Peace from A to Z (PAZ) Peer Mediation Program

The transformative approach to mediation has rarely, if at all, been practised with elementary school children in the framework of peer mediation.  In a article published in 2007, Lisa Hershman chronicles just one such rare application — the experience of a New York-area school.

Peer mediation programs traditionally work within a problem-solving framework: Conflict is viewed as a “problem” that can and must be solved (Spangler, 2003). But what happens when there is no solution? Or, better yet, when the conflict isn’t really a problem? Faced with these dilemmas, the problem-solving approach can become frustrating and demoralizing – especially for young children.

At the PAZ Peer Mediation Program, I found that the idea of moving on, opposed to reaching an agreement, was often more responsive to what the parties desired from mediation. Take the following example:

Tatiana is in the fifth grade. Normally a lighthearted girl, she arrived at the afterschool program looking upset and distraught. When her classmates asked her what was wrong, she replied that she had been in an argument with another student, Natalia, on the playground earlier that day. The two girls agreed to try mediation. The girls were not able to come to an agreement. Yet, they returned to class holding hands. The two student mediators watched and shook their heads in disbelief. One of the young mediators said, “I don’t get it. They fight like this all the time! What are we supposed to do?”

This case demonstrates the practical difference between a problem-solving and transformative approach to peer mediation. In a problem-solving model, this session would be viewed as unsuccessful – not only was there no agreement, but it was likely that the parties would continue to have conflicts in the future. In the transformative model, however, it was a resounding success – Natalia and Tatiana had the conversation they needed to have in order to feel better and move on. Even had the girls not walked away holding hands, the simple act of returning to the classroom and participating in the day’s activities is laudable from the transformative perspective. The hope is not that Tatiana and Natalia will stop having conflicts, but rather that they will approach future conflicts with a stronger and more open view.

Read the entire article here.