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Peer Mediation Creating a Positive Climate
Peer mediation is a negotiation-based strategy that teaches student mediators alternative strategies to help resolve conflict among their peers. In peer mediation, students trained as conflict managers apply problem-solving strategies to assist their peers in settling disputes in a manner satisfying to all parties. Such a strategy may help keep many minor incidents from escalating over time into more serious incidents. More importantly, peer mediation teaches students an alternative set of skills that they can apply in conflict situations. Over time, students in schools with effective peer mediation programs learn that there are alternatives to violence for solving personal problems or resolving interpersonal conflict.
Overview
In mediation, an impartial third party attempts to help others come to a win-win, rather than a win-lose resolution of conflict. In peer mediation, student mediators are taught a process of communication and problem-solving that they apply to help their peers reach settlements of their disagreements without confrontation or violence. In the process of training, mediators learn that conflict can be constructive and positive, and that their role as mediators is not to judge, nor to force an agreement or solution.

Rather, students come to mediation voluntarily, and are guided by peer mediators to move from blaming each other to devising solutions acceptable to all parties.

Peer mediation programs grew out of programs, such as the Community Boards Program in San Francisco or Resolving Conflict Creatively in the New York City Public Schools, that were developed by attorneys and child advocates in the mid-1970’s. Some programs, such as the Peacemakers program, teach all students in the school processes, for mediating disputes. Others select and train a cadre of students who act as the school’s conflict managers. Peer mediation has been used in a variety of situations. While some peer mediation programs mediate only in informal situations, such as the playground, others bring peer mediation into the classroom for resolving student disputes. Some more formal programs may even establish a “mediation office” in which all peer mediation occurs.

Although it can be implemented as a stand-alone program, most conflict resolution programs recommend that peer mediation be used as one piece of a broader curriculum of violence prevention and conflict resolution.

Russell Skiba and Reece Peterson Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Indiana University, Bloomington.