of another who spoke a different language, as non-verbal communication revealed a problem or a sad mood.
One child declared that 'if we all become mediators, then we will no longer need mediators'.
European Network of Women
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