The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. III, 2/04

in this issue

Roses for Referrals

Response to "Adultism"

About Us

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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 February issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue encourages you to formally thank teachers who refer students to peer mediation.

Please send along your thoughts; hearing from you is the best part of writing this newsletter.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Roses for Referrals

  • Biomimicry is a "new science that studies nature's models and then imitates nature's designs to solve human problems, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf."

    The concept of peer mediation has always seemed elegantly designed to me, as if it too were based on fundamental natural principles.

    Think about it. Every school's central mission is to educate young people to be effective citizens.

    Students' interpersonal conflicts occur in this context, and educators often find that these conflicts detract from their ability to fulfill their mission.

    Enabling students to resolve their own conflicts both conserves adults' time and deepens the mission of the school.

    Peer mediation transforms a potential distraction--student conflict-- into something that strengthens both the institution and its constituents.

    But there are rough edges. One of them concerns teachers, especially the great majority of teachers who have little direct contact with peer mediation.

    Strange to say, but teachers are in many ways superfluous to peer mediation programs. Sure, they benefit from being able to work in a school where, because of the program, students are likely to be less distracted, to feel safer and more cared for, and to do better academically.

    But peer mediation doesn't give much directly to teachers, nor does it ask much from them, beyond that they cope gracefully with the hassle of allowing their students to miss class occasionally so they can mediate.

    Except, that is, for one thing: Peer mediators want teachers to refer their students to mediation.

    When teachers observe behaviors or have other knowledge that indicates that particular students might benefit from mediation, we want them to let us know.

    Happily, many teachers do. My best estimate is that teachers refer 15% to 30% of the tens of thousands of students who use mediation services each year.

    Here is the problem. Teachers make referrals, but they often receive nothing in return. And I mean literally nothing: no update, no word of thanks, nothing. The restrictions of confidentiality prevent teachers from even knowing what happened to the referred students and their conflict.

    This month, I would like to invite you to change that.

    The idea arose during a meeting with an assistant principal and a team of program coordinators at the Nock Middle School in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The assistant principal postulated that teachers hesitate to refer students to peer mediation because they don't find out whether the conflict is resolved.

    So this team of coordinators came up with a nice idea: give a flower to teachers when they make a referral.

    Acknowledging teachers in this way obviously expresses appreciation for their belief in the program, their good will, and their support.

    At the same time, it also serves as an outreach and marketing tool. Other students and teachers will notice and ask questions ("hey, what's with the flower?") when you give them out, when the recipient carries the flower to their room or their home, when they notice the flower on a desk, etc.

    Now flowers are both expensive and perishable. But you don't have to break the bank buying a dozen roses every week. The folks in Newburyport decided to give out homemade tissue paper flowers. (And because they gathered their peer mediators together to create them, the bond among the mediators was strengthened.)

    It might not have quite the same impact, but you could give a card, or candy, or whatever else suits your taste.

    With Valentines Day fast approaching, I thought it might be timely to try this on a wider scale.

    How do you acknowledge teachers in your school? Would you be willing to make an extra effort to acknowledge teachers who make referrals during the next four weeks?

    Send me your experiences by March 8th. I'll feature them in the next issue of the newsletter.

    Thanks, once again, to Amy Fleming and all the other great folks at Newburyport's Nock Middle School

    Instructions for making tissue paper flowers

  • Response to "Adultism"
  • We probably received more responses to last month's issue of The School Mediator concerning "adultism" than to any previous issue. I have posted a few of them below:

    I talk with students all the time about their high school experience, which is numbing for many. It is ironic that parents will frequently admonish their children that part of growing up is learning to do something that's required, even when they don't feel like it. Doesn't that statement describe most of children's and adolescent's daily life?

    Even many invested students are not passionate about learning. They are invested in being successful, which is good to a point. But they are not enjoying learning and growing as much as they could.

    School is a lot like a (somewhat) benign prison for kids. They make the best of it, enjoy seeing their friends and being successful if they are (or feel bad about not being successful academically if they are not).

