Peer Mediation is a conflict resolution process used in schools as a way of integrating the practice of conflict resolution into the school environment. It is generally a complementary process to the regular disciplinary procedure. Peer mediation teaches mediation and conflict resolution skills to students so they can help mediate and help resolve disputes that other students are having-hence the label, "peer mediation."
Peer Mediation is a student-led process designed to resolve conflicts between two students in disagreement. The process allows them to sit face-to-face and talk to each other in a structured environment so that each side of the conflict can be heard. After the problem is clarified, common interests are identified, possible solutions are created and an agreement can be reached.
Many thousands of schools in the US and in many other countries have implemented such mediation programs which serve every possible student population. The process provides a constructive way of handling conflicts and preventing violence in primary, middle and high schools.
Schools adopting this process often recruit and train students interested in being mediators. Generally a student of the same age-group facilitates the resolution process. The youngest peer mediators in most programs are fourth graders, although younger students have been trained in some schools.
The process is voluntary for both sides; mediators do not "make decisions" but rather work towards mutually acceptable resolutions for both sides in order to avoid further trouble. In peer mediation, students trained as conflict resolvers apply problem-solving strategies to assist their peers in settling disputes in a manner satisfying to all parties.
Trained student mediators create a safe atmosphere, allowing disputing students to tell their stories and helping them work out a mutually acceptable agreement. Since solutions are not forced, the disputing students feel empowered to take responsibility for their actions and to deal constructively with their immediate and future disagreements. Such a strategy may help keep many minor incidents from escalating over time into more serious incidents.
Types of Problem Addressed by Peer Mediaton
Cheating or Stealing
Cultural or Racial Conflict
Rumors and Gossip
More serious problems usually require a professional referral and are not appropriate for student mediation. These include: sexual abuse, assault, suicide, drug use, weapon possession, and those that involve legal problems.
The Teaching Students to be Peacemakers initiative in San Francisco begun during the 1960's was the first Peer Mediation program. With the onset of the "conflict resolution in education" (CRE) movement in the early 1980's, peer mediation came into its own. Although it can be implemented as a stand-alone program, most conflict resolution program curricula recommend that peer mediation be used as one piece of a broader curriculum of violence prevention and conflict resolution.
A teacher or school counselor, who has training in mediation and conflict resolution skills, serves as the program coordinator. Some schools have a team of trained coordinators who conduct training for student mediators, oversee the sessions, conduct debriefing, and follow up with participants and provide information and education about the process to the general school population. There are usually scheduled weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly meetings where student mediators share experiences, review difficult situations, and receive additional training.
The goal of peer mediation is to reduce conflict and provide children with problem-solving skills. Peer mediation is successful because it empowers students motivating them to behave more responsibly. Changes include improved self-esteem, listening and critical thinking skills, as well as reduced disciplinary actions and less fights. These skills are transferable outside of the classroom. More importantly, peer mediation teaches students an alternative set of skills that they can apply in conflict situations beyond the classroom and into adulthood.
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