The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. VIII, 12/08

in this issue

Peer Mediation's Missing Stage: Increase Understanding

Response to "A Parade for Peer Mediation Coordinators"

About Us

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
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Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Welcome to the December issue of The School Mediator.

This issue focuses on a crucial part of the mediation process that is often missing from peer mediation models. Go figure...

Please send along your thoughts and experiences. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Peer Mediation's Missing Stage: Increase Understanding

  • The more you know about something, the less you know about it.

    This expression captures my experience as a long-time mediator and mediation trainer. The more I learn about this work, the more I perceive gaps in my knowledge, gaps that I couldn't see when I knew less.

    One such gap that we at School Mediation Associates are trying to address concerns an often-neglected aspect of the mediation process: that is, how to facilitate dialogue between parties.

    I have mentioned this issue in a previous newsletter. As far as I am concerned, the standard, 5-stage peer mediation model, relied upon by countless students around the world, has a major deficiency. Quite simply, it is missing a "stage."

    Look at this basic schema:

    1. Welcome and Ground Rules
    2. Storytelling
    3. Brainstorm Solutions
    4. Evaluate Solutions
    5. Create an Agreement

    As you can see, the "Brainstorm Solutions" stage (#3) comes quickly on the heels of the "Storytelling" stage (#2).

    When mediators jump from the storytelling to generating solutions, however, they skip arguably the most critical function of mediation: helping parties understand each other's stories.

    At SMA we call this stage, designed to help parties digest their "adversary's" perspective, "Increase Understanding."

    Why is it so important?

    Because the more parties understand each other's stories, the more likely they will arrive at new insights that can enable them to find a mutually satisfying solution to their conflict.

    After simply telling their story to a mediator (and overhearing the other party do the same), parties have a relatively limited understanding of their conflict.

    To understand more, parties need to engage with each other, addressing questions like: what do and don't they understand about each other's experiences, what do they find difficult to believe, what would they like to explain, what do they feel is missing, and what questions do they have.

    The mediators role here is to create a forum where parties can engage with each other to the extent that they are willing and able.

    And so a more effective model would look like this:

    1. Welcome and Ground Rules
    2. Storytelling
    3. Increase Understanding
    4. Brainstorm Solutions
    5. Evaluate Solutions
    6. Create an Agreement

    During the "Increase Understanding" stage--the heart of the process as far as I am concerned--parties often talk directly to one another. Though the mediators facilitate the conversation, they are peripheral to it. They follow rather than lead.

    As such, this work is difficult to codify on the sort of mediation script provided to students ("ask this question, summarize back, ask that question," etc.). This partially explains its absence from almost all scripts.

    Peer mediation sessions can be conducted without this stage; clearly tens of thousands have.

    But peer mediation is most effective only when some sort of "Increase Understanding" stage is a part of the process.

    How do you teach this to young people?

    Well, we are figuring that out. Currently we talk about its importance, we model it as mediators, and we create training materials and exercises to help students feel comfortable doing it.

    A simple question at least gets the process started: "Party X, how do you feel about what Party Y has just explained?"

    Any reaction from Party X is fine, for with the help of a skilled facilitator, it can provide a path toward greater understanding.

    What are your thoughts? Please respond so we can all learn from you...

  • Response to "A Parade for Peer Mediation Coordinators"

  • We received a number of responses to the last issue of The School Mediator. They follow below...

    I don't know why that coordinator lost his job, but I can say that after 30 years in public education, it just does not feel the same anymore. The business atmosphere and bottom line mentality have made our work with children less constructive, less able to help kids build their characters. Maybe I am getting old.

    Donna Georges, Principal
    Academy of Strategic Learning
    Amesbury, Massachusetts

    Thanks for the last issue. I could see all their faces, and I appreciated the moment to remember.

    Kathleen McDonnell, Mediation Program Coordinator
    Euclid High School
    Euclid, Ohio

    Thank you so much for your thoughts about Peer Mediation Advisors. I have felt "invisible" for quite some time now, and to see it in writing and to know that others are feeling the same way is comforting.

    Debbie Lambdin, Behavioral Studies & AP Psychology Teacher, Peer Mediation and Mock Trial Club Advisor
    Exeter Township Senior High School
    Reading, Pennsylvania

    What a nice and well-deserved tribute! I am so grateful for the behind-the-scenes work that coordinators do to ensure that our trainings run smoothly. They select the student mediators, reserve the training room, get students excused from class, order supplies, keep us all fed and watered, clean up, etc.

    For all of this and the many other responsibilities that coordinators take in stride, I happily join the parade, waving and cheering them on. Thank you!

    Stacy Davison, Trainer
    School Mediation Associates
    Watertown, Massachusetts

  • About Us
  • For twenty-four 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
    Email us:
    Web us:
    Post us: 134w Standish Road,
    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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