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School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment,
Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the May/June issue of the The
Mediator. This is the final issue for the
2006-2007 school year.
This month's issue explores the importance of not talking when one is mediating.
Please send along your thoughts and
experiences. The best part of writing this newsletter
is hearing from you.
Have a wonderful summer, and wishing you the best,
wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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Say Nothing For Peace
Have you ever observed mediators say something
counterproductive, something that makes it more
difficult for parties to resolve their conflict?
Perhaps they ask an unhelpful question, or restate
something in an inflammatory way, or inadvertently
give their opinion.
Sometimes, however, the problem is not what the
mediators have said.
It is that they have said anything at all.
Often the most powerful intervention a mediator
make is to sit attentively and say nothing.
Picture this: It is 20 minutes into a peer mediation
session. The mediators have said their opening
statement, and the two 14-year-old parties, Gladys
and Eva, have each presented their initial stories.
Although the girls have not addressed each other
directly (except to disagree or roll their eyes), the
angry tenor of the conversation has subsided. The
atmosphere somehow feels softer. There is more
space between sentences.
Then Gladys says in reference to Eva: " I never really
understood why she stopped talking to me..."
The opportunity for the Eva to respond directly to
Gladys hangs in the room like a ripe fruit.
What should the mediators say?
Absolutely nothing, of course!
Too often, however, inexperienced mediators
squander such opportunities, filling silences that
might be more constructively filled by the parties.
Mediating is just as much about knowing when to keep one's mouth shut, as it is about knowing
when--and how--to talk.
Beginning mediators focus primarily on the latter,
"talking" part, in particular on how to frame relevant
and timely questions that move the process forward,
and that are free of perceived bias.
This is no surprise. It is hard for most of us
like a mediator," and it requires practice.
Inexperienced mediators also tend to feel like any
"dead air" during a session is a sign of their
incompetence. As a result, they sometimes speak to
assuage their own anxiety as much as to help the
Certainly there are times when saying nothing will decrease parties' trust in the mediators and in the
process, and thereby reduce the likelihood that they
will take the risks necessary to make peace.
And undeniably, parties' willingness to engage
directly with one another often results, at least in part,
from what mediators do say: the
that put them at ease; the open-ended questions that
uncover significant yet unexpressed concerns; the
paraphrasing that enables one party to appreciate
the other's perspective.
Still, one of the most useful things mediators can do
is to bite their tongues and let the parties do the
When the time is right, the best mediators say
share your thoughts and experiences... How do
you teach your mediators about the importance of
silence? We'd all
like to hear from
Richard Cohen Interested in Working Abroad in 2008
||Richard Cohen is hoping to work outside the United
States for four months between July 2008 and
January 2009. If you or your organization would
benefit from having Richard's expertise close at
hand, please follow the link below.
Responses to "A Change of Seasons"
We received many and varied responses to last month's
newsletter about the current challenges facing
the peer mediation movement in the US. Below are a
handful of them...
I have been training peer mediators for over ten
years, and I am discouraged by what I see in my local
We had the opportunity/gift of a Safe and Drug Free
Schools grant for three years. It provided millions of
dollars for conflict resolution programming in our
schools, K-12. Our efforts were very successful; we
Then the money disappeared, and 9/11 followed...
Our schools are worse off now than they were before
the grant program: suspensions and expulsions are
up, and our mayor insists on using scarce funds to
put police in schools rather than implement peace
programs. It seems the funds that were previously
used for prevention now go to homeland security.
We keep trying to provide peer mediation through
community resources (working with a law school, for
instance) but the schools rarely even have people on
site to coordinate the program, which is absolutely
It is so hard for me to watch all this.
Mediation Management Services
I want to concur as to the "dark days" of peer
mediation, having conducted and implemented a
program at an elementary school in the Valley
Stream School District in New York.
The club was operational for two years until the
During that time there was a noticeable drop in the
disciplinary problems in the lunch rooms (which was
greatly appreciated by school personnel!). We had
mediator caps in the school colors and a Peace sign
donated by the PTA.
