The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. III, 12/03

in this issue

"Peer Mediation Helped Me Turn My Life Around"

Response to "Mediating Spirit"

About SMA

Newsletter Archive Available

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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 December issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue features the words of a high school senior who writes that peer mediation changed her life. Please send along your thoughts; we love hearing from you.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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"Peer Mediation Helped Me Turn My Life Around"

I recently received a copy of Meghan Lennon's college essay, in which she describes how peer mediation changed her life. It was sent to me by Randi Orpen, peer mediation coordinator/Spanish teacher at Woburn High School in Massachusetts. Meghan is one of Randi's student mediators.

Of course, we all hope that peer mediation has a profound and lasting impact upon our students.

But having lived through the early days of peer mediation, when everything from a decrease in suspension rates to smoother skin was attributed to the program, I hesitate to credit peer mediation with any benefit beyond effectively resolving interpersonal conflicts.

As you can read below, Meghan was at a turning point in her life when she found peer mediation. Thankfully, the program was a catalyst for an important transformation. But if she had instead joined the band, or devoted herself to field hockey, or began working at a day care center, would she have written her essay about how the saxophone helped her "turn my life around?"

It's possible. But there is no doubt that young people learn unique and vital lessons from peer mediation. I use the expression "no doubt" advisedly: according to a meta analysis of 43 separate studies of the impact of peer mediation (published in the Fall 2003 issue of Conflict Resolution Quarterly*) we now have quantitative proof of the positive impact peer mediation has upon students and their schools.

Among other benefits, the research clearly indicates that students demonstrate a "substantial increase in academic performance," as well as "improved self-esteem," after becoming a mediator.

This confirms the qualitative, anecdotal evidence--like Meghan's essay--that we have had for two decades.

In the margin of Meghan's essay, Randi scribbled a note:

Meghan was a "party" at the mediation table at least three times before becoming a mediator. At every intake, I experienced her as hostile and even arrogant--she wanted no part of mediation!

She has since done a complete turn-around. Her mother even came up to me on Parent's Night to thank the program for the "change" in Meghan.

Testimonials like this make it all worthwhile.

Amen to that. Read for yourself.

A Life Changing Experience, by Meghan Lennon

Throughout the past three years at Woburn High School, I feel I have had many life changing events come about. I've had good things happen along with some bad things. I have met people who have helped me, and lost people close to me. Anything you can think of, from tragic to inspiring, I have been through. It has all played a huge part in the way I view things today.

One experience in particular had a huge impact on me; it was being accepted as a peer mediator.

Starting high school as a freshman, I was trying to find where I fit in, just like everyone else. I ended up with those kids that every parent hates. I got into trouble, both in and out of school. My schoolwork and my effort level both slowly dropped. Each year seemed to be more intense, till my junior year began.

Over the intercom, it was announced that the mediation program was looking for some new mediators. It sounded interesting, but why would I get chosen? Besides, after being through mediation a couple of times, I really did not think it was the thing for me.

Eventually I decided to give it a shot. I thought of all the times I had let my mom and dad down, and decided that this would be an awesome way to prove to them that I could accomplish something really scholarly. I went for an interview and it went well, although I still did not think that anyone would be interested in what I had to offer.

I did end up being chosen. It was an awesome feeling. My parents were proud, and so was I.

After being accepted, the other new mediators and I went through three days of intense training. We role-played, played games, and talked a lot about our views on many subjects. As a group, we were really diverse; yet, there were a lot of familiar faces.

There was no one [in the training] that I had spoken to before, but I did have opinions about certain people. I am sure they were all wondering why someone like me was chosen, being such a "troublemaker" and all.

I got to know a lot of people, and I also learned that you "can't judge a book by its cover." Learning to accept people for who they are was only the beginning.

Becoming a mediator has totally helped me change my outlook on everything.

When I mediate, I look across the table and see myself sitting there. That makes me really thankful that I was given this opportunity, because I have the chance to help people like myself. I feel I have a lot to offer from all my past experiences, and that my knowledge has helped me greatly.

Becoming a peer mediator definitely was not the answer to all of my problems, but it did open doors for me. Mostly everything has improved: my schoolwork, behavior, personality, even my everyday life.

