As a mediator and parent, Conflict Resolution Skills are life skills and a vital part to a student’s emotional and social development. Whether the conflict be external or interpersonal, it is highly useful to be prepared to handle conflict in a productive manner. Bully prevention and zero tolerance bullying policies are frequently mentioned in our public school systems, yet the support and emphasis of conflict resolution curriculum to uphold these expectations seem to falter. We teach our children how to read, but they first must learn their ABC’s and similarly, if we expect students to comprehend bullying prevention then we must also guarantee they are prepared with conflict resolution skills and techniques. By establishing a clear path to approaching conflict situations and providing students an opportunity to be stakeholders as peer mediators in resolving disputes, we create an opportunity for future generations to address conflict in a responsible and educated fashion.
Setting uniform expectation of approaching conflicts on campus allows for staff, teachers and students to have an understanding of what will happen when conflicts arise. On the John Adams Middle School Campus, the peer mediation program inspired the use of the “I” message statement. The “I” message is expressed as follows:
and would like__________
This simple message was adopted not only by students utilizing the peer mediation program on campus, but began appearing on the front of teacher’s classrooms, in the counseling office, and even the administration adopted this common language. Although, this phenomenon occurred organically at John Adams, it is simple to see how easy it is to utilize. If students, staff and teachers have an expectation that an “I” message is the first step in addressing conflict situations, all parties are vested with a mutual understanding, responsibility and expectation. Formulating a curriculum based plan of action for the entire school community to address conflict shows the collective effort back up No Bullying Policies on campus. Once expectations have been set; make sure proper support is given to uphold the expectation. Provide students an opportunity to assist in the resolution processes through peer mediation programs.
Perhaps when a conflict or bullying issue arises, students may be given an alternative to administrative punishment, such as mediation. The Center for Civic Mediation, a non-profit organization, currently is active and onsite in five Los Angeles County schools. The peer mediation programs are established under the supervision of a Center staff member and volunteers in conjunction with school staff, administration and students. A core group of students on a campus are recruited and undergo basic mediation training including conflict resolution skills and techniques. These student mediators then co-mediate disputes among their own peers. The foundations of the process being voluntary, the role of the co-mediators neutral nature in viewing the dispute and that what is discussed or agreed in the mediation is confidential, allows for open fluent conversations in a safe and meaningful way. Students who are a party to a particular conflict are more open in sharing, discussing, and suggesting solutions with a peer mediator over an adult administrator. Discussion as to why the incident occurred, how it should be handled, possible solutions and what will the situation look like if a similar occurrence is to happen. Implementing a program on campus where students are positioned as stake holders and given the responsibility to assist their fellow students is resolving their own conflicts is truly amazing. I think of how empowering it is for a student who is able to evaluate a conflict situation and handle it with confidence. According to the Dean Hilbert of Carnegie Middle School, just in the programs first year suspensions were reduced by 67%. Previously labeled “at risk” students have found a home in the peer mediation program and now are finding reward in assisting their fellow students through conflict resolution methods. “I used to be a bully and pick fights at school, but learning peer mediation has changed my life.” Said one Center for Civic Mediation Peer Mediator. Peer mediation works because students make agreements of how to resolve a particular conflict and design a unique and workable solution of their creation, not by being told what to do.
Whether it is adopting a peer mediation model on campus, having regular workshops for students and staff or creating activities that demonstrate effective communication in conflict situations, it is clear that emphasis on Conflict Resolution curriculum can translate in to more peaceful and cooperative school communities. I think of so many tragedies that have occurred in American schools over the last fifteen years and can’t help but wonder if the outcomes would be the same if Conflict Resolution techniques and skills were more recognized as vitally important aspect of school curriculum. Our students are our future leaders and if they can become ambassadors of peace, I can only imagine what a different world it would be.