The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. III, 10/03

in this issue

Peer Mediation World-Wide

Response to "About Time"

About SMA

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
more info

Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
more info

Welcome to the October issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue reports on a recent international conference that demonstrated the global reach of peer mediation.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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 Peer Mediation World-Wide

I have long known that peer mediation is practiced outside of North America. But, like most of us, I largely attend to my own small corner of the world, consumed with the unique challenges and victories I experience here.

Last month, however, I lived what felt like a marvelous dream: People from every corner of the globe--speaking countless languages, displaying every skin tone, in a variety of regional dress--gathered together to share their experience teaching young people to live in peace.

This "dream" was the Conflict Resolution in Schools: Learning to Live Together conference, held in Holland and sponsored by the European Centre for Conflict Prevention (and so capably organized by Paul van Tongeren and Emmy Toonen).

The working group on peer mediation that I co-led included practitioners from almost every continent (20 nations were representing by 30 participants). Ours was one of about 10 working groups--on topics such as restorative practices, curriculum change, and co-existence education in multi-cultural settings--that met during the two-day conference.

The term "working group" was fitting. Although a few group members were new to peer mediation, many had extensive experience implementing peer mediation and other conflict resolution programs, often under far more difficult conditions than I will ever experience here in Massachusetts. Their hard-won insight was impressive.

Outside of our working group sessions-in the halls, the dining room, the plenaries--I felt as if I was attending a large and supportive family gathering: After ending one fascinating conversation, I couldn't walk two paces before I was beginning another.

I left for home exhausted (great excitement + jet lag = no sleep) and with a renewed sense of commitment to peer mediation.

And my practice is already changing in at least three ways:

First, I now strive to impress upon peer mediators that they are part of a global "alliance" of peacemakers. When they mediate, they should know that hundreds of other students--in Chile, Austria, the Ukraine, Ghana, India, Palestine, South Africa, Portugal, and so on--are also mediating in their schools.

Second, with the encouragement of working group members, I hope to infuse The School Mediator with a sense of this broader, global movement. I will soon begin a regular feature that highlights the work of peer mediation efforts around the world.

Finally, in an effort to replicate my wonderful conference experience for others, I hope to design a web-based system that will enable student mediators and their coordinators to correspond, share experiences, and learn from their counterparts around the globe. Please contact me if you would like to help create this tool.

The conference was not all sweetness and light, though. With what seems like innumerable areas of strife and woe in the world, and with the US government squandering billions of dollars on misguided military ventures, there were disheartening moments.

An Israeli woman in particular expressed this sentiment poignantly. As panelists from the US and UK dissected what to her was a relatively superfluous issue, she expressed frustration at having trained many young people (including her own son) to be peer mediators, only to see them conscripted into the military after graduation. Is our work, she implied, with its undeniable limitations, making a difference?

At the final plenary, however, I was lucky enough to sit next to Emma Kamara from Sierra Leone. In a country that only recently emerged from a gruesome civil war, Emma quit her comfortable university professorship to start a program that serves disadvantaged youth.

During the conference's closing minutes, Emma turned to me and said: "I see how many more problems there would be in the world if these people were not doing this work."

An inspiring "glass-is-half-full" attitude from someone who likely has experienced more reasons than most to lose hope.

And so we go on, yes?

Your thoughts...

Would you like to connect with other peer mediators and coordinators around the world? Send me an email.

Learn more about the European Centre for Conflict Prevention.

 Response to "About Time"

Below are two of a number of responses we received to the questionnaire featured in last month's issue about time and peer mediation coordination. I have posted one from a part-time coordinator, another from a full-time coordinator. I happen to know that both of these programs are peak performing, with hard working and unusually talented and dedicated coordinators.

The Two Coordinators are:
Randi Orpen, Spanish Teacher and Peer Mediation Coordinator, Woburn High School, Woburn MA.
Randi's responses are in "normal" font.

Francine Rondina, SCORE Peer Mediation Coordinator, Lowell High School, Lowell, MA.
Francine's responses are in italics.

