How a peer mediation project helped mainstream and special school pupils to manage their behaviour
All school staff have to spend time resolving and managing conflict amongst their pupils. Conflict is often accompanied by oppositional behaviour and flared tempers, and it can be a challenge to de-escalate situations and encourage pupils to make friends.
Peer mediation is an intervention which aims to reduce conflict amongst pupil groups by teaching pupils conflict resolution skills which help them to mediate disputes in a way that is positive (Stacey and Robinson, 2000).
In addition, such training encourages pupils to take ownership of their behaviour and helps them to develop their social and emotional learning; peer mediation teaches pupils about emotions and provides them with the skills and tools to help detect and distinguish between different emotions. This is important in enabling pupils to understand their feelings and regulate their own behaviour.
There is a wealth of research which examines the efficacy of interventions in managing behaviour and developing emotional literacy. Recent research, including studies carried out and reviewed by Lane-Garon, Yergat and Krawlowec (2012), suggests that peer mediation interventions encourage pupils to be more accepting of others’ thoughts and emotions.
Research has also established links between peer mediation interventions and promoting positive behaviour. In 2012, Lane-Garon, Yergat and Kralowec reported that users or “disputants” in peer mediations from a previous case study at a US Elementary school were later found to be exhibiting more positive behaviour around school, for example, showing respect and responsibility.
Other research undertaken by Harjusola-Webb, Parke, Hubbell and Bedesem (2012) and Johnson, Johnson, Dudley and Burnett (2002) suggested that pupils who take on roles as peer mediators are more empowered to self-regulate their own behaviour and promote positive behaviour to peers.
Peer mediation sessions aim to actively engage students through role play, circle time games and other activities. A common approach is for students to learn how to mediate disputes using the five-step peer mediation process first developed by Stacey and Robinson. The peer mediation process begins when two peer mediators lead disputants to a safe, neutral environment in school where the five step process is followed and rules are explained.
The first step of the process involves the two mediators asking each disputant in turn for their account of the problem. Step two involves peer mediators repeating back what each disputant has said. This encourages active listening. In step three, mediators ask disputants to say how they feel in turn, shifting the focus from the incident to emotions and removing the nature of the conflict. In step four, the peer mediators ask the disputants to each suggest a solution. This provides an opportunity for disputants to take ownership of ideas and consider those of the other child. The final step in the peer mediation process, involves the peer mediators asking the disputants to agree on the solution they have reached together; this teaches pupils how to reach a compromise and promotes working cooperatively.
The process can be adapted and put into practice through the use of resources and role plays of hypothetical scenarios, where pupils practice the five step process.
It is important, at all stages that safety guidelines for peer mediation are adhered to. For example, peer mediators must only mediate in school for low-level disputes.
Peer mediation in special schools
Peer mediation has recently been used to promote a partnership between mainstream and special school pupils on the Isle of Wight. Though many aspects of the intervention, including the five-step process, remain the same, the resources and method of delivery (using visuals and modifying language) were adapted to suit the range of additional needs exhibited by the pupils.
Following the training, pupils from both schools had forged new friendships and most pupils identified this as the most enjoyable aspect of the training. “Now I am a peer mediator, I hope that I can help other children”, said one child.
Six months after the training, an evaluation questionnaire reported positive changes in pupils’ behaviour and self-esteem. “Peer mediation has taught me confidence, communication and how to respect”, said a participant. Pupils from both schools were much more confident and able to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour following the intervention. There were reports from pupils that the intervention had helped them to regulate their temper and understand other people’s problems.
Teachers also noted improvements in the way students behaved towards each other. “[Peer mediation has] built her confidence and she knows more about what is appropriate behaviour”, said a teacher, describing the progress made by one pupil.
Furthermore, staff reported an increase in prosocial behaviour; pupils were more helpful towards adults and their peers after the intervention, and were more able to sympathise with their peers; this had resulted in more positive social exchanges and improved behaviour around the schools.
The relationship between the two schools had also strengthened. Through regular contact, there were now more opportunities for exchanges of ideas and teaching skills.
As this project shows, peer mediation can be effective in empowering children with additional needs; it can have a big impact in terms of helping pupils to take ownership of a situation and accept responsibility for their role in mediating disagreements. In addition, pupils can learn to distinguish between behaviours and, often, to self-regulate their own behaviour. This example has also shown the efficacy of peer mediation in helping pupils to develop social skills and raise their self-esteem.
What’s more, such initiatives can help to promote inclusion and form partnerships between different school settings. This encourages all involved to embrace equality and diversity and better understand additional needs.
Carly Hatcher is Assistant Psychologist at Bridges for Learning CIC, an independent, not for profit educational psychology service on the Isle of Wight:
- Harjusola-Webb, S., Parke Hubbell, S., and Bedesem, P., (2012). Increasing Prosocial Behaviours of Young Children with Disabilites in Inclusive Classrooms using a Combination of Peer-Mediated Intervention and Social Narratives. Beyond Behaviour, Winter, 29-36.
- Lane-Garon, P., Yergat, J., and Kralowec, C., (2012). Conflict Resolution Education and Positive Behavioral Support: A Climate of Safety for All Learners. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 30(2), 197-213.
- Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R. T., Dudley, B., and Burnett, R. (2002). Teaching Students to be Peer Mediators. Educational Leadership, 50(1), 10-13.
- Stacey, H., and Robinson, P., (2000). Let’s Mediate. London: Sage Publications.