The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. VI, 9/06

in this issue

Effective Intakes: Connect and Support, Then Inform

Response to "Re-Entry Mediation"

About Us

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
more info

Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
more info

Welcome back to school and to the September issue of our sixth volume of The School Mediator. We now have over 2600 subscribers from 62 countries!

This month we begin a two part exploration of an often overlooked part of the peer mediation process: the intake interview. Maija Gray, master peer mediation coordinator, inspired and co-wrote this article.

As always, please send along your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Effective Intakes: Connect and Support, Then Inform

  • Your peer mediators are trained and ready to go.

    Your outreach campaign is in full swing.

    At last, the assistant principal responds by referring students in conflict to the peer mediation program.

    Now what?

    Time for intake interviews.

    The next few issues of "The School Mediator" will explore this integral yet often overlooked component of any successful peer mediation program.

    Without skilled intake interviews, students won't choose to mediate, and the school community will not benefit from the peer mediation effort.

    Of course, we know that a large majority of student parties will find mediation valuable. Unfortunately, most students do not share this understanding.

    To appreciate the challenge of the intake interview, consider these two facts:

    #1. Mediation is voluntary, and students must choose to participate in mediation for it to be most helpful.

    #2. Most potential parties initially don't want to try mediation.

    The mediation coordinator is faced with the difficult task of encouraging students to choose to do something that, at least at the outset, they don't want to do.

    Why do students hesitate to participate in mediation? In most cases, the reason is simple: They are afraid.

    From a typical student's perspective, there is much to fear:

    a. Fear of the Other Party: Few people of any age look forward to talking with someone with whom they are in conflict. The risks seem very high: for losing face, for hurt feelings (one's own or the other party's), for saying the wrong thing, for not getting what one wants, for confronting something uncomfortable in oneself, for damaging a friendship, even for physical violence.

    b. Fear of Breaking Social Norms: Many students see violence as the norm. Toughness is encouraged at every turn-at home, among peers, and in the media. Anything that might be perceived as "soft" is understood to lead to ridicule or loss and therefore is to be avoided. Students don't have the breadth of experience to see confrontational behavior as only one option among many for approaching their conflicts.

    c. Fear of the Unknown: Most potential parties do not understand what mediation is and how it works. Students often assume, for instance, that their private information will be revealed, or that peer mediators will tell them what to do.

    Aside from students' apprehension, other factors can contribute to students' initial refusal to participate in mediation, including school culture, the manner in which referral sources present mediation, and the timing of the referral. Sometimes, too, mediation is truly not the best avenue for a particular student to meet his or her needs.

    But many coordinators can dramatically increase their program's caseload by refining their approach to intake interviewing.

    The key: Strive, above all else, to build a trusting relationship with students during the intake interview.

    The best coordinators function as a personal coach: reassuring students, treating them with respect, and honoring their growing independence. Coordinators' insight, sensitivity, and intuition are their most important tools here. When it works, students should feel understood, supported, safe, and in control.

    Educating students about mediation should occur within this comfortable context, with coordinators strategically sharing information--and encouraging students to try it--in response to students' unfolding concerns.

    This can take time, and depending upon the student and their unique needs, it may involve more than one face-to-face meeting.*

    We'll have more on intake interviews next month. In the meantime...

    Please share your thoughts about intake interviews. We can all learn from your experience.

    *It is worth noting that time, or more accurately the lack of it, leads some peer mediation coordinators to do without intake interviews altogether. These coordinators receive referrals, schedule mediators and parties to arrive simultaneously, and then talk briefly with parties prior to the session. This lack of attention to the intake process, however understandable given coordinators' limited availability, lessens the program's impact.

  • Response to "Re-Entry Mediation"
  • We received a number of responses to last May's issue of The School Mediator. They are posted below.

    I found this article about re-entry mediation fascinating. It is very similar to the re-integration conference that we recommend to schools, the difference being two-fold:

    1. In such a conference parents are present and participate in the healing, as they have been affected as well, have their own story to tell, and can often help support their child fulfill the contract.

    2. The process is facilitated by an adult (but it is interesting to consider using peer mediators instead).

    Best wishes. I enjoy your newsletters very much.

    Belinda Hopkins
    Transforming Conflict
    National Centre for Restorative Justice in Education
    Berkshire, England

    As a community mediation program, we have been called in by schools to provide mediation in re-entry situations. Some schools do not have peer mediation programs; others apparently consider these cases inappropriate for their own peer mediation program. I am glad to know that at least some peer mediation programs are working in this area also.

    We draw on our experience with Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) for this work. We meet first with each party individually to explore their positions and interests, and then help them prepare for the joint meeting. In some cases, teachers or school staff members participate as parties in the mediation, having been directly involved in the incident leading to the suspension, usually as victim.

    One of the valuable aspects that VOD brings to this is the expectation that the process is about giving each party a voice, taking responsibility for one's actions, and deciding how to move forward (including how to handle future interactions).

    The confidentiality provision is critical; often nothing happens until the participants believe that we won't report the content of the mediation to the school administration or to their parents without their permission.

    As mediators who are not part of the school system, it may be a bit easier to establish credibility in this area and as outsiders it may be easier to be seen as neutrals.

    Mediators often find these mediations very satisfying as they offer the blend of problem-solving, self- determination and healing that we hope to see in all mediations. The students seem to agree.

    Carol Stewart, Program Director
    NH Mediation Program
    Concord, NH

  • About Us
  • For twenty-two 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.

    Call us: 617-926-0994
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    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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