The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. V, 11/05

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A Role-Play A Day...

Response to "Peer Mediation Exclusivity"

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The School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment, Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
by Richard Cohen
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Students Resolving Conflict:
Peer Mediation in Schools

by Richard Cohen
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Welcome to the November/December issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue explores the benefits that accrue to trainees from acting as parties in role-plays.

As always, please send along your thoughts.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • A Role-Play A Day...

  • Role-plays are good for you.

    These training exercises--in which two people act as if they are in conflict while two trainees mediate the simulated conflict--are the heart of any peer mediation training.

    Role-plays are a powerful, albeit imperfect, tool that enable trainees to practice and develop mediation skills in a low risk, yet real-to-life setting.

    Watching a shy, lanky 10th grader play the part of an aggressive ladies' man, however, has me thinking about the benefits not of mediating during role-plays, but of acting as one of the parties.

    In the case of the 10th grader, the role-play appeared to give the young man an opportunity to "act" with a confidence that he didn't normally allow himself. Assuming the role of the ladies' man, in front of his peers, seemed like a coming out for him.

    My guess is that he will carry at least a fraction of this new found self- assurance back to his real life.

    When they are successful, acting in role-plays stretches trainees. The exercise gives them permission to be in the world in a way that is different and potentially fulfilling, and can help them experience dormant parts of themselves.

    In addition to this personal, psychological benefit, acting in role-plays enables trainees to develop their ability to empathize with others. Male trainees play female characters; students of one race play students of another.

    When they find a genuine way to portray their characters, trainees experience how someone might feel when they have been betrayed, embarrassed or harassed, or when a long-standing friendship or romantic relationship has ended.

    Still another benefit of acting in role-plays is that it provides a first- hand experience of the mediation process from the parties' vantage point. If the role-play is well written, actors begin the simulation aware only of their own perspective on the conflict. As the exercise unfolds, they are confronted, in the highly emotional setting typical of mediation, with the other party's different and often compelling point of view on the conflict.

    Of course, role-plays are fraught with many pitfalls, not the least of which is that it is difficult to act realistically. Role-plays also require of coaches an almost directorial ability to guide a group of 4, independent actors toward an optimal learning outcome.

    But when they work, little rivals a good role-play for the learning opportunity it provides. Trainees' powerful experiences in role-plays at least partially explains why many find peer mediation training to be so enjoyable.

    What are your thoughts?

    PS: I have yet to find a written resource that does justice to the complex task of writing and facilitating effective mediation role-plays. Have I missed it? Send me an email if you know of such a resource.

  • Response to "Peer Mediation Exclusivity"

  • We received more response to last month's issue concerning peer mediation exclusivity than to any previous issue. Clearly many of you have wrestled with similar concerns. Below are a few of the many thoughtful responses we received:

    Thanks for your thoughts and regrets about only being able to touch a small cadre of students in peer mediation training. I wholeheartedly agree that this is indeed a dilemma, and the answer is in developing a comprehensive conflict resolution program with curriculum-based education at every level in the school.

    In his presentation at a Conflict Resolution Education conference, a principal from Massachusetts used this metaphor to describe the problem: If you want to teach a school of students to read, we can't just teach one reading group.

    I agree that while peer mediation is a wonderful tool, we also need to teach many of the skills and techniques to all of the students, incorporating this into the curriculum at all levels.

    Barbara S. Grochal , Deputy Director
    Maryland Schools Conflict Resolution Grants Program
    Center for Dispute Resolution
    Baltimore, Maryland

    Having just completed our fourth training of peer mediators, I agree with your last statement that every child who would experience this training would likely react with strong, positive emotions. Yet not all are equal mediators.

    Each year I have stand out kids - ones who bring great insight to the process, ones who are more eager to step in as a sub when one is needed. Some just have the gift. So while all can be exposed to the material, like a sports team, there seems to flush out a "starting five."

    That said, we use the Second Step curriculum throughout our school, which exposes all students (K-8) to conflict resolution strategies, anger management and empathy.

    Tammy F. Small, M.Ed, School Counselor
    St. Anthony School
    Renton, Washington

    For the past four years I have consistently trained all of the highest grade students to be peer mediators in the elementary schools in which I am a consultant. In some cases this has been fifth graders; in other schools it has been sixth graders.

    We give all students a turn that is at least eight weeks long, often longer, to be peer mediators for younger children in the school. I have done this in both public and private schools, inner city and suburbs. It works like a charm!

    All of the students enjoy the training and feel that they are contributing something special to the school. They are highly motivated to serve, even missing recess weekly without complaint.

    The teachers get a new view of their students, and are sometimes surprised to see that even challenging students make good (and sometimes the best!) mediators.

