A Process for Primary Schools: Encouraging Mediation Skills in Young Children
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Playground squabbles, name-calling, bullying, picking fights, being excluded from a group: trivial problems, some adults might think, but how the children deal with them is the basic learning material that will mould their attitudes to conflict in later life. Should adults step in and resolve them, or is there another way? Who better to understand children than children themselves?
In his years of experience in developing peer mediation in primary schools in Northern Ireland, Jerry Tyrrell has come to recognise the creativity, patience, commitment and integrity that children demonstrate in resolving their conflicts by using such a process.
So what is peer mediation, precisely? It is a structured process, managed by two mediators who are children. They introduce the process, establish the ground rules, listen to each side of the story, and facilitate those in dispute in identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, and engaging in a give and take process – towards, hopefully, a mutually agreed solution. It is a process that teaches fairness and, most importantly, empathy.
However, getting peer mediation embedded in schools is no simple matter: it is not just a question of supplying workshops for training; it requires that a school undergo major changes. For the training will transform the culture of the school, teaching styles and relationships in the classroom – from authoritarian to democratic – and the changes must be consistent, overall and ongoing. Teachers can find this transformation difficult to accept, and sometimes give children too little credit for what they can do.
Using the direct experience of a number of people who have successfully set up peer mediation in schools, this book explains, step by step, how to set up such a process in your school – the pitfalls and the rewards – and offers advice and practical experience on how to overcome resistance.
The efficacy and power of peer mediation should not be underestimated. In Norther Ireland its methods were adopted for the Peace Process. As the former President of the Irish Republic, Mary Robinson, aptly said: “if [peer mediation] works in the playground, there’s no reason why adults can’t learn a lesson from what, after all, isn’t just child’s play.”