    I would like to see much more choice in the curriculum and other options besides sitting in a classroom for 6 or 7 hours a day listening to adults talk about things that do not seem relevant to their lives (other than getting into college). If we became more flexible and creative about education, we would all reap the benefit of citizens who are more active learners and participants in social and political processes. Kids implicitly learn conformity, obedience and passivity in our schools, and sadly continue to manifest these qualities as adults.

    David Cope
    Weston Youth Counselor
    Weston High School
    Weston, Massachusetts USA

    I absolutely agree with the article on "adultism." Often we ask for young people's input, only to dismiss it.

    Very well put!

    Anne Smiley
    Mediation Management Services
    Lansing, Michigan USA

    I was very interested reading your issue on adultism. I am a senior in high school and have been mediating in the community for the past five years. I started mediating in seventh grade and ran our peer mediation program. The program was extremely successful, dropping suspension rates and was recognized throughout the community.

    With a change in administration during my 8th grade year, the mediation program was discouraged. It was the epitome of your definition of adultism--zero tolerance was imposed and the empowering philosophy of mediation kept to a minimum. When I protested, I was condescended to-- they were proud of their little forward-thinking 8th grader, but were deaf to my ideas.

    Since then I have left school mediation and moved to parent-teen and victim-offender, but this negative experience has stayed with me.

    Thank you very much for your article, it was refreshing to see that someone else had identified the same problem I had.

    Molly Roberts
    Vancouver, Washington USA

    Thanks for making my day!

    I was sitting in my office chair when I read your article on Adultism. I laughed out loud at how silly it would be to segregate adults by age for learning purposes. I found myself wondering which group would be the "best" one: the 33 year olds or the 58 year olds.

    Your article has provided thought-food as I reflect on my parenting of my 12-year old son. I am also a school board member of a small public school in Oregon - so lots of opportunity to think about how we all inadvertently squash creative thinking in our young people--and more importantly how we stimulate and inspire them.

    Thanks for doing such great work!

    Richard Adams
    Oregon USA

    I want to applaud you for addressing the issue of 'Adultism'. It rarely gets named - let alone addressed - because adults are so 'conditioned' to act in this way toward young people and young adults as well. And when people are repeatedly exposed/targeted by oppressive behavior (in this case, toward children), they will act out and target others, most times without realizing it.

    There is little space for adults to think about these issues (including their memories of how they were treated and perceived as young people) and very little clear information about how to interrupt the stuff.

    What attracted me to mediation was that it was one place where adults thought about what it meant to fully respect young people and expect the best from their ability to share, care and assist each other. This was the corner stone of the early days of school mediation and should remain so.

    I am sad to say that within the last few years, I have begun to notice the absence of this respect for students, and it has weakened many programs.

    I've noticed the lessening of working on empathy and even the unevenness of who gets to be selected to experience the training. I worry that programs are leaving certain 'negative leaders' (as they used to call them) behind - which ensures that one day school violence will once again become an issue.

    Lydia Fortune
    Mediation/Training Consultant
    Creative Conflict Management Resources
    Worcester, Massachusetts USA

    I have been enjoying the Newsletters, and this one especially struck a chord.

    Since being a Grandmother and also being involved in the UMASS Dispute Resolution Program, I've changed my views considerably on parenting. For me, it was specifically the Peer Mediation experience that changed my perspective.

    If I had known as a young mother what I know now, I would have been much less uptight and autocratic - you know - of the "Because I said so" school. I would have been less focused on discipline and would have become a better listener. (I say this with the knowledge that we, nevertheless, have six outstanding adult children.)

    In fact, I now say to others that it's too bad we can't be grandparents before we become parents. What kids need the most is lots of Love.

    On the other hand, I've also observed the ramifications of the extreme permissiveness that seems to be so prevalent today. I guess the hard part is discerning the proper balance between giving children the freedom and tools to develop their own potential and individuality, yet providing the guidance necessary for them to also become useful, productive and happy members of society.

    Unfortunately, most of us tend to parent the way we were parented, and there are few, if any, opportunities to learn other parenting skills before we have children of our own. The question is - How do we rectify that situation? Is this another area that the schools have to become involved in? How do we reach the parents? How do we educate the teachers?

    Georgeann Abbanat
    Winchester, Massachusetts USA

  • 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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