IntroductionConflict in schools is an issue today, particularly in light of zero tolerance for bullying or violence. Improving this situation cannot be done on a policy basis, and in fact the appropriate response given an educational setting is to teach the students the skills and techniques to resolve conflict before it escalates. Peer mediation is a proven way to do this while aiding in a child’s development and application of conflict resolution skills (Bercovitch, 2004; Spartano, n.d.).
Peer mediation represents an underused tool for schools to develop citizenship and social skills in their population which have a great capacity to improve the school environment by reducing conflict. Many curricula exist that demonstrate the efficacy of mediation training in school environments (Harris, 2004). The mechanism by which peer mediation works to reduce conflict is by providing students with new skills. By strengthening communication and mediation skills students and their peers are able to de-escalate conflict before it turns into a much larger problem requiring more resources to resolve (Johnson, Johnson, Dudley, & Barnett, 1992). Peer mediation curricula tend to be based on the same framework with many has similar designs and similar components (Dixon, 1996; Stephens, 2007). The typical objective is to peaceful conflict resolution in a non-disciplinary manner that reduces the need for more drastic measures (Clayton, Ballif-Spanvill, & Hunsaker, 2001; Harris, 2004).
Peer mediation effectively utilizes role modeling by peers, establishing a cultural norm at the school which includes appropriate measures and techniques to resolve conflict. There are several advantages to peer guidance, which can be more effective than adults’ guidance in aiding the resolution of conflicts in elementary school. It is also beneficial for children to practice modeling such skills (Denton & Kriete, 2000; Dixon, 1996).
Peer mediation programs have minimal expenses to implement, as they are driven more by process, engagement and involvement. The critical resources is the investment of time to train students as mediators, and subsequently for this reason, programs require ongoing supervision. Overall, the costs and staff involvement of a peer mediation program is minimal in comparison to the benefits, including potential financial savings at the cause of reduced conflict (Cohen, n.d.). For those schools that have little or no desire to support a more formal schoolwide peer mediation program, even components of peer mediation adapted for use in individual classes have been shown to be effective in decreasing conflict and associated negative behaviors in the school (Kimberly, 2011).
Peer mediation in schools is an effective way to reduce conflict in the education environment. Many studies have been performed to determine the efficacy of peer mediation programs. There are many schools use peer mediation as one of the aspects promoting positive conflict resolution and a peaceful community (Hart, n.d.). These studies have analyzed successful programs in effort to determine what traits are indicative of successful these outcomes, and engagement and support were critical factors (Bickmore, 2003; Johnson & Johnson, 1996).
Many curricula, whether formal or informal, rely on a variety of methods to encourage successful peer mediation (Kimberly, 2011; Spartano, n.d.). Johnson and Johnson (1996) reviewed many peer mediation curricula and found that the initial training of mediators was one of the key predictors to a program’s success. Other predictors included the openness of the school regarding the timing and location of mediation meetings, the extent to which staff and administration supported the program, and referral system from which students could receive mediation (Johnson & Johnson, 1996).
Denton and Kriete (2000) have discussed the threefold process of taking turns making “I statements”. This is a technique which is common to many student peer mediation lesson plans. It is a either a role play task or an exercise that can be conducted with students who are in conflict. It involves having a meeting mediated by an outside source/student, and then applying the strategies discussed to resolve the problem (Denton & Kriete, 2000; Henderson, 1986). Over decades of similar instruction there have been some refinements of teaching techniques but the approaches remain largely the same.
There are many such techniques and approaches which can be taught to this age group with success. One of the most common with regard to elementary level peer mediation curricula is the encouragement of mutual discussion with an outside source monitoring. Such coaching by a peer provides encouragement, practical suggestions regarding resolution strategies, examples and role modelling of appropriate behaviors. Not only does this serve to provide the means to peacefully resolve conflict, it can serve to prevent and avoid conflict in the first place through a greater understanding of the source of conflict and attention to communication (Johnson, Johnson, Dudley, & Barnett, 1992). This dual advantage of harm reduction and prevention as well as capacity to resolve conflicts when they do develop is one that can greatly benefit schools and the community.
There is a problem which can be seen in a number of ways. Two possible ways to frame this problem are: one could state that the problem is the level of conflict in some schools today; others might see it in terms of the barriers that are currently in place which prevent the implementation of effective programs such as peer mediation.
The level of conflict in schools is an important one in the context of other initiatives and reforms including zero tolerance for violence as well as anti-bullying programs. Peer mediation could be at the core of skills which would aid in other related objectives regarding the goal of reducing conflict in the schools.
There is another conflict, that being in the application of peer mediation programs, and this conflict is structural. Despite studies which support the efficacy of the concept, peer mediation remains an informal part of school operations, rather than a respected, funded and established aspect of curricula. This impacts the continuity of such programs as well as diminishing the capacity to operate because the activity is discretionary and can easily be displaced by other time and resource needs.
Translating research into action with regard to peer mediation as an effective means of reducing conflict and raising skills needed for civil society can be accomplished by marketing three factors to stakeholders from school administrators to taxpayers, teachers, parents and the students themselves: there is very little cost, there is a business case that justifies formal mechanisms and support, and these are necessary skills in our schools and in our world.
Leadership can be an important factor in authorizing, implementing and shaping a peer mediation program in the school. To that extent marketing the concept of formal mediation should emphasize the goals of educational administration in order to highlight the potential of the program to meet the needs of decision makers.
It is not only possible to implement formal peer mediation programs as part of curricula and school programming and policy, given the effectiveness of this option it would be difficult to justify not doing so (Bickmore, 2003; Hart, n.d.). Not only are such programs viable options, they are also desirable options due to their potential success in building the foundation of a more civil and peaceful society (Johnson & Johnson, 1996). Providing children with the tools to begin to mediate their own disputes begins to build a foundation of knowledge for their future ability to peacefully resolve conflict, and this has great potential for changing society for the better (Harris, 2004; Johnson & Rudy, 1990; Stephens, 2007).
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