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In This Issue

Safe Schools: From One Tree, Many Branches

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The School Mediator's Field Guide: Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges

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Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools

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Welcome to the December issue of The School Mediator.

This month we trace the common roots of the most popular programs used to improve school climate.

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

Wishing you much joy during the Holiday Season,

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Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
Safe Schools:  From One Tree, Many Branches
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Educators use many programs to improve school climate. 
As far as I can tell, these programs are branches from the same tree.
They all strive to make schools:
Safe, by preventing and protecting students from harm, and repairing harm when it does occur, and

Caring, by encouraging adults and young people to develop positive, supportive connections with one another.
When schools are safe and caring, not only are they more pleasant places to teach and learn, they enable teachers and students alike to do their best work
Though there is overlap among programs' tactics and goals, each has its own flavor.
Here's a brief tour of the major branches that I see:
Peer Mediation:  The program that is dearest to my heart.  Here a diverse cadre of student leaders develop strong connections with each other, learn conflict resolution skills and attitudes, and then serve their peers as role models.  Students facilitate a mediation process that empowers their peers to resolve inevitable interpersonal conflicts, thereby repairing damaged relationships.  Overwhelmingly, students who participate in mediation sessions are able to resolve their differences peacefully.
Anti-Bullying Work: This work addresses--ideally on a systemic basis--the long-neglected problem of bullying in schools.  Efforts focus first on the administration  and staff, enabling them to have the knowledge, the confidence, the tools and the sensitivity to effectively address students who bully and those who are bullied.  The work also aims to empower the student body--the majority of whom are not directly affected by bullying--to become "active bystanders" who take a stand to prevent or interrupt bullying and teasing.
Student Leadership/Mentoring:  This includes a wide range of efforts that enable students to take the lead in improving school climate.  Some efforts focus on mentoring younger students.  Others provide academic or social support, have students embody and model a school's unique mission, or help young people make the transition between middle and high school.  The most successful of these efforts recruit and train a diverse cross-section of the student body.
Mediating Conflicts Among Adults:  Yes, adults become involved in conflicts too, and longstanding tensions among adults make educators feel unsafe and can impede their effectiveness.  Though administrators often manage communication and personality differences on their own, sometimes it's helpful to employ mediators from outside the building.  Though this confidential work flies under the radar, it can be a powerful intervention to improve school climate.
Restorative Practices:  Restorative practices refers to a continuum of practices designed to build relationships in the classroom and the school, and to repair and restore those relationships when they have been damaged.   Questioning the common assumption that punishment works to hold wrongdoers accountable, restorative practices instead stress developing personal responsibility, empowering victims, and creating community.  RP particularly excels at addressing disciplinary issues and conflicts in which an individual or group has caused harm to others who are blameless (situations that are not well suited to mediation).
Advisor-Advisee:  These efforts provide a structure and training for adults to build supportive personal relationships with students.  Advisors may meet with small groups of students or one-on-one.  Typically advisors meet with their advisees once per week during a designated slot in the school schedule, sometimes delivering an interactive, customized curriculum created by the school.
In an ideal world schools would implement all of these programs.  Limitations of time, energy and funding, however, mean that most schools engage in only one or two, if any.
Many schools, for example, use peer mediation to address student interpersonal conflicts, but continue to handle disciplinary matters using punitive approaches that neither restore relationships nor encourage offending students to truly take responsibility for their actions.
Other schools implement advisor-advisee programs, but provide few avenues that empower students to resolve their own conflicts.
We all do what we can, particularly in these lean times. 
Still, it is an interesting tree, isn't it?
School Mediation Associates has engaged with schools on all of these efforts.  Please contact us if we can help.
How do you see this all fitting together?  Have I missed a program, or an important aspect of a program? 
Please share your thoughts...

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