IMPLEMENTING CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND PEER MEDIATION

SKILLS INTO THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY

Christina McMahon, Director, Conflict Resolution Network Schools Development, Australia

 


Why Develop a Peer Mediation programme?
Educating youth, in all countries of the world, in skills of conflict resolution, sets the foundation for a peaceful world.
Australian schools are choosing to give children an opportunity to develop communication and conflict resolution skills. School life, and the culture of schools is changing quickly. New curriculum brings new pressures and responsibilities to being a student at school. A student's school days are becoming more productive. Children are now asked to be active problem solvers in many curriculum areas. The interpersonal skill area is now considered part of the school education domain.

Conflict is a natural part of life and has been and will be part of school life. With the influence of a changing society; specifically the effects of television, cinema and the media; children are encouraged to behave differently. Students are expected to be better communicators yet are not given training in communication skills. The challenge for schools is to short circuit negative modelling such as physical or verbal aggression; rejection and withdrawing; or pretending there is no problem, by actively teaching positive communication skills, as well as the changing nature of schools in the differing ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds experienced daily by students. Children need special education to learn conflict resolution skills and to have more effective procedures for handling differences in the playground, classroom or in life generally. Peer Mediation offers a positive constructive skill approach to handle disputes at school.

What is Peer Medation?

Mediation is a technique of conflict resolution which uses a third neutral party to facilitate the process of resolving a conflict. Peer Mediation refers to the process of mediation being conducted by your peers. In a school Peer Mediation generally refers to students mediating. Peer Mediation as a school program can be developed following a number of alternatives:

A Whole School Approach

A whole school program is when a school undertakes to change its primary conflict resolving method to be one of Peer Mediation.
Mediation could occur at the following levels: Teacher to teacher; executive to executive, teacher to parent; teacher to student; student to student.

Peer Mediation offers a preventive approach to dicipline and conflict problems at the school level. It offers students an opportunity to be their own problem solvers. Schools are eagerly embracing a program which gives both teachers and the school community many valuable outcomes. A whole school program selects students to train as mediators, to be available in the playground to facilitate conflict resolution between students. These student mediators may be called on to assist in handling conflicts in the school. Schools, especially High Schools, offer variations of Peer Mediation. Many schools already have in place a well developed Peer Support Program. This program can be extended to include Peer Mediation or changed to a Peer Mediation Program. Peer tutors are also available to move in to the role of Peer Mediators. Many schools introduce Peer Mediation as a program for student to student resolution only, at a later date the school plans to include mediation at all levels of school community to resolve conflict.

Peer Mediation is based on the belief that students have the wisdom and ability to solve their own problems. Peer Mediation helps to give them the skills.

Classroom mediation
Classroom Mediation is when a class handles classroom management problems by training all students as mediators and appointing mediators to mediate in the classroom. A classroom teacher generally develops the mechanics of the program to suit the needs of the class. Many schools organise classroom mediation before implementing a whole school program. A high school often has more considerations when developing a program than a primary school. Classroom mediation can be introduced in a few classes to act as a model to the school community. Questions and problems can be addressed at the level of class before the whole school commits to Peer Mediation. Primary schools, because of size and teacher-class relationship have the ability to easily introduce both classroom and school mediation at the same time. It is important that a school decides to implement the program that they are ready for, not to copy a program from another school. All schools have their own problems, strengths and culture. Peer Mediation is a program to meet the needs of the school. The development of a program needs to be customised to meet needs. The time of implementation could be 6 months or 5 years.

So what is the process of mediation?
A mediator facilitates a process of conflict resolution between two or more disputants. Mediation can be formal or informal. A mediator assists disputants negotiate to resolve a conflict. Participants are problem solvers aiming to reach an agreement which can be written down and signed by all parties. Mediation at all times is vouluntary and a mediator does not have the power to force a decision on the disputants.

A clear definition of mediation is as follows:
"Mediation is a process by which the participants, together with the assistance of a neutral person or persons, systematically isolate disputed issues in order to develop options, consider alternatives and reach a consensual settlement that will accomodate their needs. Mediation is a process that emphasises the participants' own responsibility for decisions that affect their lives. It is therefore a self-empowering process" ( Folbert & Taylor, 1984: p.7&8).

The role of the mediator
A mediator calmly and firmly facilitates the process of conflict resolving, ensuring the balance of power is equalised and participation is vouluntary. Mediation teaches constructive communication skills to the mediator and the disputants.
Mediation requires mediators to:

• model open and honest communication
• Iisten actively to content and feelings think critically to assist problem solving
• create a Win/Win cooperative approach
• assist students in taking responsibility for their own decisions
• explore mutual needs and concerns
• create a safe non-threatening environment
• steer process using astute questioning . identify common ground and facilitate negotiation
• empower disputants to resolve their problems

To carry out these tasks a mediator needs to develop specific skills and qualities. This skill development is one reason schools are considering Peer Mediation as a positive conflict resolving program for the benefit of teachers and students. A mediator will learn to demonstrate the following skills:

Facilitate conflict resolving in a neutral nonjudgemental manner. Support all parties objectively.
• Develop trust and credibility.
• Explain the process of mediation. Gain agreement for participation in mediation. Take charge of the process confidently. Help disputants to hear each other s needs. Direct students to express the problem from their point of view. . Assist students in using "I" statements.
• Actively listen to ask questions and summarize main content.
• Lead disputants to an understanding of both sides of the problem. . Identify common ground to assist the willingness to negotiate.
• Map the core issues for disputants to set priorities for the problem. Help disputants focus on mutual needs to explore options. . Brainstorm options creatively.
• Assist negotiation based on real issues and needs. Write a mutually acceptable agreement based on win\win mindset. Complete appropriate documentation for school records.
• Encourage students to appreciate their own ability to solve their conflicts. . Encourage students to confidently accept responsibility for problem solving.

What conflicts do students mediate?

A school program will clearly indicate what conflicts can be mediated by students. Bullying and harassment as persistent behaviours cannot be mediated. Conflicts of a minor nature with elements of these behaviours may in some circumstances be mediated. Overseas evidence indicates a decline in bullying behaviour from bullies who are given training and assigned mediation roles. Schools are encouraged to develop clear guidelines to stop bullying or harassment in their schools. A Peer Mediation Program can very successfully complement structured Anti-Bullying or Harassment programs.

It is generally accepted that students do not mediate:

• Bullying
• Harassment
• Use of weapons
Use of drugs . Assault . Highly emotional physical fights

It is deemed appropriate for students to mediate:

* Gossip and rumouring

* Name calling

* Dirty looks

* Arguments

* Territorial disputes

* Peer Fights

* Invasion of Privacy

* Game disputes

Schools need to state clearly and frequently what can and cannot be mediated. Student mediators need to know when to choose to mediate and when to pass on the conflict. When in doubt a student needs to be able to gain assistance quickly and feel confident to stop a mediation at any time if it is not appropriate to mediate. Parents of mediators must also feel confident their child is not being asked to tackle problems that are beyond them or that they will find too upsetting. Parents will also be concerned with the time involvement for their child; this issue must be addressed at the planning stage.

Bibliography

Folberg, J. & Taylor, A. "Mediation: A comprehensive Guide to Resolving Conflicts Without Litigation". San Fran: Jossey Bass, 1984.

Christina McMahon, Implementing Peer mediation. Teachers guide and Sludent workbook. 1995. Conflict Resolulion Network Schools Development, Box 860, Noosa Heads 4567, Queensland, Australia. Fax + 61 074 480 801

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