The School Mediator
  Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. II 1/03  

in this issue

Wherefore Art Thou, Administrative Support?

Response to "Shy is Good"

About Us

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The School Mediator Archive

Happy New Year and welcome to the January issue of The School Mediator.

This month we explore the ongoing battle for truth, justice, and a few referrals from the disciplinarian. Take a moment to send along your thoughts.

Thank you to all who write to express how much you enjoy this newsletter and to share your successes and concerns. It means a lot to me to know that you are out there.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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Wherefore Art Thou, Administrative Support?
I have been thinking about the ongoing challenge of generating administrative support for peer mediation.

Last month I discussed the status of a mediation program with the educator who had implementing it. His program-based in a middle school of approximately 800 students-had conducted 30 mediations sessions during its first year of operation.

Anyone who has worked in a middle school, especially one with 800 students, knows that it wouldn't be hard to find students every single day who might benefit from a mediation session. With only 30 cases, this program was clearly under-performing.

Because the educator in question is unusually capable and committed, however, I knew this couldn't be the whole story. His program should have been more successful.

And then I asked him: "What percentage of your referrals come from administrators?"

His answer: None. Not a single case had been referred by an administrator!

All of his sessions resulted from self-referrals-students who request the assistance of mediators to help them resolve their problem.

Significantly, self-referrals are the gold standard of referrals, the ones that require the most outreach to generate, the ones that indicate the deepest confidence of the student body.

In the initial stages of peer mediation program implementation, it is typical for 80 to 90% of referrals to come from administrators. These referrals prime the pump, raise the school community's awareness, and hopefully create a momentum that leads students and teachers to utilize a program's services.

Upon hearing this new information, it was clear that my early (and unspoken) evaluation of his program was flawed. Thirty self-referrals in the first year of operation indicates that this coordinator and his mediators were doing a phenomenal job.

But more to my point, and put bluntly: When are school administrators going to wise up? What prevents so many from understanding that peer mediation, utilized responsibly, is a tremendous win for everyone-student leaders, students in conflict, teachers, administrators, and the community as a whole?

I, like many of you, have conducted trainings for administrators, shown them statistics, connected them with committed peers in other schools, held their hands, kept them up-to-date on program successes, shown flexibility and understanding and patience and...and...

...And still, too many schools have talented peer mediation coordinators, an enthusiastic group of student mediators, and no support from administrators.

As another excellent coordinator wrote me recently:

"I sometimes feel like our peer mediation program is being used; we provide a valuable service, but there is little reciprocation from our administration. I am certain that if it were not for my tenacity, the program would fade and disappear. Do other coordinators feel like the support they get is just lip service?"

I am not saying all school administrators are dense. I admire some more than I can say, and no kidding, some of my best friends are school administrators. They are also under enormous pressure in this politically conservative climate.

But the way I see it, school administrators are responsible for making the peer mediation programs in their schools successful. Once programs are functioning, this most importantly means ensuring that peer mediators get conflicts to mediate.

This is not busy work, and it is not a matter of generating conflicts that don't already exist. It means directing the inevitable interpersonal tensions that do occur to the mediation program.

Anything less, and administrators are simply not doing their jobs.

Your thoughts...

 Response to "Shy is Good"
Below are a few of the comments we received in response to last month's newsletter about questioning peer mediation assumptions.

Regarding the reserved/noticeably quiet students in training.... Something I learned by experience is you shouldn't mix really young mediator trainees with older ones. They will lock down, shut up and just act "cute" because they are intimidated by the older kids! They are afraid to open up for fear of being laughed at or criticized.

And as far as Sacred Cows are concerned, I believe a teacher/monitor in the room works okay with elementary youth, but when it comes to middle and high schools, it's a deterrent to the whole process!

I have had some teachers/program coordinators tell me they've used younger youth as mediators with older youth - they were their "best and brightest."

Ralph Letersky
Peer Mediation Program Director
JALMC's Peer Mediation in Schools Program
Jamestown Area Labor Management Committee
Jamestown, NY USA


It was good to hear that "shy" students may find a place to be more vocal and interactive with peers through peer mediation (not to mention feeling helpful). Sounds like a "win-win" situation!

Judy Johnson
Winchester High School
Winchester, MA USA

Thanks for sending me TSM! I especially loved the piece "Shy is Good." I'm going to pass it along to my 14 year old son who is considering becoming a peer mediator but wonders whether his introversion means he's not cut out for it. All the best,

 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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