I made a formal presentation to the school board to
professionally implement the program in all of the
schools in the district, yet the board did not wish to
I have been active in the mediation field for many
years (serving as vice-chair of the Mediation
Committee of the American Bar Association and on
the Board of Directors of the New York State Dispute
Resolution Association). I strongly believe that peer
mediation needs to be a mandatory subject in all
elementary, middle and high schools throughout the
USA and indeed world wide
If we have any hope of creating a world with less
violent conflict, it is the youth of the world who must
learn to resolve conflict in a peaceful and respectful
way. Granted, this is a hard concept to sell when our
own federal government does the opposite,
promoting war and pre-emptive attack as opposed to
the development of meaningful dialogue.
Hopefully some of the powers-that-be will see the
Marty Gofberg J.D.
Equitable Solutions = Quality
Malverne, New York
I am the mediation coordinator for the second largest
school district in San Antonio, Texas. We have
partnered with our local dispute resolution center,
The Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center, and
share resources, training efforts and evaluation
Our peer mediation efforts have been more
successful every year because we work the program
into the Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL)
Program in every middle and high school. Peer
mediation has become part of the fabric of a
successful youth development program, and it is
central to a community partnership that benefits our
school district and the wider community.
I also have numerous peer mediation teams
operating in our elementary after-school programs.
We come for an hour, twice a week, to work with
students who normally are not exposed to youth
development activities such as peer mediation. We
do this in conjunction with the San Antonio Bar
Foundation (which provides t-shirts and other
In addition, our peer mediators are recognized by the
school board; the superintendent personally gives
top mediators certificates and medals; mediators
participate in various peace art contests; they write
essays for essay contests; they put on peer mediation
plays for faculty members; and often times, they serve
as ambassadors for school events. We also publish
several peer mediation newsletters which highlight
important contributions that the peer mediation
program has made to our very large and ever
growing school district.
I write all of this not to brag, but to let others know that
peer mediation can strengthen existing programs
and that there are many opportunities to recognize
the talents of our students. Now more than ever,
students want to be part of the solution, not the
Mary Alice Smallbone
NEISD Mediation Coordinator
San Antonio, Texas
I continue to read your newsletter with great interest.
Your last newsletter highlights the same problem
faced by Canadian schools' peer mediation
programs-no support. Many high schools in the
Ottawa area have closed peer mediation programs
Thank you for your recent issue of the "School
Mediator." When I open each e-issue, it always
seems to address what's been on my mind.
Peer mediation is in trouble in Philadelphia, too.
Only a few have been truly institutionalized-due to
lack of extracurricular pay for teacher-coordinators,
administration and staff turnover, general ennui, and
a lack of administrative support-and there just isn't
any money to support the programs. Even the high
school devoted to "Peace and Social Justice"
cancelled the contract because of budget cutbacks,
thereby decimating further peer mediator training and
Our school district is millions of dollars in debt, yet it
seems to be able to pay for metal detectors and
I understand that peer mediation and conflict
resolution are not the universal answer to bullying or
violence in the schools. However, I believe that
incorporating conflict resolution education, peer
mediation, and restorative justice into our schools
would go much further toward alleviating many of the
problems faced by schools today.
Cheryl Cutrona, Esq.
Good Shepherd Mediation Program
We are having a very good year with mediations. We
are thankful that we have the total support of our
administrators because they are our main referral
system, although we do have teacher, student and
self-referrals also. In a school of 1200 students, we
have had 85 referrals so far this year.
On another positive note, we are presently soliciting
peer mediators for next year. For 15 vacancies, we
received 63 applications! A few of the applicants are
former parties who valued how they were treated
during the mediation. I was thrilled! It was evidence
that we are a strong, well-respected group within our
I cannot imagine our school without peer mediation.
It has enlightened and empowered all that have
come in contact with it.
Spanish Teacher and Peer
Woburn Memorial High School
In York Region in Ontario where I teach, peer
mediation is being supported by our board of
education. It is part of our Character Education
initiative which supports qualities like honesty and
I have been running the peer mediation program at
our high school for the past 3 years, involving more
than 100 students over that time. Our peer mediators
also go down and train students at our feeder
I find that the program takes up a chunk of my time as
a guidance counselor, but it solves other things and
generates a better atmosphere in our school. Other
high schools in our region don't have the program.
