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Sustainable Peer Mediation Programs: What Ensures Success or Failure?


Author Kathryn Turk, M.A. 

Communities and cities across the U.S. are experiencing increased violence not just in workplaces, shopping malls, and places of worship, but, unfortunately also in schools (Hart & Gunty, 1997; Johnson, Dudley, Ward & Magnuson, 1995; Pastorino, 1997).  The last 100 years have been labeled the most bloody in history by the United Nations Development Programme; more than 90% of casualties were civilians (Cheldelin, Druckman, Fast, & Clements, 2003).  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2011) reported 1 in 10 people across the globe will lose their life to an act of violence each year (Coleman, Deutsch & Marcus, 2014).  The U.S. has become part of this disturbing trend.

Increased campus violence has caused school administrators and districts to look for  solutions (Coleman et al., 2014; Garrard & Lipsey, 2007; Hessler, Hollis & Crowe; 1998; Long, Fabricius, Musheno & Palumbo, 1998).  Physical measures, including metal detectors have been placed on school sites to protect the buildings and those inside (Newman, 2010; Williams, 2004).  On the educational side, a popular choice to deal with increased school violence has been the implementation of a peer mediation program (PMP) on campuses to handle student problems in a non-authoritative way (Lindsay, 1998; Long et al., 1998).  Cohen declared that peer mediation is the oldest and most common form of Conflict Resolution Education (CRE) (Jones, 2004) and is a project that involves a mediation-trained professional, such as a teacher, counselor, administrator, or coordinator taking charge of selecting and training students who will use their learned conflict resolution skills to help student peers in a dispute towards a facilitative session. The professional adult will oversee and supervise the program (Harris, 2005; Hessler et al., 1998).

A meta-analysis of 43 PMPs published between 1985 and 2003 revealed that PMPs were effective operations, namely, trained students were able to understand and apply conflict resolution methods during mediation sessions, and the disputants were satisfied with the process, which positively affected school climate and safety (Burrell, Zirbel & Allen, 2003).

Most of the research has been positive about the effects PMPs have on student problems, the school environment and safety (Cremin, 2007; Garrard & Lipsey, 2007; Harris, 2005; Hart & Gunty, 1997; Hessler et al., 1998; Jones, 2004; Lane-Garon, Yergat & Kralowec, 2012; Long et al., 1998; Pastorino, 1997).  However, some researchers pointed out that these studies were quantitative, and are calling for more qualitative investigation (Garrard & Lipsey, 2007; Harris, 2005; Johnson et al., 1995; Jones, 2004).  The purpose of this paper is to establish the importance and need for PMPs, especially to discover the sustainable elements of successful programs.


A general search resulted in dozens of websites, services, some articles, and many programs for peer mediation, but not one dealt with sustainable Peer Mediation Programs.  As a result this author reviewed websites for local organizations that support long-standing peer mediation operations and contacted administrators to offer insight into the sustainable aspects of their programs.


Peer Mediation is a relatively new concept in the educational realm modeled after community mediation (Lindsay, 1998; Long et al., 1998), and influenced by religious groups and the peace movement (Garrard & Lipsey, 2007).  In the 1960’s, community mediation programs began to offer services in a non-judgmental way (Coleman et al., 2014 ; Garrard & Lipsey, 2007) to handle the disputes that normally arise between neighbors, families, friends, small businesses and tenant-landlord situations.  The aim was to give disputants an opportunity to talk through their problems and arrive at a mutually agreed upon resolution, rather than using the legal system for decision making (Coleman et al., 2014).  The benefit of using mediation was that it is informal, efficient, economical, non-authoritative, voluntary, and confidential (Coleman et al., 2014).  The mediators are neutral and the parties are encouraged to participate and design their own resolution.  The success of the mediation technology inspired educators in the early 1970’s to adopt these conflict management skills to prevent school violence (Garrard & Lipsey, 2007; Jones, 2004; Long et al., 1998; Nix & Hale, 2007; Pastorino, 1997;).  In the 1990’s, PMPs became a “growth industry” with more than 5,000 programs across the country with students handling student disputes (Hessler et al., 1998).                                                                                                Following the community mediation model by using a problem-solving approach (Bickmore, 2002; Burrell et al., 2003), peer mediators were trained to respect confidentiality, demonstrate neutrality, show interest in the disputants, listen to each side of the story, reframe disputes (restate disputants’ interpretations into neutral language), encourage self-empowerment, guide parties through the mediation process and help the disputants craft their own resolution.  They learned that their job is not to judge, not to make decisions, not to inflame the situation, and not to criticize or repeat negative words (Burrell et al.; 2003; Lane-Garon et al.; Harris, 2005; Hart & Gunty, 1997; Hessler et al., 1998; Pastorino, 1997; Stein & Ernst, 1997).

