Schools - Peer Mediation in Schools
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Victory for Bayside's top talkers
Trained by Fred Stern
Got a problem mate? Not if you're a student at the small Bayside Secondary College.
Three years ago, year 10 students at the Altona North campus began an Innovative peer mediation program. In which students mediate and resolve minor conflicts between pupils. Last week a group of six Bayside year l0's became Victorian champions in a peer-mediation contest, the School Conflict Resolution and Mediation competition (SCRAM), conducted by the Law Institute Or Australia. Notwithstanding the thrill of representing Victoria in the national final this month against schools from New South Wales and Queensland, the students are just as excited at beating some of the states most exclusive and expensive private schools. "That was the best thing," said one of the mediators, 16-year-old paul Jessop. The principle of peer mediation Is to have minor problems, such as name-calling, resolved with the help of students trained in the mediation process.
LYALL JOHNSON - The Age Monday 11 October 1999
Bay Side Secondry College Problem Busters Krysti Jemmet, Wade Miller
Carmelina Spitaleri, and paul Jessop. Picture: Wayne Taylor
SCHOOL PEER MEDIATION FEEDBACK
"I would like to endorse strongly Fred's work as a mediator and as a trainer of peer mediators."
"Fred has been well prepared and professional in his presentations and is able to easily engage students and staff, pitching his work appropriately to different audiences. He is impressive in mediation sessions and has given the highest quality service to our school."
Jane Redfern (Student Welfare - Craigieburn Secondary College)
teacher for 18 years
"Feedback from staff and students indicates unanimously high levels of satisfaction. The students and staff were particularly impressed by your level of skill and knowledge in the area of conflict resolution."
Biserka Andrzejewski (Student Welfare - Gladstone Park Secondary College)
- Basic philosophy of the program
- Aims of the program
- Some specific reasons for peer mediation
- What is the school commitment to the mediation program
- Creating a positive school environment
- Students Selected for the program
- Time Frame for the program
- Some practice Issues for Primary Schools
- Some practice Issues for Secondary Schools
SCHOOL PEER MEDIATION DOCUMENTATION
The curriculum for the manual is based on the value and belief that conflict can be positive, because it signals the need for change and offers an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves and other people. Encouragement is offered for direct and peaceful expression of conflict where there is a strong belief that resolutions are best reached voluntarily by the disputants in conflict with the help of neutral third parties.
- To teach students an awareness of conflict in their own lives and how they respond to it
- An appreciation of the differences between people
- To teach students skills such as listening, critical thinking and problem-solving in relation to their own conflicts as well as the problems of their peers.
- The ability to talk clearly to other students experiencing conflict
- Provide an empowering process; where students learn to assume greater responsibility for resolving their own problems
- Increase the school's capacity to respond to student problems and free teachers, administrators and support staff to concentrate more on teaching and academic issues than on discipline.
- Peers trust each other
- Communication may be more effective
- Social context is comfortable
- Networks understood by peers
- Understand each others world views; norms/values
- Peers understand the bounds of comfortable discussion
- Often more honest with peers than with professionals
- De mystifying (as peers are able to assist them through a process)
- Not seen as 'authority"
- Unexpected spin offs (empowers both disputants and mediators)
- Positive role-modelling
- More likely to listen to peers
The program offers an intensive two full day program (minimum) that will show students how to structure a mediation hearing, improve communication and problem solving skills, fact-gathering techniques, note-taking and questioning skills, how to identify and prioritize issues in a dispute and how to write up a mediation agreement. Role playing exercises are used to help participants analyse their own responses to conflict, understand and express their own feelings and to hone the mediation skills and techniques learned in the training.
- Commitment to the use of student mediators within the school environment. This commitment should be broad based and include not only students and staff but parents groups.
- An area set aside to train the mediators over the two days within the school
- Having a nominated staff member follow up with students to ensure they complete and practice set tasks between the two days of training.
- Assistance with the selection process of students for the mediator training
- Assistance with both the initial and on-going publicity for the mediation program
- Having a nominated staff member to co-ordinate the student mediation program within the school (generally this falls to the welfare co-ordinator). Their duties also include follow up on completed mediation cases and de-briefing mediators following mediation sessions.
- Providing assistance with photo copying materials for students undertaking the program.
- Providing lunch for the group (generally last day) in recognition of the work they are undertaking.
- Recognition of the students' achievements in attending the program through a certificate.
- Participation in the evaluation of the program.
This has always been a critical question asked of the peer mediation programs. Like any new program introduced into a school, at the end of the day, there needs to be someone responsible for co-ordination. Generally this tends to be left with the Student Welfare Co-ordinator.
"Peer mediation programs have never failed in a school due to lack of enthusiasm by students".
Failure for the program to take off is generally associated with two Major areas:
- Enough staff to both run and support the program. In rapidly changing times where there are a glut of programs (and very good ones at that), there is only so far teaching staff can be stretched. Schools need not only to make a commitment to running a mediation program but ensuring there is enough time allocated and enough staff co-operation to provide continuity.
- Reality teaches us that school staff often find it difficult to change their quick fix attitudes to student problems. Whilst there may well be occasions where a quick fix solution is appropriate i.e. areas outside the mediators domain, teachers have a tendency to arbitrate matters. This leads to a band-aid solution and students feeling that they weren't listened to or believed.
