The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. VI, 3/07

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Not Only the Hair Club President

Responses to "sTrain the Trainer"

About Us

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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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Happy Spring and welcome to the March issue of The School Mediator.

This month's issue explores the benefits, both to peer mediators and to their programs, when mediators themselves utilize mediation services.

The best part of writing this newsletter is hearing from you. Please send along your thoughts and experiences.

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

PS: If you receive this free newsletter directly from us, you are already on our subscriber list. If a colleague forwarded it to you, you can easily subscribe by sending your email address to

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  • Not Only the Hair Club President

  • I recently helped a group of experienced mediators develop a plan to educate their peers about mediation.

    As we explored the reasons why students might hesitate to try mediation, a girl named Sasha boldly admitted: "I would never go to peer mediation myself."

    I used to be surprised when mediators said things like this; by now, however, I have heard such comments too often to be surprised.

    After finding out why Sasha felt this way--she claimed that she would be too afraid to sit in a room with the other party--I offered what has become my stock response:

    "If you--who know more about mediation than 90% of the student body--won't mediate your conflicts, how can we expect your peers to chose to do it?"

    Many heads nodded. I went on:

    "And given how Sasha feels, is it any wonder that she is having a difficult time convincing others to try mediation?"

    More nods.

    Then I remembered Sy Sperling...

    Sperling, the founder of a company that markets realistic hairpieces to the unhappily bald, used to be a fixture on American television.

    During his TV commercials, one satisfied customer after another would offer testimonials as to the astoundingly positive impact that wearing Mr. Sperling's toupees had had on their lives.

    And at the end of each spot, smiling confidently under a thick head of hair, a photograph of his formerly bald pate appearing on the screen, Sperling would look at the audience and say: "I am not only the Hair Club president...I am also a client."

    Although the whole thing was laughable--and on YouTube you'll find more than a few spoofs of these commercials--Sperling himself was laughing all the way to the bank.

    Mr. Sperling was convincing. By revealing that he too was both bald and a Hair Club client, Sperling sent a powerful set of messages to potential customers:

    · I am no different than you.

    · I empathize with you and understand the challenges you face.

    · Our shared problem is nothing to be ashamed of.

    · As a result of first-hand experience, I can sincerely recommend my product.

    Can peer mediators send a similar set of messages to their potential clients?

    I think they can!

    Peer mediators who use mediation to resolve their own conflicts become more believable, and therefore more effective, advocates for the process.

    They also become more effective mediators. Experience on "the other side of the table:"

    1. helps them empathize with parties

    2. gives them more confidence

    3. reduces the stigma that parties, and even some mediators, often associate with participation in mediation

    4. leads to an almost palpable humility that I believe parties can sense

    At the conclusion of our trainings, I not only urge new trainees to go forth and mediate, but also to go forth and use mediation services themselves.

    This strengthens the mediators and their program.

    And they don't even have to wear a hairpiece.

    Please share your thoughts and experiences...

  • Responses to "sTrain the Trainer"

  • Below are some of the responses we received to last month's newsletter which questioned the far too common practice of training educators to be mediation trainers in a single "train-the-trainer." I'm frankly surprised we didn't receive more...

    Oh boy, do I agree with you and am I glad to hear it said so well. I often feel as if I am the only one who thinks like this. Thanks for the confirmation that I am not mad.

    One CANNOT truly understand mediation, I believe, without mediating a real conflict and being a disputant/party in a mediation. (To encourage this, I often ask teachers to mediate as a party with a student with whom they have difficulty communicating.)

    There is a transformation of mind that is essential to "getting" mediation. It happens only when you sit at the table. It does not happen by watching students mediate, by reading a book, by watching a video, or even by attending a training.

    Thanks again,

    Jo Dee Davis
    Interfaith Center for Peace
    Columbus, Ohio

    I share your concerns about the training of "trainers," and I was pleased to see you address what I believe is an increasing trend among school administrators.

    I have been approached several times to conduct "train-the-trainers" and I have refused on the same grounds you have stated. It is a very frustrating situation; more and more organizations are willing to do this type of training for short money.

    Too many educators, be they teachers or administrators, have the attitude: "I do mediation all day long." They think mediation is a "subject" like math that comes with a curriculum book, and that good teachers will be able to teach it with a few hours of training. This premise is faulty.

    When I am able to convince educators to observe a training, they are often surprised and humbled to learn that there is a formal process and a skill set necessary to mediate effectively. They are further humbled when they sit down and actually try it: to phrase open-ended questions using neutral language, for example.

    I strongly believe that legitimate, responsible, ethical mediators who conduct trainings need to band together and inform educators why only skilled, experienced mediators should conduct peer mediation trainings.

    Marilyn Berman
    Social Studies Department
    Stoughton High School
    Stoughton, Massachusetts

  • About Us
  • For twenty-three 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.

    Call us: 617-926-0994
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    Post us: 134w Standish Road,
    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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