Since the 1990’s, many studies of PMPs have confirmed positive effects on students, improved school climate and safety, and reduced discipline problems (Bickmore, 2000; Burrell et al.,2003; Cassinerio & Lane-Garon, 2006; Garrard & Lipsey, 2007; Harris, 2005; Hart & Gunty, 1997; Jones, 2004; Lane-Garon et al., 2012).  However, quantitative research dominated the available information on PMPs (Hessler et al., 1998; Long et al., 1998; Nix & Hale, 2007; Pastorino, 1997; Theberge & Karan, 2004).   What had not been previously studied were the actual peer mediations, behaviors, skills and what was learned by the student practitioners and disputants (Garrard & Lipsey, 2007; Harris, 2005; Long et al., 1998; Nix & Hale, 2007).  The question concerning harmful behavior referenced by Webster’s study (1993) that PMPs have not been proven effective against violence, remained undetermined (Burrell et al., 2003; Theberge & Karan, 2004).

Obstacles Affecting Peer Mediation

Jones (2004) commented on the 2001 U.S. Surgeon’s Report on Youth Violence that peer mediation was ineffective in dealing with violence and it should not be implemented.  Her objection was that the report’s focus was on the “effectiveness,” which only measured the prevention of serious violence, such as murder, stabbing, or shooting (Jones, 2004).  The typical kind of disputes discussed in studies in elementary and middle schools were arguments, fighting, name-calling, rumors, theft, playground/lunch area disagreements, boy/girl interactions, and high discipline problems (Hessler et al., 1998; Hurt & Gunty, 1997; Long et al., 1998; Theberge & Karan, 2004).  High schoolers added relationship/dating issues to the list (Coleman et al., 2014; Jones, 2004).  Bullying was identified by several researchers as being a serious problem in K-12 education (Coleman et al., 2014; Garrard & Lipsey, 2007; Heydenberk, Heydenberk, & Tzenova, 2006; Jones, 2004; Theberge & Karan, 2004), but in some schools, Cunningham and others (1998) noted that the teachers were unaware of the frequency of this pervasive harassment (Bickmore, 2002).

Another report on the effectiveness of PMPs segued into fundamental problems.  For example, Hessler et al. (1998) cited Bettmann and Moore’s (1994) dismissal of PMPs because they had not addressed the root causes of youth violence, and the worldview of peer mediators was unknown.  Proponents of peer mediation also acknowledge the lack of qualitative research on PMPs and have called for more studies (Hart & Gunty, 1997; Harris, 2005; Lindsay, 1998; Pastorino, 1997).  Pastorino (1997) examined the quantitative studies of outcomes, types of issues, structural issues and the strategies of experts and questioned how to gain understanding of the way the process works and noted the absence of the experience of the disputants.  Harris (2005) queried whether there is an educational side-effect to PMPs in which disputants learn to deal with resolving future conflict.  He further questioned whether mediators modeled conflict resolution knowledge during the sessions and if the experience affected behavioral change (Harris, 2005).  Researchers wanted to know about the peer mediators and how they interpreted their mediation training and whether it had affected their lives (Hessler et al., 1998).  The effectiveness of peer mediation in relation to addressing violence was raised (Cremin, 2007; Theberge & Karan, 2004).  More empirical data on the appropriate CRE programming for younger children was needed (Garrard & Lipsey, 2007).


All PMPs require financial support for student and adult training, supplies, and in many cases, adult supervision. Supervision might be part of a school counselor’s and/or teacher’s responsibility (Lindsay, 1998).  Sometimes PMPs began their operations with constraints in funding and support from school district offices (Lindsay, 1998).  When resources are tight school administrators tend to exclude PMPs and peace studies from budgets (Burrell et al., 2003).  Some academicians declared that administrators must provide leadership and financial support for PMPs (Theberge & Karan, 2004).  Recent examples include a highly-valued PMP at Maclay Middle School in Pacoima, California, which lost its funding grant and feared losing the program that had effectively dealt with school violence (Vara & Harani, 2013).  Also, Andrew Culberson, Director of the Civic Mediation Project (CMP) under the auspices of the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA) explained he had to terminate a successful middle school PMP in Carson, California, in 2014 due to the funding restrictions that paid for the dedicated PMP coordinator.  He further commented that CMP continues to provide community mediation services and PMPs, but the staff has been reduced by three and a half employees since 2010 due to financial constraints (Andrew Culberson, personal communication, March 10, 2016).