In planning for a peer mediation program a strong commitment is required from those teachers who are most likely to be involved in disciplining of students i.e. Vice Principals, Year Level Co-ordinators etc. General support is required by staff, however realistically, not all staff will be supportive of any given particular program within a school environment.
The disputes that mediators deal with tend to include:
- Bitching & Back-Stabbing
- Borrowing off each other
- Personal Space
- Business Undertakings
- Personal Appearance
- Sporting Abilities
Clearly these are not issues that teachers should have to spend many hours trying to sort out. If schools look at issues that require a critical intervention such as a physical or sexual assault, theft or alcohol/drug issues, this would represent about 5% or less of conflict issues brought to their attention.
Once a peer mediation program has been completed, students will often perform a mock role play for all staff, school council etc to demonstrate what a mediation looks like.
Running a peer mediation program requires a commitment to ensuring that the program is not put on the back burner. I tend to suggest that schools target for at least one mediation on a weekly basis.
Schools are encouraged to participate in the selection of students for the peer mediation program. Schools are asked to limit numbers for the program to between 12-20. Strategies employed by schools for student selection include;
- Verbal information to the general year levels being targeted
- Written information in the school newsletter and to students in the targeted year levels
- Student Welfare co-ordinators nominating students who are seen as "natural leaders" i.e. it was observed that other students seek them out for advice
- Seeking the various year level co-ordinators to nominate students that they felt would benefit from the program (these students did not necessarily have to go on and become a peer mediator within the school. They may have been selected as the school felt they could use conflict resolution skills to improve their own life situations)
In targeting schools, I opt for recruitment of students at the years 9,10 & 11 levels (secondary schools) and grade 5 (end of year) or grade 6 (start of year) in primary schools. Essentially I choose these groups for the following reasons;
- Some schools feel that the existing commitments of the year 12 students (secondary school) would make it difficult for them to spend time assisting with mediation and would add considerable time onto their already large study-load
- A number of schools like the idea of giving a greater degree of responsibility to some of the younger age students.
- Teaching younger students means school could retain mediators for a longer period of time.
"Whichever year level(s) you choose, be aware that students of the same year level or below will not generally participate in mediation sessions."
In looking at the time-frame for the presentation of the peer mediation program, I have been fortunate in being able to observe a variety of times. Some schools chose December when the workload for various year groups is at a minimum. Other schools chose late February, early March to give students a short time to settle into the new school year but not to interfere with the student's workload which was perceived as manageable at the commencement of the school year. Some schools which are not choosing either the start or end of a year will run a program at the end of commencement of a new term.
When choosing days, it is important that there are not substantial gaps. I tend to suggest either running two days together in the one week. A number of schools also opt for one day each week over a two week period.
Running this program over several weeks from experience does not work as students tend to lose their skills and there is a greater possibility that some may be 'absent due to illness etc.
In primary schools, this program is generally carried out in the school playground during lunch break (and depending on time other play breaks may be considered).
- Include list of student mediator names and runners next to staff yard-duty roster (need emergency list also for students who are away). Mediators and runners would be given a list in advance.
Note: Depending on the number of students in the school, and teachers on yard duty, determines the number of mediator pairs and runners needed. i.e.'two teachers on yard duty would probably mean two sets of mediators and two runners. This allows each teacher a set of mediators to work with.
- Include a list of runners next to staff as well. (They accompany staff and take the students in dispute off to the mediators). They are not trained mediators.
Students report to office at the commencement of break and collect clipboards, (t-shirts, caps etc Note: Having t-shirts etc or some form of identification is especially useful as students are told that only when they wear this identification are they mediators). The clipboard would include a laminated copy of both mediator cheat sheets, a supply of statement forms and agreement sheets as well as biros and blank writing paper.
- The runners would also report to the staff room and collect their runner identification and be ready to accompany their yard-duty teacher into the yard.
- Student mediators would then put on t-shirt and cap and go to assigned pre-determined area in the school-yard. (The principal at an assembly would have already told all students that they are not permitted to play in the areas assigned for mediators and that mediators have the power to ask them to leave that particular area).
- The yard-duty teacher with runner in tow, does their normal yard-duty and determines whether a conflict warrants being sent off to the mediators (good to give as many as possible). Initially the teacher writes down the students names that they send off (so they can double check that they didn't run away). They then send off the students in conflict, with the runner to take them to see the mediators. If another conflict arises, they get their runner to check whether the mediators are free to take on another mediation. (normally should take about 5 minutes or so per mediation)
- At the end of the break, the mediators and runners report to their yard-duty teacher for a quick de-brief and hand back equipment. The teacher then checks out agreements etc and passes on completed sheets to the co-ordinator (i.e. box in staff room that co-ordinator collects sheets from)
Important to identify a space that is regularly available for students to conduct mediation sessions in. Make up a box that the mediators can have access to. Included would be laminated copies of the mediator check sheets, paper & pens, blank agreement forms, box of tissues, white board markers or chalk, plastic jug and glasses (for water), laminated copy of what constitutes "illegal" activities that students can not keep confidential e.g. assaults, graffiti, vandalism, theft, drugs/alcohol etc,
Make up slips for students who have to return to class. Who will sign these? i.e. mediators give student a slip immediately following session.
What times will mediation sessions be allowed? Whilst most schools start at lunchtime, two students in conflict can ruin a lot of classes before they get to the mediation session.