Student conflict and violence including bullying (verbal, physical, and social) is a continuing issue in American schools. In 2015, about 21% of students ages 12-18 reported to have experienced bullying and 20% of students in grades 9–12 reported being bullied on school property.
Peer mediation is a student-focused form of conflict resolution. Its sole purpose is to prevent escalation of conflict as peer mediators, mostly fellow students, in this case, are taught conflict resolution skills.
Not only are schools finding great success in decreasing the overall amount of incidents but students are learning problem-solving skills at a young age which they can carry through life. School Mediation Associates reports that close to 90% of all peer mediation sessions result in an agreement that satisfies not only the students involved, but teachers, administrators, and parents as well. This results in school staff and administration spending less time managing student behavior and more time focusing on student education.
Here is how it works…
Determining Peer Mediators
Selecting and training students as mediators are the most important phase of a school mediation program. One good way is to recruit volunteers from a pool of students while also considering nominations from teachers and other students. Students, with the guidance from a few staff members and teachers, should primarily carry out peer mediation training and facilitation. Some schools even decide to train their entire student body so each student can have a base-knowledge of conflict resolution.
Training Through Role-Play
Have teachers, counseling staff, or outside consultants train your selected students. Consider a two-day workshop for middle and high school students and a three-hour workshop for elementary students. Activities such as role play can help develop students’ conflict-resolution skills through active listening, cooperation in achieving a unified goal, acceptance of differences, problem-solving, anger management, and methods of maintaining efficient neutrality as a mediator. Consider the following five examples which allow students to respond to role play scenarios:
- Julie thinks Alice is using up too much space in the locker they share.
- Mike and Tom have been assigned to work on a science project. Mike says he is doing all the work but Tom says Mike is too bossy.
- Alice will not talk to Julie because she did not let Alice copy her science notes.
- Mike says he accidentally made Tom drop his lunch tray but Tom says it was on purpose.
- Julie has posted an embarrassing picture of Alice on her Facebook page.
In a peer mediation program at Highlands Elementary School in Edina, Minnesota, students were taught to be “peacemakers.” The program spans to 30 minutes a day for 30 days. Students were provided role-plays to practice procedures and skills involved in negotiating and mediating until they could do them repeatedly on their own. Since beginning the program, student-student conflicts dropped by 80 percent, conflicts referred to the principal was reduced to zero, and students managed all conflicts by themselves without the involvement of adults.
Impact of Peer Mediation
Since the 1980s, programs such as peer mediation have been developed to set up alternative ways to settle school-ground arguments, free up the school administrators in dealing with more serious problems, and reduce the number of student suspensions. It was later found that peer mediation results in more than just superficial objectives, but provides a long-term positive impact on the students, teachers, and administrators’ lives. Consider the following peer mediation benefits outlined by School Mediation Associates:
- Builds students’ conflict resolution skills through real-life practice
- Motivates students to resolve their conflicts collaboratively
- Deepens the educational impact of school
- Creates more time for learning
- Suits both psycho-social needs of students and the professional needs of educators
A final crucial factor to take into consideration towards successful peer mediation is active support from the school staff and parents. Constant training, support, and monitoring of the program can give students the opportunity to conform to positive social standards without sacrificing their identification with the peer group.
A school is a diverse venue of children coming from different cultural, ethnic, social, and language backgrounds, and with multiple yet individualistic conflicts, apparently, chaos can emerge. However, if they learn and retain the knowledge of conflict resolution techniques, and those who participate in mediation, either as mediators or as disputants, all benefit from the experience.