I don't regret my past decisions. I feel they have only helped me make better ones. Upon reflection, this program is what helped me better myself, and what helped me turn my life around.

(NOTE: Meghan's essay was published with her permission. We thank her and wish her luck.)

Please send your thoughts...

*Receiving Conflict Resolution Quarterly is one benefit of membership in the Association for Conflict Resolution. Follow the link below to find out more about ACR.

The Association for Conflict Resolution

Response to "Mediating Spirit"
We received many responses to last month's issue of The School Mediator about mediation and spirituality. I have posted a number of them below:

When tenderness is allowed in the mediation process, understanding is reached. All the walls come crumbling down. Tenderness is allowed through careful and thoughtful questions, welcome silences, and the basic principles which are threaded throughout transformative mediating.

When this happens, it is so significantly spiritual to me. Another force is present when we allow ourselves to be still and open to the process. I couldn't agree with you more.

Connie Mahoney
Mediation Coordinator
Kiley Middle School
Springfield, MA USA

This is very exciting and right on target. I'm so glad you wrote about this and hope you get a good response. I think this is the direction mediation, and all peace-work for that matter, needs to take.

Naomi Drew
New Jersey, USA

Thank you for your newsletter. I will be glad to receive it in the future. My job here in conflict management involves many areas of conflict and I would be interested to maintain communication on mediation issues.

I have just come back from a workshop in Istanbul on Greek-Turkish relations, and the terrible bombings occurred while we were there.

I feel the only security is to fight back with peaceful and spiritual ways, and to keep our hope that education can make a difference.

Niki Roubani

Thanks for your most recent newsletter concerning mediation and spirituality. It is a topic both large and dear, so I'm happy that you took the time to share your thoughts about it.

Reading your reflections on the desire that we all have to live in peace, and the role that meeting basic needs has in that, brings to mind Marshall Rosenberg's work.

Rosenberg, a long-time mediator and communication teacher, believes that most any conflict can be resolved relatively quickly after people have been able to clearly articulate and hear each others' needs.

Our mediation staff has begun a weekly practice group in Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication. The first week led us to a rich discussion of "giving from the heart."

Today I spent a half hour on the phone with an excited school principal. He had just empowered a third grader, who had complained about the school's lunchroom seating policy, to begin a process to change that policy. By encouraging leadership and supporting this child's passion and sense of social justice, the principal is honoring spirit.

Non-violent, compassionate communication is a way of life. The practice of mediation is one of its tools.

I am grateful to be in a involved in work that is one with my spiritual practice.

Cheryl Fox
Training Coordinator
The Mediation & Training Collaborative
Greenfield, MA USA

I want to inform you that in June this year, our organization introduced peer mediation into six school in one of the most violent areas of Sierra Leone. The schools and administration are so open and welcoming, and they have found this very relevant as part of school peace-building culture.

I am responsible to follow with them until they are well established. I also have some 14 secondary schools in that district waiting for the introduction of peer mediation, and I am responsible for seeking funding for them.

Emma Kamara
Sierra Leone

I just finished printing the November issue of The School Mediator to share with my mediation class.

As it came off the printer, and I began to read it, I couldn't believe my eyes! I started teaching mediation 20 years ago: to students here at Salem State, and to police and business people. Now I feel I have finally found some peers.

Last year I discovered the book "The Promise of Mediation" by Bush and Folger. I now use it in my class. It is the only book that I have found that discusses the transformative nature of mediation.

In addition, as a part of my class, I teach students Dr. Benson/Kabat-Zinn mindful meditative listening. They always receive it very well.

Ed LeClair
Salem State College
Salem, MA USA

I'm a 52 years old graduate student in Family Studies in the Applied Conflict Management Department at Kent State and that is how I connected with your work.

Your thoughtful and self-revealing article about mediation as a spiritual practice adds to my growing excitement that a major paradigm shift is about to occur, one in which the majority of humans on the planet will see themselves and others as inherently good and seeking peace.

A. Margaret Pevec
Graduate Student in Family Studies
Kent State University, Ohio USA

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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