School Environment

Sarason (1990) claimed “public schools are remarkably resistant to change” (as cited in Lindsay, 1998, p. 86).  The culture is competitive and not conducive to a cooperative goal-setting agenda required by conflict resolution programs (Lindsay, 1998; Theberge & Karan, 2004).  The traditional distribution of power and decision making concentrated at the top conflicted with the collaborative framework of mediation (Theberge & Karan, 2004) and the authoritative atmosphere has not been able to resolve or deter conflict and violence (Pastorino, 1997).  Stevahn (as cited in Lindsay, 1998) stated that attention is often diverted from existing PMPs as other issues garnered the favor of teachers, school districts and state legislatures.  Rapid implementation of conflict resolution programs, especially with various degrees of quality contradicts the very essence of sustainability (Jones, 2004; Lindsay, 1998).  Some schools lacked leadership, resources and unilateral support from the faculty and staff for traditional PMPs (Lindsay, 1998).  According to Bickmore (2002), some PMPs in Cleveland, Ohio, initially did not meet regularly, the peer mediators dropped out and the remaining students were less representative of the student body.  In one study, students described their school as “rule-and-punishment oriented” (Theberge & Karan, 2004, p. 294).

Raider (as cited in Lindsay, 1998) claimed that most of the adults in schools had little training in cooperative management of conflicts. Teachers did not instruct conflict as being a normal part of life with the opportunity to deal with it positively (Levy, 1998).  Several writings stated that overburdened teachers could not be expected to deliver education in conflict resolution (CRE) and peer mediation programs (PMPs) without assistance (Cremin, 2007; Theberge & Karan, 2004). In one school, a few teachers looked beyond the school institution for answers to violence, crime, and destructive conflict (Lindsay, 1998). Studies revealed that there is a wide range in teacher awareness about PMPs; with some who lacked knowledge about CRE and PMPs in their schools, especially among the new recruits (Lindsay, 1998).  Kristin Woodward, Conflict Resolution Specialist for Fairfax Virginia County School District, said that keeping all teachers informed of the district’s PMPs is an “opportunity and a challenge” (K. Woodward, personal communication, February16, 2016).  Noticing how students group themselves and form opinions about others was often missed by teachers and other adults (Coleman, et al., 2014).

Araki noted in a study of a PMP in Hawaii that coordinating a convenient time for peer mediations was difficult, especially when a few teachers were not willing to release students from class for the sessions (as cited in Cremin, 2007). Teachers in two Southern states questioned the timing of allowing students to leave academic classes for mediations (Lindsay, 1998).  This author’s volunteer experience at two middle schools from 2005-2006 in Santa Monica, California, confirmed scheduling complications for the availabilities of the parties and mediators (K. Turk, personal communication, February 16, 2016).  For example, a few teachers refused to allow students to leave their classes to mediate because they were behind in their class work and their absence could not be justified.  Only school-time hours were available for mediations at these schools..

Outside Environment

Lynn Whiteoak, a special education needs/inclusion coordinator proclaimed, “society has changed and people are looking out for themselves” (as cited in Cremin, 2007, p. 110).  A PMP is affected by the culture of the society around it (Theberge & Karan, 2004).  Researchers noted that the increase in PMP implementation tracked the rise in violence (Hart & Gunty, 1997; Lindsay, 1998; Theberge & Karan, 2004), the growth of firearm possession (Long et al., 1998), and increase in gangs (Pastorino, 1997) in the surrounding communities.  Long et al. (1998) asserted that inner-city youth learn aggressive and violent behaviors when dealing with conflict.  The psychological effects of conflict disrupt a child’s learning ability and the families’ capacity to support learning per Williams (2004).  In Fairfax County, Virginia, the district began the implementation of PMPs after the murder of two students on county school grounds (Robert Harris, personal communication, March 4, 2016).

Teachers from seventeen schools indicated that the influence exerted by families, neighborhoods and communities were a major problem.  It was apparent that some students at all income levels were exposed to drug abuse, spousal abuse, drug/alcohol addiction, and physical abuse of children (Lindsay, 1998).  Several schools offered parent workshops and programs, but the teachers thought the instruction might not have reached those who needed it most (Lindsay, 1998).  Nonetheless. other educators continued to recommend providing parent education to deal with home problems (Cassinerio & Lane-Garon, 2006).

