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School Mediator's Field Guide:
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Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the November issue of The School Mediator.
This month's issue discusses the importance of
having a diverse group of peer mediators.
As always, please send along your thoughts and experiences.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Peer Mediator Diversity
I sometimes arrive at a school to conduct a peer mediation
training and find that the coordinator has assembled
a homogenous group of trainees: most of the students
are high achieving, relatively well- adjusted, and
represent the majority racial/ethnic group in the
school. Many are even part of the same clique of friends.
Great kids. As fine a group as any.
But one thing they are not, is diverse.
The coordinator undoubtedly thinks that she is getting
the program off to a great start by selecting only
the "stars" of the school.
She couldn't be more wrong.
A peer mediation program is doomed to fail if its
mediators are not representative of the student body
Why? Because diversity of mediators is a practical
requisite for peer mediation program success. Diversity...
1. Provides the program with flexibility and
responsiveness when assigning mediators to a case.
(The particular mediators with whom parties would
be most comfortable can be assigned to each case.)
2. Provides the program with a resource to
understand as well as reach out to all groups within
3. Demonstrates to the trainees and to the
school that all students can work, learn and
have fun together.
4. Demonstrates to the school community that
mediation is not just for a particular "type" of student.
(Every student can find a mediator who is "like me.")
5. Prepares trainees for their work as mediators,
when they will have to feel comfortable with and win
the trust of all kinds of students.*
Of all these important benefits of diversity, the
last is most compelling.
For though being an effective mediator is a matter
of skill, it is also a matter of attitude, or "orientation,"
Mediators have a refined ability to empathize: to
see situations from another person's perspective.
In order to empathize, they must first give people
the benefit of the doubt, and strive to manage the
tendency-- present in all of us--to pre-judge others.
I can think of no better way to develop this orientation
then by providing potential mediators with an experience
that calls their own prejudices into question. When
trainees are diverse, this is exactly what happens
during the peer mediation training.
Students discover that peers, about whom they had
made negative judgments, are actually wonderful, interesting,
caring, fun people. Hopefully, they carry this discovery--this
reluctance to judge others-- into the mediation room.
It is important to note that even in schools in which
95% of students appear outwardly similar, there are
still many ways in which students differ. In addition
to the obvious categories of race, ethnicity, and
religion, consider physical capability, socioeconomic
status, academic ability, grade level, sex, sexual
orientation (for older students), home neighborhood,
cliques represented, interests, school behavior, and
even personality type.
The question remains, however: Why, after repeated
reminders about the importance of diversity, do some
coordinators still assemble homogenous groups of student
Is it laziness? Overwork? Is it a lack of belief in
all young people? Is it structural inequities in a
system focused on such a narrow range of aptitudes
that those who don't fit the mold get lost?
What do you think? Please share your thoughts...
* Excerpted from Students Resolving Conflict: Peer
Mediation in Schools.
twenty 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.
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