CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 11 . . . . January 31, 2003
Hetty van Gurp has written a guide to resolving conflict in our schools. Her book is very relevant as bullying and violence continue to be lead story news in the media. Having been involved with Conflict Managers in school, I found that, although mediation was used, there was never any mention of the issues that could be dealt with. The question would be asked if the two disputants wanted to solve the conflict. If they didn't, the managers moved on, and the conflict was not resolved to anyone's satisfaction. This author, however, sets out to equip students with the attitudes, knowledge and skills they need to become responsible, fully participating citizens using such innovative programs as Peer Mediation, to teach effective strategies so that students can live in harmony with one another. Mediation is defined as a voluntary process which helps to solve conflicts between two or more people where the disputants decide on their own solutions, showing respect, fairness and confidentiality of the people involved. Students from the age of nine can learn the principles and practices of mediation to help their peers resolve conflict in a creative and peaceful manner with little need for adult intervention. A peer mediation program is most effective when it is part of a school-wide, proactive approach to dealing with conflict.
The activities described in this short, 92 page book have been well tested and modified since the early 1990s. The training activities have been divided into four sectors: 1) Getting Acquainted- there are five activities that include The Name Game and the Web Game; 2) The Nature of Conflict- there are five activities that include Responses to Conflict that note the categories Passive, Aggressive, and Collaborative, plus The Wolf's Story; 3) Communication Skills- there are seven activities including Effective Listening, and “I” Messages; and 4) The Mediation Process- there are three activities that include Introducing Mediation, The Three Stages of Mediation and Good Resolutions. There are a variety of activities given, and, therefore, a coordinator of the program could choose the most appropriate ones for her/his particular group of students.
There are seven components that lead to the success of a mediation program.
1) The support of the school administrative team is absolutely necessary, even though it does not take too many enthusiastic teachers to initiate, implement and supervise the program. Introducing the concept to the staff at a staff meeting, (especially after a recess period), might include a brief overview of the advantages of such a program, a role play to demonstrate the process, followed by a question and answer period. A few key members could be selected to be responsible for the planning and coordinating of the program.
2) A very important part of the successful implementation of this type of program is an understanding of the concept by all members of the school community. Through brochures, articles, posters, letters and presentations to parents, assemblies and monthly updates in the school newsletter, the ongoing communication with all the partners in the program must be developed and maintained in order that it be perceived that everyone is working towards the same goal of peace in and out of the school.
Another important component of the program is the selection of the
peer mediators. The students that are chosen should be good listeners
and communicators, be fair, and be concerned about others. The author
has found that a good ratio is one mediator for every 25 students
in the school. Students could be nominated or teachers could encourage
students to apply to become mediators, but participation should be
5) Each school must decide which issues will be handled by the mediators and which will be dealt with by staff. In the elementary school, a responsible adult can divert such issues as serious physical violence, drugs, weapons or abuse from the mediation process and ensure that school staff handles them. Issues such as rumors/ gossip, damage to the property of others, and name-calling are appropriate for student mediation.
6) The program coordinator prepares a weekly or monthly duty schedule that is made available to everyone at school. The school staff will need to decide whether mediation sessions take place only at recess, lunch time, after school or whether, at times, they can occur during class time. The mediators should always be close to teacher supervision in case assistance is needed. However, the sessions should be in private to preserve confidentiality and to make it easier for the disputants to speak openly and honestly.
7) The program coordinator should meet regularly with the mediators to develop skills further and to discuss problems that arise. Reports are filled out after each conflict situation, and, if they were unsuccessful in solving the problem, schools should have an internal strategy in place to deal with it further. No suggestions for such a strategy are given by the author. Keeping the mediators motivated is important, and schools will have to develop ways in which to ensure that this happens. The author suggests “lessons in living” whereby mediators would come to class to discuss skills essential to reducing conflict and violence, but I think that this idea would have to have a good deal of teacher input and a large quantity of time to train the mediators to do this type of activity. I think that it would be better left to the teacher in the classroom to discuss these skills until such time that the students could take over.
After the training has been completed, a mediation role play, which is given in the book, can be used to review the process. The directions, students' questions and concerns, parents' and teachers' questions and concerns are described. A “Peer Mediation Handbook” of 11 pages is included so that it can be run off for the students to keep with them. It includes the mediator's promise, mediation guidelines, active listening description and observer checklist, and a glossary.
Valuable appendices, all of which can be photocopied for classroom use, or adapted to suit the particular school situation, include a peer mediation application form, samples of a mediation training agenda, a permission letter to parents, a mediator report form, an agreement form that could be filled out by the disputants, a copy of a Getting to Know You Bingo, three stages of the mediation process, a mediation scenario called The Puzzling Case, and three different problems to role play. I feel that these would be extremely helpful in training students to be mediators, and they would also be useful to teachers for use in class so that students would know that the whole school was involved in the program.
This is a very appropriate book for our schools today, and it is one of the easiest books of this nature to read and use in any school's desire and need to deal with conflict and the whole idea of bullying and violence. I would highly recommend its use. The directions for the activities are clearly written, and the handbook would be an excellent reminder for the students in their dealings with any conflict in and out of school.
Gary Evans is a retired primary teacher who is now teaching Social Studies to teacher candidates at both the University of Manitoba (Early Years and Middle Years, Year 1) and Early Years, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at the University of Winnipeg.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.