Another negative influence was the mass media influence through entertainment stories of crime, violence, and destructive conflict (Hessler et al., 1998; Lindsay, 1998; Theberge & Karan, 2004).  Children become accustomed to seeing arguing and shouting on television (Cremin, 2007).  Peer mediators, who were part of a qualitative study, concluded that violence seen on television taught children to model this behavior (Hessler et al., 1998).

Adequate Training 

            The standard protocol for peer mediation is to train the adults first; and they, in turn, will train the students within the parameters of the program to become peer mediators (Hessler et al., 1998; Harris, 2005).  In a meta-analytic review of peer mediation outcomes, typical training for peer mediators was 15 hours to learn the process of collaborative problem solving, encourage satisfactory agreements, and create a plan to handle future problems (Burrell et al., 2003), while other programs provided 20 or more hours of training (Harris, 2005; Lindsay, 1998).

The training delivery and implementation for PMPs differ structurally (Jones, 2004).  For example, the programs with less training did not fare as well.  The training in an Ohio elementary school consisted of 12 hours for the teachers and eight hours of classroom exposure to CRE for the students.  The peer mediators displayed a wide range of abilities and use of CRE skills; and the researchers determined that the criteria for selecting peer mediators needed to be clarified to identify the better candidates (Hart & Gunty, 1997).  In another empirical review, when eighth-grade peer mediators, with an initial six-hour training and some refresher sessions throughout the year were evaluated, the educators found that the peer mediators had difficulty maintaining neutrality, enforcing mediation rules and were deviating from the learned script.  They reported in some cases that the experience “was a meaningless exercise endorsed only by teachers and the school administrators” (Nix & Hale, 2007, p. 327).  According to Levy (1989) the problem was public schools do not distinguish conflict knowledge from the development of conflict resolution skills.

Lindsay (1998) found that not all teachers and peer mediators received thorough training and consequently the peer mediators were seen as policemen.  Several studies mentioned that the adults in schools were only trained by the local community mediation services (Lindsay, 1998; Stein & Ernst, 1997), and the school adults wanted more conflict resolution training, as well as more resources and refresher courses (Lindsay, 1998).

Although the Dispute Management Schools Project (DMSP) in Hawaii was considered successful, the peer mediators lacked ongoing experience-based training due to the small number of mediated cases, and were not able to continue refining their skills (Cremin, 2007).  “Good training is not enough;” the author recommended schools develop and support their PMP for growth and sustainability, while their training/mentoring partners provide a strong commitment and clarity of purpose (Bickmore, 2002, p. 158).

Teachers’ Time Constraints

            Teachers conveyed serious time constraints.  Requirements to cover mandated curriculum, preparing students for state testing, dealing with large classes, and assisting students with academic, behavioral, and personal problems left little time to take workshops or attend conflict resolution trainings (Lindsay, 1998).  Teachers might not have time to further the steps of conflict resolution with the necessary activities that will provide for success (Heydenberk et al., 2006).

Students’ Satisfaction              

Students’ satisfaction with the process of mediation and the resolutions were reported favorably in the meta-analysis (Burrell et al., 2003), however much of the other research does not include this aspect.  A peer mediation advisor in Ohio, stated her school’s PMP is sustainable if the students use it (E. McGarvey, personal communication, March 7, 2016).  At one junior high school in southern New England, students did not “buy into” using the mediation service.  A year-long, in-depth qualitative study of students, faculty and parents determined six factors why students did not engage in peer mediation (Theberge & Karan, 2004).  This was the most comprehensive review of student behavior in relation to the non-use of a PMP:

