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Market This (redux)

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book - the school mediator's field guide

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

A complete guide to implementing, operating, and maintaining peer mediation programs.

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Welcome to the January/February issue of The School Mediator.

This month we explore the always important work of marketing your peer mediation program.

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

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

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Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
Market This (redux)
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A slightly edited version of the newsletter below, the first newsletter I ever wrote, was published in September of 2001.  Because it was the premier issue, I assume many of you have never read it.  And because it concerns a topic essential to the success of any mediation effort--a topic that I discuss with peer mediation coordinators on a daily basis--I have decided to publish it again.  My son is now close to 14, and Maija Gray has since retired, but the message of this initial newsletter is timeless...

When I talk to educators about the number of cases their programs are (or equally often, are not!) mediating, I remember a conversation with one of my mediation heroes, Maija Gray.  Maija is an experienced peer mediation coordinator and adjustment counselor at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton, MA. 
I was saying how impressed I was with her program's campaign to educate the school about mediation--an effort that included creative posters and student presentations.   Maija responded, with more than a little exasperation:
"And we can never rest on our laurels as far as outreach is concerned.  We have to do this year after year!"
Maija runs the kind of peer mediation program that helped me understand the potential of this work.  Her mediators consistently handle 100 cases per year, and her diverse student body--as representative of the contemporary American teenager as you'll find in any school--thinks it is as cool to be a mediator as it is to be a football player. 
Maija, her colleagues, and her students have created what I consider a "mature" mediation program.  (More about "mature" mediation programs the October 2002 issue.)
She understands you cannot have a successful peer mediation effort unless the school community is knowledgeable about, and feels comfortable with, your services.  You can build a peer mediation program, but if you don't do outreach EVERY year, people in conflict simply won't come. 
I dislike doing "outreach"--a euphemism for marketing--as much as the next person.  Most likely more than the next person.  (How many of you keep a running list of the disturbing places that you see ads? Most recent entry:  on the basketball backboards at the boys and girls club.)
As distasteful as I find the increasingly intrusive tactics of the marketing profession, however, it has an important lesson for us.  That is:  Most people must be exposed to a new product or program repeatedly before they will integrate it into their daily lives. 
For an illustration, I need look no further than the edge of my bathtub.   Rachel and I did our best to shield our five-year-old son, Sam, from the mother of all marketing phenomena, Pokemon.  Sam nevertheless saw the odd photo of Pokemon in the newspaper, played with friends' Pokemons in their homes, found a stray Pokemon card on the street, received a Pokemon birthday invitation, was given a Pokemon sticker at the doctor's office, and even received a Pokemon action figure from (you guessed it) his grandparents.  In the end, what toy do you think accompanies him into the bath every night?
I don't confuse the often profound value of mediation with an over-hyped child's toy, but the same principle applies.  Students, teachers and administrators must:
  • Hear about mediation from friends and colleagues who have tried it
  • Learn about mediation from a history teacher who integrates conflict resolution into her curriculum
  • See posters
  • Talk with teams of mediators who visit health classes
  • Listen to the "mediators' tip of the week" on the announcements
  • Watch performances at the peer mediation-sponsored talent show/fund raiser.  
Only after repeated and positive exposure will they feel comfortable using your mediation services. 
And although the best time to begin outreach efforts is at the start of the school year, when students and educators aren't stuck in their routines, these efforts should continue all year long. 
Remember, too, that perhaps the best resource for marketing peer mediation are your student mediators.  After watching a diverse group of student leaders demonstrate the poise, openness, and the simple truth about human relations that is at the heart of the mediation process, others can't help but be convinced. 
It requires courage to mediate one's conflicts.  Who wants to sit and talk with a person who makes your chest feel like it is wrapped in bungy cords?
We mediators know that in the long run, sitting down and talking with such a person is often the best thing that one can do. 
But that doesn't mean it is easy. 
Your outreach campaign makes it more likely that students and teachers will take those brave steps down the hall and into the mediation room.

How do you get the word out about your mediation program?  What works, and what doesn't? 
Please share your thoughts...

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