1. Characteristic of your school:
Level (elementary, middle, high, other):
Number of students :

Woburn High School has @ 1300 students from families with middle to lower class incomes. Our student population has changed rapidly over the last 5 years, from 100% Caucasian to about 15% other races and ethnicities (Hispanic, Asian, Arab, African-American).

Lowell High School has @ 4,000 students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. We are very diverse racially and ethnically, with 42% Caucasian, 36% Asian, and 16% Latino among others.

2. Location of your school by country and state?

Massachusetts, USA

Massachusetts, USA

3. How would you characterize the level of administrative support for peer mediation (high, medium, low, non-existent)?

The administration provides complete support

High level of support

4. What is your formal title (teacher, counselor, peer mediation coordinator, etc.)?

Full-time Spanish teacher (as well as Peer Mediation Coordinator, Mentor/Protégé Co-coordinator, and Interact advisor for the Rotary Club)

Peer Mediation Coordinator

5. What do you do on an average day in addition to coordinating the peer mediation program?

I teach 5 classes (Spanish 1 - Spanish 5 A.P.), homeroom duties, and extra-curricular club meetings after school.

Nothing apart from mediation coordinator

6. How many cases does your peer mediation program mediate each year?

110 cases last year

180 cases last year

7. How many hours during school do you devote to peer mediation per week?

About 5 hours per week. My daily duty period is devoted to peer mediation.

36 hours per week

8. How many hours outside of school do you devote to peer mediation per week?



9. Do other adults assist you with program coordination? How do they help (conduct intake interviews, supervise sessions, oversee outreach, training, etc.)?

Yes. When my work load occasionally becomes overwhelming, I ask teachers (who have been trained as mediators) for assistance in conducting intake interviews and supervising sessions. These same colleagues, along with student mediators, also help interview, evaluate, and select mediation trainees each year.

No, I don't have other adults who assist me.

10. How are you compensated for coordinating the peer mediation program? (i.e. no compensation, given time during the day, given a lighter class load, given peer mediation instead of another contractual "duty", given a stipend, paid a salary, etc.)?

I receive a contractual stipend for extra-curricular activities.

I am paid a salary.

11. Aside from the monetary compensation (if you receive it), what motivates you to do this work?

It is a wonderful way to meet students who are not in my classes and to interact with our diverse student body. I enjoy seeing students' reaction to the intake interview, and I am continually reminded not to judge a book by its cover! I also truly believe that communication is our best tool to promote understanding.

I believe in modeling nonviolent resolutions to conflict.

12. How much time would you estimate you devote to each case on average (include intake, selecting mediators, supervising the session, following-up with parties, etc)?

About two hours on average.

About 2.5 hours, but it is hard to estimate because kids come back with personal problems and in times of crises, and I spend the time with them and help them access the resources they need.

13. Estimate the percentage of time that you devote to actual case work (taking referrals, supervising sessions, following up with parties, etc.) vs. outreach, training, other conflict resolution activities, etc.?

Of the time I devote to peer mediation, 80% is actual case work. We conduct intensive outreach to prospective mediators each spring: 1.5 weeks of "spreading the word" and distributing/collecting applications, and 3 weeks of after school interviews (1 hour each day, 5 days a week). Training requires 3 full days in the fall.

80% case work

14. What do you estimate would be the ideal amount of time in which to coordinate a peer mediation program in your school (1 hour per day, 3 hours per day, full-time, etc.)?

Ideally, 2 hours a day, or a "two fifths" position. Right now it's 1 hour (one fifth) and I often feel rushed and 'on the run' when we receive referrals. There are 'down times' during the year, however, when there are no referrals. It can be like a roller coaster: When the referrals come in, I'm running. Then I look forward to the lull, which I use to catch my breath. Then I want to "get going" again.

Full Time

15. What would be your initial priorities if you had more time to devote to peer mediation?

Ongoing training for the mediators, perhaps a part-time class on mediation would be terrific and help us refine our skills, talk about problems, etc. Ideally it would be part of the school curriculum, and could be offered as a Tues/Thurs course for 1/2 year.

I would have classes to teach kids how to recognize their emotions, develop conflict resolution skills, and (if I had the power) place many of them into healthier homes.

 About SMA
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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Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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