Sunday, May 24, 2020

Peer Mediation and Circles Build Resiliency and Reduce Present and Future Conflict

This is the fourth article in the Trauma Informed series written by Darby Munroe, Ph.D. student from Nova Southeastern University.
Peer mediation and circles build resiliency and reduce present and future conflict

So far, we have talked about ACEs, how learning, behavior and school conflict are tied to ACEs, how using a trauma informed approach can prevent and reduce ACEs and school conflict, and how peer mediators and educators can use a trauma informed approach.  In this article, we will discuss how peer mediation and restorative justice circles build resiliency and reduce present and future conflict.

Resilience is being able to quickly recover from difficulties.  Students who are resilient will have less effects of ACEs and trauma, like fear, flight, flight or freeze.  Relationships and connection help build resilience, and also help prevent and reduce school conflict.  Peer mediation and restorative justice circles are additional ways educators and schools can foster relationships between students, connect with them, and increase their resiliency.

Peer mediation and circles can prevent and reduce conflict

Traditional school behavioral and disciplinary models are hierarchical, where adults are in power (a power over model) and they try to control students through plans or punishments adults decide on.  This does not help solve the student’s problems or address the underlying issues that caused the student to go into fight, flight or freeze mode.  Peer mediation and restorative justice circles level the playing field, giving students power and a voice (a power with model), and avenues for solving problems together, which can address underlying fear issues.

In peer mediation, youth (the peers) are trained as mediators, to be an unbiased party that helps other students come up with solutions to a problem together.  An example for peer mediation could be to address the situation of two students getting into a verbal argument over a seat in the classroom.  The trained peer mediator would help them to navigate the problem, first by identifying it, and listening to each side of the story.  Why was each student interested in that particular seat? What could potential solutions be? Students have the power to resolve their own conflicts and come up with solutions that work for everyone involved.

If this same situation was addressed in a classroom circle (in a classroom that already had well established circles that met on a regular or daily basis), the entire class would sit in a circle and be involved.  The teacher, or whoever was facilitating the circle, could ask questions for students to answer about how the fight caused harm, and how that harm could be repaired.  Students could share how it made them feel to witness the argument.  All of the students would have an opportunity to work towards a solution. 

In both of these examples, the students have power with one another, and are empowered to solve problems together.  In the traditional school models, if students had gotten into a verbal argument, the teacher would have sent the students to the office for a referral, in order to diminish the distraction happening in the classroom.  The students would have been punished with a detention or a note or call hoe to parents.  The students’ reactions could have escalated even more in the midst of all of this, cause harsher procedures from the school.  Schools can choose to teach and model conflict resolution and problem-solving skills, or they can continue fear-based approaches that send students into fight, flight or freeze mode.
How to practice a peer mediation session

If schools or educators are interested in learning about, receiving training or certification in peer mediation, they should check out the Online Peer Mediation Platform (OPMP).  There are online simulations where teachers and students can watch videos, learn basic skills and get some practice in peer mediation.  In addition to resources and trainings, OPMP also offers regular webinars and twitter chats on peer mediation and related conflict resolution topics.

How to practice a circle

There are different forms of a circle, based on the reason for the circle.  Some teachers hold daily or weekly circles in their classrooms.  These are relationships building and preventative.  Other circles could be scheduled in advance, in response to a conflict, and may require preparation and individual work in advance.  To get students used to a circle, make sure to have a talking piece (any object students can hold when it is their turn to talk).  Start with fun questions, ice breaker questions, and get to know you questions.  As the talking piece is passed around the room, each student gets to share if they want to.  Students may find that have more in common with each other than they could have imagined!

A great place to start for introduction to circles is the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding.  They offer virtual circles (watch for these on social media, like Facebook), as well as trainings, retreats and conferences.  The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) is also a leader in the field when it comes to trainings and certifications. 

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