The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. IV, 1/05

in this issue

Coordinators: Please Leave The Room

Peer Mediation Beyond North America

Response to "Omar's Absence"

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 January issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue discusses where coordinators should go during peer mediation sessions.

As always, please send along your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Coordinators: Please Leave The Room

  • With more than two decades of practice under our belts, seasoned peer mediation practitioners generally agree on the fundamentals of how to operate a peer mediation program.

    There are a few issues, however, about which disagreement is still profound. One is whether adult coordinators should remain in the room during peer mediation sessions.

    When we conducted a survey of peer mediation programs in New England ten years ago, we discovered the community split down the middle on this issue. About half of the coordinators felt it was essential that they remain in the room during mediation sessions. The remainder considered this same behavior inappropriate and counterproductive.

    I line up with the latter group. As a rule, adults should not be in the room during student mediation sessions.

    Why? Because an adult presence unwittingly impacts what happens during the session. Having an adult in the mediation room can:

    * Compromise peer mediation's implicit message to young people that a) they are quite capable of resolving their conflicts on their own and, b) "talking out" conflict is a normal part of life, not something you do only when an adult is present

    * Minimize student parties' sense that it is their responsibility to find a way to resolve their difficulties

    * Inhibit student parties, who might decide that it is not safe to be completely open and honest about their situation

    * Inhibit student mediators, who become cautious and less likely to develop confidence that they can mediate on their own.

    Given how I feel about having an adult in the room, you can guess how I react to coordinators who sit at the table with the parties (!), or programs that employ a model in which an adult is always one of the co-mediators.

    There are compelling reasons to have an adult in the room during a session, however. These circumstances include:

    * a particularly difficult case in which mediators and/or parties might need extra support

    * an indication that the situation could be explosive and therefore would benefit from an adult's calming (and perhaps intimidating) presence

    * when coordinators want to evaluate or give feedback to mediators, perhaps because they are new or as part of their ongoing development

    Another wholly practical reason why coordinators remain in the room is simply for lack of space. When mediation sessions are conducted in the coordinator's office or classroom, often there is no alternate place for the coordinator to work.

    So coordinators sometimes remain in the room, even under ideal circumstances. But best practice is to have the coordinator outside of the mediation room whenever possible.

    When coordinators are in the room, they should not sit at the table. After introducing themselves warmly, coordinators should strive to be unobtrusive (sit in a corner, face away from the session, correct papers, make non-private phone calls, etc.). You can keep an ear on the proceedings so as to give mediators feedback later, but don't intrude unless it is absolutely necessary.

    When coordinators are not present during the session, they should nevertheless stay close by--in the next room or down the hall--in order to offer assistance to mediators when needed.

    One often-cited yet exaggerated reason for remaining in the room during mediation sessions are "legal considerations." In fact, if a coordinator uses common sense and does a reasonable job of "preventing harm" while supervising sessions, remaining in the room is usually not warranted. (For more information, see "Appendix A: Legal Considerations of Peer Mediation Programs" in Students Resolving Conflict: Peer Mediation in Schools

    What do you think? Please share your experiences and reflections about where coordinators should be during peer mediation sessions.

  • Peer Mediation Beyond North America

  • A future issue of The School Mediator will feature descriptions of a few of the numerous peer mediation efforts outside North America.

    If you are involved in such an effort and would like to inform others about your work (and perhaps receive resources and support), please send information to

  • Response to "Omar's Absence"

  • A few of the responses we received to last month's issue of The School Mediator are posted below. The issue concerned the emotional burdens that many students carry to school. Thank you to all who responded.

    Those of us have done conflict resolution work with young people know of what you speak in this issue. I hope thousands of people read your newsletter. If teachers could only realize that one can bring difficult subjects up with students without knowing in advance how to "fix" things.

    Nowadays, advisories give many schools another place for these types of discussions to happen, and your newsletter shows powerfully how important and valuable (and relatively easy) it is to accomplish.

    Nancy Grant, Mediator
    Bureau of Special Education Appeals
    Boston, MA

    In mediation training, students learn listening, reframing and brainstorming skills that are essential when addressing an interpersonal conflict. And so when students discuss issues other than mediation during the training, I view this as an opportunity for them to apply what they have learned.

    For me, the ultimate goal of mediation training is the development and enhancement of empathy. When I accomplish this goal, I feel the training has served its purpose.

    Curry Bailey, School Safety Liaison
    School District of Philadelphia
    Philadelphia, PA

    One of the driving forces behind conflict and aggression is people's difficulty dealing with bereavement and loss. It never ceases to amaze me when you realize the situations some children live in and their wonderful capacity to make sense of things with which we adults struggle.

    Reading this issue reminded me of some of the children and young people I have worked with over the last 30 years (14 in a mediation service). It also reminded me how children can, if given the space, explore painful and difficult issues; how good children are at articulating these issues in straightforward language understood by their peers; and why peer mediation is such an important tool in schools.

    Carol Barrett, Director
    Family Mediation Lothian
    Edinburgh, Scotland

    Your article illustrates how we must be mindful of other people's perspectives. When people do things that make us angry, we need to stop and think about what may be going on for them.

    Unfortunately, children see too many things that they shouldn't, and carry those burdens too young. This is even more reason why we need to give children and adults room to talk about their feelings and teach them safe outlets for their frustrations.

    Tara Fishler
    Customized Training Solutions
    Scarsdale, NY

    The story was very touching, and it could have taken place in any classroom of students on any given day. Stories like this need to be publicized for teachers to read.

    It can become overwhelming to discover students' personal histories, but without this knowledge we are left teaching to students' intellectual selves rather than the whole child.

    Your article also reflects the extraordinary resiliency that most children bring to bear when things get tough.

    Donna Georges, Freshman Dean and Health Director
    Amesbury Public Schools
    Amesbury, MA

  • About Us
  • For 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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