    We have had to exclude only a very few students who have recently demonstrated a lack of self-control, such as being suspended for fighting. But very often knowing that they will have the opportunity to be peer mediators has helped students improve their behavior, and this has not been necessary!

    Laura Cornell
    Peacemaking Consultant
    Emeryville, California

    I enjoyed your article on exclusivity very much and wanted to share out successes in reaching beyond a few selected students. In York Region District School Board, Ontario, Canada, we are embracing the concept of expanding and extending the number of students trained in peer mediation and conflict resolution.

    Currently, all secondary schools have Peer Mediation programs, with Teacher Advisors (TA) who implement the program at each secondary school. As part of their outreach program, TAs and senior Peer Mediators are involved in training many elementary school students as peer mediators.

    At the two schools I support as the principal, we have added conflict resolution and mediation training to our guidance programs from kindergarten through grade 8. This ensures that all students have opportunities to learn these important life skills. The training is making a different for our students!

    Continue your great work with the journal and website. We use it often. I have accessed many articles and references for my Master of Law in Alternative Dispute Resolution course papers.

    Dr. Beverley A. Lee, Principal
    Sharon and Queensville Public Schools
    Ontario, Canada

    We've found that at least one answer to the dilemma posed, i.e., the limited number of students that can be trained to be mediators, is to incorporate negotiation into the curriculum and, too, to teach negotiation in distinct programs or workshops associated with the introduction of mediation programs into school settings.

    Teachers, staff and students generally like having a solid grounding in negotiation, and since mediators help parties negotiate, it is a solid foundation for mediation programs.

    Even without mediation programs, however, effective negotiation skills, as research in a variety of settings attests, can enhance the process of decision-making and problem-solving and help students produce better outcomes.

    Linda Stamato, Deputy Director
    The Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
    Rutgers University
    New Brunswick, New Jersey

    I give all Freshman at EHS an orientation to conflict resolution and peer mediation, via a Freshman Wellness program. Right now this consists of 2 or 3, 84 minute training sessions.

    We spend well-justified time teaching students Math, English, History, Science, Technology, etc., but there are many life skills young people are somehow expected to learn on their own. Training all students as mediators would require a shift in thinking on the part of many school administrators, teachers, and departments of education.

    In the Freshman Wellness Program (in its first year here at EHS), guidance staff are teaching students study skills, high school planning, career exploration, learning styles, communication, conflict resolution, mediation, and diversity sensitivity.

    I am very pleased with this work, but with more resources (staff and/or money) we could do so much more.

    Karen Thornburg
    Easthampton High School
    Easthampton, Massachusetts

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns about peer mediation and peace studies in general. We at McAuliffe Regional Charter School agree that peer mediation, indeed multiple applied strategies for resolving conflicts well, should be part of the core curriculum.

    In fact, we believe it so deeply that we have created a required program where each one of our students learn the skills and knowledge essential to applying mediation, non-violence, and law and order strategies.

    In regards to peer mediation specifically, each one of our 6th graders are required to take a course in mediation and facilitation. They may then an elective in 7th grade for further to become school-wide peer mediators.

    Again, thank you for your work.

    Rob Kaufman, Executive Director
    McAuliffe Regional Charter School
    Framingham, Massachusetts

    We have been using Peer Mediation in our school (all boys, grades 4 through 9) for four years now. In the beginning, of course, there were the usual doubts about whether it would be used or not.

    Over time, we came to see the wisdom in training the entire school community--administration, staff, faculty, and students --in conflict resolution. We were able to do this over a full school year, giving one to two days of training to each group and grade. We have followed that with including concepts of conflict resolution throughout the curriculum.

    This year when we trained new peer mediators we had more requests from parents than ever before to "please include my son." This seemed to indicate that there had been value experienced in the conflict resolution training and parents wanted more for their sons.

    From the beginning of our program, I have maintained that the boys who benefit most from the program are those who go through the training. We aim for having one-tenth of the student body trained, and hope that the concepts are filtering through the remainder of the community.

    Charles Streff, Ph.D.
    The Fenn School
    Concord, Massachusetts

    I continue to enjoy reading your articles. We recently began teaching peer mediation classes in all our multiage 3-4 classes. While it is a worthwhile task, it is also a challenging one.

    Conflict resolution is taught from preschool through grade 5 as well. I teach our school's Character Education classes and all students in grades 3-4 come to see me twice a week. Yes, I am blessed!

    After weeks of "training," the students can choose to volunteer their services as peer mediators during our lunch/recess time, and many do. Our 5th graders continue to expand on their skills each year.

    Shirley Rivera
    Mid Pacific Institute Elementary
    Honolulu, Hawaii

  • About Us
  • For twenty-one 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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