The School Mediator
  Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. II 10/02  

in this issue

Is Your Peer Mediation Program "Mature?"

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Welcome to the October issue of The School Mediator.

In this issue I discuss my approach to determining whether a peer mediation program is peak-performing and mature. Your response, as always, is welcome.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates


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 Is Your Peer Mediation Program "Mature?"
  
I employ four criteria to determine whether a peer mediation program is peak-performing and/or "mature."

Formulated using common sense and intuition born of many years helping schools implement these programs, I share them here to continue the dialogue about raising the standards of our field.

My hope is that you will be motivated to respond and share your thoughts.

First, it is necessary to explain the distinction I make between programs that are peak-performing and those that are mature. Peak-performing programs mediate enough cases relative to their school's population that they become a vital part of school life.

Mature, or stable, programs are those that have a high degree of institutional support and effectiveness. Mature programs have also developed a kind of sustaining momentum that, barring unforeseen circumstances, guarantees their existence for the medium if not the long term.

"Peak-performance" and "maturity" usually go hand in hand, but not always. A mature program can under-perform; and a peak-performing program might have a busy year, but not generate the depth of support to sustain itself.

My assumption is that these criteria are applicable regardless of the school level (elementary, middle, high school, and university) or the country within which the program operates.

And significantly, they are not meant to determine "success." Whether peer mediation programs are successful seems even more subjective than the other designations. A program could be said to be "successful," for instance, if it mediated only a single conflict to the satisfaction of the parties involved.

Here goes:

My one (yes, one!) criteria for determining peak-performance is this:

The program directly serves a minimum of 10%--and ideally 15%--of the school population each academic year. (In a school of 450 students, a minimum of 45 students would use mediation services each year; in a school of 1,000, a minimum of 100, etc.)

This single statistic tells volumes about the reach of a program and how practiced and therefore invested the program coordinator and the student mediators are.

Even if I know nothing else, I consider a program that serves 10% of its student body each year peak-performing. If it does not meet this mark, then even if all other ducks line up, I assume that it isn't.

The three criteria that signify program maturity are:

1. A minimum of 25% of mediation sessions are initiated by students themselves (self-referrals or referrals by peers). This indicates most clearly the degree to which the student body is informed about and has faith in peer mediation. It also speaks volumes about the amount and quality of outreach the program has conducted, the way that mediators and the mediation coordinator carry themselves, and the quality of service they provide.

2. Administrators, especially administrators in charge of discipline, would strongly resist any attempt to do away with their peer mediation program. This, more than almost anything else, indicates whether a program has become an integral part of the way a school functions--whether it has become institutionalized. Once school administrators truly understand the benefits of peer mediation, they simply can't imagine running their school without it.

3. The peer mediation coordinator is fundamentally satisfied with the resources and support they receive. Sure, most coordinators can think of factors that could improve their program (more time, money, space, support, etc.). But if they are basically satisfied with their position as it stands, then there is a likelihood of continued success. Especially if they are talented and committed coordinators!

So there you have it. Obviously there are other factors that could be used to determine peak-performance and maturity. The kind of physical space the program occupies, whether its funding comes from fickle grant providers or from the school's budget, and the percentage of the student body that applies to be trained as mediators immediately come to mind. But these seem less significant than the four above.

What are your thoughts? Program coordinators: Does your program meet these simple criteria? If not, is there a chance that it ever will? Do you feel you coordinate a peak-performing, mature program that nevertheless does not meet these criteria?

And to those whose focus is district-wide or on multiple districts: How many of the peer mediation programs with which you are familiar meet these criteria? Do they seem a fair tool to assess and qualify programs? Would you add, subtract or in any way modify the criteria that I suggest?

Please respond...we will all benefit.

 

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