If the initiative loses support from the board, however,
peer mediation could suffer.
Dr. G. W. Williams Secondary School
Aurora, Ontario, Canada
I read your newsletter article and I was shocked.
Mediation is so important, as you all well know.
I am a school counselor at an elementary school of
nearly 800 students, K-5, and peer mediation is well
accepted here. I have 22 mediators on our team,
some of whom are gifted with skills beyond their
How can we not teach and use mediation? How can
we not teach kids that to sit down and talk things out
is the only way to face problems effectively? What is
Sometimes I think we get so caught up in data that
we forget that no matter what data says, we need to
teach some basic skills in problem solving and
getting along with other people.
Thanks for what you do.
Jefferson Elementary School
Thank you for your recent issue of The School
Mediator- depressing, but inspiring.
Although national educational agendas and tight
budgets are making it difficult for peer mediation
programs, there doesn't seem to be any shortage of
conflict in schools these days. And we know that a
safe, comfortable learning environment is important
to do well on all those tests.
Some schools really do want peer mediation, but are
struggling to balance their core budgets. Class sizes
are bigger, old schools are falling apart, and teaching
materials are increasingly expensive.
I think those of us involved in peer mediation training
and/or coordination have to be more creative in
helping schools find new ways to fund peer
mediation programs. It's probably not going to be
included in the school budgets, or come from
traditional funding sources, unless our state or
national government truly views peer mediation as
the viable prevention and intervention method we
know it is.
I would be interested in hearing from others who
have been able to find such creative funding so as to
work with schools and community youth programs.
Eve Noss, MSW
North Shore Community Mediation
I read with interest the piece in your newsletter about
programs and find myself wondering why, after all the
examples of closing and threatened programs, do
you end on a note of optimism and a statement that in
fact peer mediation will survive the hardships?
I hesitate to think that the fresh enthusiasm for a new
program is strong counter-evidence to the real
limitations that you
mentioned. Though there is no shortage of
inspiration or talent on the part of practitioners to
teach these skills, our take home lesson is that it
takes a whole lot more than that to rest assured that
peer mediation will continue.
More useful to individuals and organizations facing
challenges would be a deeper investigation into the
factors that result
in strong and lasting programs and the factors that
lead to program
failures and closure. At least then we could look at
the evidence and
make adjustments to programs that would truly
increase the chances of sustainability.
Maybe if we started to quantify the costs of conflict in
schools, and could put a dollar amount to the savings
of conflict prevention, it would increase our chances
of success. Personally, I'm not aware of research of
this nature though it may exist.
I hope you will continue to examine the challenges
successes of these programs in future publications.
Community Mediation Services
My sense is that here in the UK interest in peer
mediation is on the rise as part of the growing
commitment to Social and Emotional education
My own organization always encourages teachers to
consider the importance of all staff providing
restorative environment in which the peer mediation
scheme needs to thrive, one in which all adults use
restorative conversations with students and offer
mediation/group problem solving where necessary.
Research would suggest that it is only when the
adults are modeling this approach themselves that a
peer mediation scheme will thrive.
Dr. Belinda Hopkins
Mortimer, Berkshire, England
I'm sorry to hear about the sad state of peer
mediation in this country, especially the news that
Carole Close's program in Cleveland-my first
introduction to peer mediation-is struggling to keep
It's discouraging that we have not recognized the
need to revamp our focus on academics in schools;
essentially the same focus as when I was teaching in
When will we "get it" that how one relates to other
people is critical to success and essential to a sense
of fulfillment as human beings? What has to change
before adults design schools that make human
relationships and creativity central to the education
process, not peripheral as they are now?
We know how to do it. We're doing it on a small scale
all over the country with fabulous programs that
humanize the school experience for children as well
as the teachers and administrators who care about
them. We just don't seem to have the will to create on
a larger scale what we know works in public
Perhaps a new president at the helm with fresh ideas
will help. Election day 2008 can't come quickly
enough for me!
Margaret Pevec, MA
Co-Author of What Kids REALLY Want to Ask: Using
Movies to Start Meaningful Conversations
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