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Striving to Make Peer Mediation More Effective

Peer mediation programs have shown themselves to be effective in reducing student conflicts, but now advocates are working to make them more successful and easier to implement. Included: Descriptions of effective peer mediation programs.

Leigh Jones-Bamman

Peer mediation programs continue to grow in numbers and sophistication in U.S. schools. The programs train students to help their peers resolve conflicts in a nonviolent manner.

Leigh Jones-Bamman, formerly of Connecticut's Governor's Prevention Partnership, is nationally recognized in the area of conflict resolution.

Jones-Bamman talked with Education World about her commitment to peer mediation programs and how they can help improve school climates.

Education World: How widespread are peer mediation programs in U.S. schools? For what age groups are they most appropriate?

Leigh Jones-Bamman: In 1995, it was estimated that there were 5,000 peer mediation programs around the country. The number has grown significantly since then, but there is no organization or agency that tracks the actual numbers. I think it is safe to say that there are tens of thousands of programs nationwide.

Peer mediation programs have been successfully implemented at the elementary, middle school, high school, and college levels. Students can learn the skills to do simple mediations as early as third grade. Of course as they get older, students receive more sophisticated training and can do more complex mediations. The ideal situation is to have programs district-wide, so that the idea and practice of mediation are institutionalized.

EW: What are the necessary elements for an effective peer mediation training program?

Jones-Bamman: Effective peer mediation programs need first and foremost adult coordinators who have been trained to administer the program and to mediate. The adults who train and supervise students must know how to mediate themselves, and ideally, they should have some experience mediating.

Students need between 10 and 20 hours of basic training, depending on their age, to learn the foundations of conflict resolution, communication skills, and mediation. Then the peer mediation team should meet at least monthly for ongoing training and support.

The Association for Conflict Resolution helps standardize training for peer mediation programs and establish a foundation for their effectiveness.

EW: How successful are peer mediation programs?

Jones-Bamman: Research shows that an effective peer mediation program can reduce fights, discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions, and can increase positive school climate, teachers' time teaching, and students' time learning. Peer mediation empowers young people to take leadership roles in the school and helps them learn the important skills of solving interpersonal problems peacefully. One of the goals of the committee is to help all programs become more effective by delineating exactly what they need to do. If a peer mediation program meets the recommended standards, it should realize similar positive outcomes.

EW: What are some of the other benefits to schools of having peer mediation programs?

Jones-Bamman: Other benefits of peer mediation programs include:

  • They prevent low-level conflicts from escalating into incidents that break school rules and require administrative intervention.
  • They provide a safe structure for young people to solve their problems with the help of a third party, and eventually, to negotiate on their own.
  • They improve communication among students, administrators, teachers, and staff members.
  • They help students acknowledge and accept the consequences of their behavior.
  • They promote responsible citizenship.
  • Students are sometimes more comfortable talking to someone their own age who understands their concerns and their perspective.
  • Peers are less threatening to talk to than authority figures, so students are often more honest and willing to collaborate.
  • Because they learn to listen to others' point of view, programs help students to live in a multicultural world.

EW: What tips would you give to schools that want to start peer mediation programs?

Jones-Bamman: Several key ingredients are needed for a successful program. Each program needs champions who are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and committed leaders to implement and institutionalize the program. Administrators must offer strong support, providing funding, space and time for training, coordinating. and promoting the program. A high level of competence is crucial; the program will only be as good as the training and support for the adult coordinators and the student mediators. A diverse team of students needs to be recruited, and their ability to keep information confidential will make or break the program. Finally, it's helpful to network with existing programs to learn firsthand how they've overcome challenges to create successful, effective. peer mediation programs.

EW: What about quality standards for peer mediation programs?

Jones-Bamman: The Association for Conflict Resolution's Education Section has expanded the standards to include such things as program models, intake procedures, ethics, evaluation, cultural competence, and outcomes.

The standards draw upon relevant research and the knowledge and experience of practitioners active in the field. These standards detail the components necessary to create and sustain an effective peer mediation program that helps to create a safe and welcoming school climate, empowers youth to use conflict resolution skills to resolve disputes non-violently, and incorporates cultural competence and diversity.

This e-interview with Leigh Jones-Bamman is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.