The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen Vol. VIII, 6/09

in this issue

Don't Just Do Something, Watch!

Response to "This Must Be Difficult"

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 June issue of The School Mediator, our final issue for the 08-09 school year.

This month we discuss the power of demonstration as a peer mediation teaching strategy.

Please send along your thoughts and experiences. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.

Wishing a wonderful Summer to all of you up here in the northern hemisphere,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

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  • Don't Just Do Something, Watch!

  • Twenty years ago I began swimming for exercise. I couldn't run anymore; my knees hurt too much.

    Though I never took swimming lessons, I cobbled together a passable crawl stroke from the informal and haphazard instruction I received as a kid.

    The other day in the pool, however, I realized that I've had an impressive swimming teacher recently. You've probably heard of him: Michael Phelps, American swimming phenom and winner of 8 gold medals in last summer's Olympic games.

    For the record, I've never had any personal contact with Mr. Phelps. As far as I know, I've never been in the same ocean as him, no less the same pool.

    So how did he teach me?

    I watched him swim.

    Observing Phelps compete last summer changed my swimming experience. Technical things, like the way my arms enter the water, and how long I remain submerged after my turn, as well as intangibles, like how I feel during my workout, and the energy I bring to the pool.

    I push harder, feel stronger, and strive to emulate the fluidity and efficiency that Phelps demonstrated.

    All these improvements--technical as well as attitudinal--simply from observing someone who was much more skilled than me.

    I now wonder whether we mediation trainers have sacrificed this sound teaching strategy--the observation of a skilled practitioner--on the altar of the "you learn most by doing" approach to teaching. Let me explain.

    Many educators, whether we are aware of it or not, have been profoundly influenced by the so-called Learning Pyramid, a popular theoretical model that purports the following: People retain much more of what they learn when they do it as opposed to when they watch someone else demonstrate it.

    Though the origin (and therefore the validity) of the Learning Pyramid is uncertain, the model nevertheless makes intuitive sense: the act of doing, of applying what one has learned, appears to enable one to integrate new knowledge more thoroughly than merely watching someone else.

    And so School Mediation Associates' (and probably your) peer mediation training is full of opportunities for trainees to "do," which in this context means mediate. Most notable are the numerous roleplays in which students mediate simulated disputes and receive feedback from trainers and their peers.

    This is it should be: roleplays are a wonderful, albeit an imperfect, teaching tool.

    But in our training, opportunities for peer mediation trainees to watch others mediate, beyond a couple of brief demonstrations, are few and far between. (There is only so much time in a training.)

    My experience "with" Phelps, however, has me looking for additional opportunities to enable students to observe experienced mediators in action.

    During their initial training, for example, trainers can intervene during roleplays to model particular interventions.

    After the training, peer mediators can sit in on and observe more experienced mediators conduct real sessions. Veteran mediators or coordinators can also demonstrate strategies during ongoing meetings and follow-up training sessions.

    I am not suggesting that we give up all the effective "doing" we have built into our trainings. Phelps taught me much by his example, but I only integrated what I learned when I actually applied it in the pool.

    Demonstration as a teaching strategy has its pitfalls too, most notably that it is primarily passive. With something as subtle and slow moving as mediating--unlike an Olympic race!--this can lead to inattention and boredom among observers.

    But demonstrating things to our students is a valuable and important teaching strategy.

    I want to do it more.

    And I have Mr. Phelps to thanks for that.

    What are your thoughts...? How do you demonstrate the mediation process in your training? We can all learn from your experiences.

  • Response to "This Must Be Difficult"
  • We received a number of responses to the last issue of The School Mediator. They follow below...

    I think empathy is the most important ingredient in mediation; in fact, it is the essential component to all helping communications.

    I would go so far as to say empathy is "necessary and sufficient" to promote mental health in students and teachers.

    In my experience, more often than not, if empathy is established in a mediation, the rest of the steps flow rather easily and naturally.

    The really interesting and important question to ask ourselves is: What interferes with developing empathy? Sometimes we cannot empathize out of fear or prejudice or boredom or personal issues or any number of things. Whatever the reason, the lack of empathy dooms the mediation to failure or superficiality.

    Someone told me a long time ago: "All we can ever truly give anyone is our presence."

    I would add that empathy is the only true manifestation of that presence. That may not seem like much, but it is, in reality, everything.

    Bob Nelson, Ed.D.
    Peer Mediator & Peer Helper Supervisor
    Pearce High School
    Richardson ISD
    Richardson, Texas

    I simply had to respond to this month's topic--empathy. As far as I am concerned, empathy has always been an integral part of the 'magic' of mediation. It helps parties to feel like they have been fully heard, which, in turn, enables them to let go of some of their anger and hurt feelings.

    The ability to step into the shoes of the parties and verbally acknowledge how they seem to perceive their situations - without taking a position either for or against them - is really one of the most powerful skills a mediator can offer.

    During training, it is essential for potential mediators to spend time exploring and acknowledging how they feel when other people have and show feelings! Our culture, for the most part, tends to have a negative view of people expressing public feelings; they are often considered to be out of control.

    Once mediators understand that feelings are normal and belong to the parties-and that holding their hands (sympathy) is not required--it works wonderfully!

    Lydia Fortune
    Worcester, Massachusetts

  • About Us
  • For almost twenty-five 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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    Watertown, MA 02472 USA

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