The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. II 9/02

in this issue

Let's Raise the Bar

About Us



Welcome back to school, and to the September issue of The School Mediator.

This issue suggests that, for the health of the field, we must outline and disseminate the characteristics of peak performing peer mediation programs. Your response is invited.

Last year, our first year of publication, we grew from 200 to 1300 worldwide subscribers. What a thrill to serve such a vital and growing "e-community."

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

PS: If you received this free newsletter directly from us, you are already on our subscriber list. If a colleague forwarded it to you, you can easily subscribe by sending your email address to

 Let's Raise the Bar


On many fall and winter mornings, I am up before the sun, traveling to work with students and educators in some distant school. The music that for years has been my companion on these dawn drives is Aaron Copeland's "Appalachian Spring."

Though I do not generally listen to classical music, I can't get enough of this romantic, deceptively intricate piece of orchestral music. I've found it to be a wonderful way to gently and in the end triumphantly begin the day.

Recently I stumbled upon two teenage musicians, a trumpeter and a violinist, rehearsing none other than my beloved "Appalachian Spring." Though it was a nice surprise, I was struck by how much less their parts were than the whole.

I could say the same for most school-based peer mediation programs. They are interesting, and sometimes useful, but they don't come close to living up to the potential of the peer mediation concept as I know it.

This is troubling enough for someone who has spent most of his life helping schools implement peer mediation programs. What concerns me more, however, is how often educators confuse their partial efforts with the real deal.

They claim to hear the orchestra, but my experienced ears recognize just two musicians practicing.

Perhaps they have conducted a training, but it has not adequately prepared students to mediate conflicts. Or their peer mediators are ready to serve, but they don't have the time or interest to devote to coordinating their efforts. Or both adult coordinator and student mediators work under the shadow of administrators who neither understand nor support their efforts. The list could go on and on.

To my mind, this situation demands that we begin to define what a "mature," or peak performing, peer mediation program looks like: How it operates, what kind of impact it has, how it is regarded by the students, teachers and administrators it serves, etc.

Why? For one, most people don't understand how marvelous a peer mediation program can be. They only know their own efforts and often hard-won results, which usually represents an improvement upon what came before. And this becomes their baseline.

Only by delineating the characteristics of "mature" peer mediation programs will we educate and inspire students, teachers and administrators to create programs that live up to peer mediation's potential.

In addition, countless schools that do have peer mediation programs, have efforts that are under-performing. Because questionable quality is currently the norm, many educators, especially those who might have had reservations about peer mediation to begin with, feel justified in writing it off as ineffective or not worth the trouble.

One goal of this year's volume of newsletters, then, will be to gather criteria we can use to determine when peer mediation programs realize their potential.

I hope you will join with me in exploring this topic. I will share my ideas in future issues, but this project will benefit greatly from your insights and experiences.

My hope is that, in the end, we can create a method to publicly acknowledge the students and educators who do create high performing, "model" programs. Not only will this honor them for their effort, it will "raise the bar" for the field.

Less practice sessions; more "Appalachian Springs."

So, let's get started. How do you measure whether a peer mediation effort is peak performing? Do you run such a program? Do you hope to? What criteria would you use? Please respond...

PS: Don't worry about the quality of the writing when you respond; we'll only post responses with your permission, and we'll help with editing if you like.


 About Us

For almost 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. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

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