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Billy King


Nonviolence News



March 2007

[Go back to related issue of Nonviolent News]

'Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets or other.

Peer to peer
Introduced by Rob Fairmichael

Adult approaches to conflict do not just come from nowhere. The child is parent to the adult, and socialisation of the child comes from a variety of sources – parents, family, peers, mass media, school, and so on. Unfortunately we have not yet arrived at a situation where, North or South, conflict resolution or transformation is a basic part of the educational curriculum and system. It should be. No young person should be leaving school without a knowledge of the phases of conflict and the possibilities of mediation and principled negotiation – and having had an opportunity to try these out.

While peer mediation is used in some schools in Ireland, we sadly lost the main exponent and practitioner we had, Jerry Tyrrell, with his death at the end of 2001. What follows is from Jerry Tyrrell’s book “Peer Mediation - a process for primary schools” , Souvenir Press, 2002, 318 pages, ISBN 0 283 63601 4. Jerry struggled with developing peer mediation and it is my firm belief that, eventually, we will get there, when educators and legislators realise that equipping children and young adults to be able to deal with conflict is an absolute essential of any education, and none more so than in Ireland. But, as Jerry Tyrrell was adamant in pointing out, that also has us implications for us adults……….

What follows are a few extracts from this book but in this short space I am not trying to quote the methodology for doing it, or training in it, which are provided in detail in the book itself. However, as a way of detailing what is in the book, I will quote first of all the chapter headings:

“1. What is peer mediation?
2. How are children trained in peer mediation?
3. Can children mediate conflicts? Yes!
4. How did peer mediation get into primary schools?
5. Children’s needs and the learning process
6. Peer mediation skills and the Northern Ireland peace process
7. How to respond to resistance
8. How to create a self-sustaining programme in schools
9. If peer mediation is the answer, what is the question?
10. Is peer mediation always the answer?
11.The future of peer mediation”

“Peer mediation is a process which endeavours to create a safe environment where disputants will be able to tell their stories and be heard by each other in the presence of a third party….” (p19)

“I find it extraordinary that we adults so consistently dismiss children’s conflicts as trivial. Are we not aware that disagreements in our adults lives are sparked off by seemingly trivial incidents? The mislaid car key, the forgotten phone message…And that the child’s ‘trivial’ conflict offers him the opportunity to learn to deal with those he will encounter throughout his adult life. Conflict is inevitable’ it is how we deal with it that decides whether it will be constructive or destructive. We must learn to deal with conflicts before they escalate. I remember a school principal once told me that one great advantage of peer mediation is that it nips bullying in the bud: it deals with issues before they spiral out of control.” (p.14)

“Thought needs to be given to the kind of environment needed for the skills of teamwork, problem-solving and creative thinking to flourish. The concept of the democratic classroom is one that might provide the starting-point for such an environment. In essence, this is about the teacher and the class meeting together and deciding on ground-rules, addressing problems, agreeing on solutions and also devising sanctions of agreements aren’t kept. A microcosm of society, in fact.

As this book demonstrates, the process of peer mediation training transforms relationships within the class. The training takes place in a workshop context, with children and adults sitting together in a circle. On more than ne occasion that I have witnessed, when the children return to their normal classroom environment, they have asked the teacher if they could continue to use the workshop ground-rules, such as ‘No putdowns’. Already at an early stage, teachers sense the contradiction between the conventional didactic teaching style of the classroom and the interactive methodologies of the workshop approach, and are struck by how much more effective a learning and teaching environment the latter can be.

In trying to establish peer mediation in schools, the focus of a substantial part of this book, I have come to the resounding conclusions that, if schools are to create a culture which can sustain peer mediation as part of a whole-school approach, they must be prepared for change and transformation.” (p.13)

“The children themselves articulate why they value peer mediation. This one was in no doubt: ‘Children have a better understanding of children’s disputes than adults. Children have time for each other, teachers and other adults are often too busy or distracted or having a bad day and shout at children, making them feel small.’ The experience of many peer mediation projects is indeed that children sometimes find it easier to talk to other children than to adults. They know they will be listened to. They will have a say in the solution. Often the main thing that children want is to be friends again. They know if it doesn’t work out they can still approach an adult to get the situation sorted out.” (p.31)

“In the survey of peer mediation agencies,” [referred to in the book] “they were asked what was the key message that they would like to get across to the reader of this book. Their individual responses can be summarised as follows:

- Children understand conflicts and can resolve them creatively and they are capable of so much more if we give them the opportunity.
- Peer mediation needs a big commitment, and needs whole-school support. It requires time and a non-stop effort to keep the scheme going, but it is a good investment.
- Peer mediation skills are for life, and offer children positive responses to conflict.
- The skills and knowledge should be for all, not just for a small group of children in a school. We need to think about how to deal with the issue of pupils feeling left out if not selected as peer mediators. Every child needs to know what to expect, whether he or she is a mediator or not.
- Peer mediation works better as part of a programme of developing good relationships and dealing with conflict. It goes together with anti-bullying policies.
- Mediation is a wonderful concept; it’s simple, it works, and it makes for a better ethos not only in the schools but in the community as a whole.” (p. 291-292)

Copyright INNATE 2016