Peer Mediation Programming

Standardized testing as become the mantra for schools, as music, art, and extra curricular activities get pushed out, unfortunately, along with these, the pillars of learning.  Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  If you feel safe, secure, if the material is relevant to your life an interest, if it is challenging, skills such discipline and resilience are needed not only in school but in life.  Conflict Resolution Education is often seen as an afterthought, not as important as science and math, yet it is so critical to create the platform and environment that enables students to learn.   Teaching the skills for students to advocate for themselves, to solve their own problems, to analyze their world and themselves, to better deal with the problems in their life, these empower students to take more control over their learning, goals, and life.

As an advocate for peer mediation programming in schools, I firmly believe in the positive impact these programs have the potential to achieve.  I also have a deep interest in the programmatic aspect and implementation of these, to generate data to support as well as critique how they are run to make them better.   I remember thinking when I was in 6th grade, about the peer mediation program we had at my middle school, that it was not applicable to me or my life.  That my problems of watching my parents separate, and having constant fighting at home, of being teased mercilessly, of wanting to commit suicide at age 12 were not something a peer mediation program was able to solve.  And it wasn’t.  I wasn’t a good candidate to be peer mediated.  I would have been a good candidate to be a mediator myself.  To develop the skills of understanding conflict and speaking up for myself in a healthy manner.  Instead, it would take years to undue bad habits I was developing of mistrust of those close to me, of holding my anger and sadness inside, and not being able to advocate for my needs and for myself.  These are skills I honed in grad school, but did not develop initially in school, or go through the transformation process in school.  We all deal with our conflicts, and if we choose to improve how we deal with them, these tools are available if we choose to seek them out.  One transformative moment in my life came from Bell Hooks, although I can’t remember the book.  She wrote:  “In real life – with friends, with lovers, with parents – we´re always having to struggle to reconcile betrayal.  We don`t just drop everyone who betrays us and move on to better love.  We are called upon by life to work through certain forms of betrayal.”  This was very powerful for me, and I made a choice to confront in a productive manner, the people who I had written off in my life.  This is a skill that has helped me often.  To engage my problems and shortcomings rather than running away from them.  This is also a skill that can be practiced in a safe setting, of problem solving, working through situations as role plays with kids, as victims of domestic violence, as adults, as.. anyone.

And.. just because I’m working on this section right now, here is a snippet from some research on the topic.

Research and Results:

Conflict Resolution Education (CRE) is a broad field which encompasses Social and Emotional Learning, Peaceable Schools, Peer Mediation, Restorative Justice, and others, which have different aims, scope and outcomes. Peer Mediation is a type of CRE in schools can be part of the solution to help students solve their interpersonal conflicts constructively, as well as teaches skills that support the pillars of what enables students to learn better.  Conflict is inherent in life, and learning in the classroom is impaired by poorly managed conflict.  Whether it is interpersonal, personal, or societal conflicts, conflict resolution skills are tools to enable students to resolve and manage their own conflicts to reduce anxiety and excessive stress and increase resilience. Students are better able to handle stress, manage their homework load, and other directly related criteria to improved academic achievement when using the skills intentioned by CRE programming.

Research of peer mediation at the elementary level is the most well-studied and shows good results of students gaining emotional competencies and that school climate improves. [1] There is an abundance of research focusing on k-6, and 6-8 grade levels, and less on high school, as most programs are implemented at the elementary and middle school levels. Programs at the highs school level also can depend on the level and quality of programs implemented earlier, and the high school system is much larger and more complex than earlier grade levels, which makes it more difficult to study.

Certain types of programs yield different types of results. For example, programs that focus on a small group of individuals (cadre model) have strong effects for those individual students, including improved self-esteem and critical thinking skills. Whole school programs are more effective towards improving school climate as a whole, in middle school, while cadre programs were more effective especially in middle and high school settings. In both settings, each program had more positive impacts whether cadre or whole school model, than the control group –the schools without a program. Tricia Jones, a pioneer in the field of Conflict Resolution Education, who studied and conducted research for decades on the topic, suggests that schools with a tight budget might be better served by adopting a well-implemented cadre model to maximize impact, and minimize staff resources.[2] Because the way in which a program is implemented is so key to its success, support and buy-in from teachers, administration, and principals is important. A program that starts up one year, and is gone the next, or inconsistency in modeling behaviors by those with authority, can do more harm than good.

New York City – Whole School Model

Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, (RCCP) was first implemented in New York and a rigorous evaluation was started in 1994 encompassing over 11,000 students, 15 elementary schools, and 350 classrooms to assess and understand the impact of the program on social and emotional learning, and academic achievement.  While the evaluation analyzes 15 schools, RCCP had been implemented in 115 schools in New York City at its peak in the mid 1990’s, during a surge of juvenile violence that was sweeping through the city. [1]  The researchers concluded that students with over two years of RCCP lessons at high rates benefit the most, and an initial conclusion can be reached that teachers should be supported and trained to teach more lessons rather than just a few.

Other experts caution as well that “short-term preventive interventions produce short-lived results” just as other experts have argued. This is because CRE programming is reinforced by other actions being taken, and is not a short term solution – it is a change of behavior that is reinforced at all levels – through modeling by teachers, through the disciplinary system in the school, the through relationships that students foster with each other, their teachers, and their school itself. [3] Additionally, the authors address that best results happen when CRE programs start early, before a student is introduced to the choice of risky behavior, so that they can be prepared for when things change. Instruction should be continued on a developmentally appropriate level throughout their high school career.

[1] Brown, J. L., Roderick, T., Lantieri L.,& Aber, L. (2004) “The Resolving Conflict Creatively Program: A School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Program.” In J. E Zins.  R. R. Weissberg, M.C. Wang, & H. J. Walber (Eds.), Building academic success on social and emotional learning: what does the research say,( pp. 151-169). New York: Teachers College Press, 2004.

[1] Jones, Tricia S. The Comprehensive Peer Mediation Evaluation Project: Insights and Directions for Curriculum Integration. National Institute for Dispute Resolution’s Forum, 1998. Pg. 3-5

[2] Jones, Tricia S. “Conflict Resolution Education: The Field, the Findings, and the Future.” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 22, no. 1/2 (Fall 2004): 233-267. Pgs 243-250.

[3] Greenberg, Mark; Zins, Joseph T., “Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning.,” American Psychologist 58, no. 6-7 (2003): 466-474. Pg. 5


About Musings over Coffee

Fitness enthusiast. Love to travel, mess up recipes, ponder random things, get riled up about the news, all of which nearly always coinciding with one of my favorite things in the world: Coffee.
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