  1. Students’ Attitudes, Feelings, and Behaviors Regarding Mediation: Students followed peer pressure that did not trust peer mediation as being a confidential, respectful way of working for a “win-win” solution rather than a win/lose scenario. Mediation was not thought of when disputes arose.  Self-consciousness, sensitivity and worry about what others thought contributed to the inhibition to seek help to solve problems (Theberge & Karan, 2004, p. 284).
  2. Students’ Methods of Dealing of With Conflict: Students followed their typical approaches (withdrawal, submission, aggressive responses including verbal assaults and physical violence) to resolve problems. Sometimes a passive response could be appropriate depending upon the type of conflict; such as, ignoring, submitting, backing off, and “being nice.”  Most students said they avoided conflict; some talked it over with their friends and a small number consulted adults.  Name calling, teasing, maintaining one’s status and power created more aggressive responses, but short of becoming an all-out verbal or physical attack.  A little over a quarter of the students saw or knew of people who resolved conflicts through physical or verbal assaults.  Less than 10% of the parents wrote that physical fighting was used to handle conflicts.  Influences from outside of school were seen as being contributive to an increase in violence (Theberge & Karan, 2004, p. 285).
  3. Students’ Attitudes, Feelings, and Behavior in School:  Concerns for defining oneself and carving out an identity challenged students, while name calling and spreading rumors threatened them.  All teachers confirmed that rumor mongering discouraged the use of mediation.  Other factors were students’ developmental issues, power imbalances, lack of respect, wanting to win, fear to confront the other person and students with chronic negative behavior patterns (Theberge & Karan, 2004, p. 286).
  4. School Climate: The culture of mediation was not present among the adults. The teachers did not model, encourage, or teach mediation skills.  One teacher proclaimed, “until adult attitudes change, kids never will” (Theberge & Karan, 2004, p. 287).  A lack of faculty respect for students, and students not respecting the teachers, indicated a need for stronger bonds for students with the adults in school.  There were concerns about safety and well-being among the students.  Increased racial tensions distanced those who felt intimidated, threatened and victimized by racism.  The school’s strong disciplinary environment, unshared power, overcrowded conditions and lack of a collaborative attitude were deterrents (Theberge & Karan, 2004, p. 287).
  5. Structure and Organization of the Mediation Program: Basic organization of how the process worked and how to make use of the program was missing.  The program was based out of the dean’s office that the students associated with being in trouble.  A new policy offered students the choice of mediation or detention that compromised the voluntary aspect of the methodology.  There was not a dedicated room for mediations; they occurred wherever there was space.  Faculty support was not widespread; the peer mediators wanted more adult participation.  Those teachers who performed mediation duties did so beyond their regular teaching assignments, and they were responsible for all aspects of the program.  Peer mediators did not represent the diverse population of the school.  This PMP was in isolation; there was not district-wide education in primary schools for CRE and the students did not have any foundation for the understanding of mediation in junior high school.  The district did not provide mediation training for the faculty as a whole and did not demonstrate the importance of mediation (Theberge & Karan, 2004, p. 288).
  6. Societal Issues: Teachers were instilling the behavioral norms and cultural values that students were not receiving at home.  For some students the sense of acceptance and belonging was only experienced at school.  Large numbers of students did not model values of communication, avoided helping others, and failed to ask for help, which are contrary to the tenets of mediation.  The influence of the media on youth culture was reflected in students’ poor social skills (Theberge & Karan, 2004, p. 289).

Support System


For successful and sustainable PMPs, experts suggest positive assurances from the faculty, staff, administration, students, parents, and links to communities and school districts to ensure continued successful operations (Stein & Ernst, 1997; Theberge & Karan, 2004).  A strong connection to community mediation services is essential for the PMP’s implementation and sustainability (Lindsay, 1998).  New teachers should receive conflict training through colleges of education (Lindsay, 1998).  Others educators agreed with a multi-level support system and also collaboration with universities and/or conflict resolution training institutions for training, mentoring and recruitment of volunteer interns (Bickmore, 2002; Cassinerio, & Lane-Garon, 2006; Lane-Garon et al., 2012; K. Woodward, personal communication, February, 16, 2016).  Bill Warters (2005), professor of the Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution Program at Wayne State University, in Detroit, Michigan, proposed a cross-generational approach to build bridges and connect older experienced practitioners with all levels of school-age students for the sustainability of PMPs.

“Systems are never alone; they always connect to other systems” (Littlejohn & Domenici, 2007, p. 59).  Stand-alone/add-on programs are fragile and many are discontinued (Lindsay, 1998; Theberge & Karan, 2004).  In one secondary school, trained peer mediators were not able to mediate because not one member of the staff was able to commit to supervise the program (Cremin, 2007).  In another study, the students said that they “only received support from parents and teachers on their way to becoming mediators” (Hessler 1998, p. 191).  “Good training is not enough;” schools are recommended to develop and support their PMPs for growth and sustainability while their training/mentoring partners need to provide a strong commitment and clarity of purpose (Bickmore, 2002, p. 158).

Researchers overwhelmingly supported PMPs and are imploring administrators, school districts, and decision makers to recognize the great value of CRE to children’s education, the benefit to their emotional and social skills, and their future as mature, productive and empathetic human beings (Burrell et al.;2003; Coleman et al., 2014; Harris, 2005; Johnson et al., 1995; Jones, 2004; Lane-Garon et al., 2012; Lindsay, 1998; Pastorino, 1997).

Satisfactory Solution

There is sufficient evidence from both quantitative and qualitative studies that PMPs have proven effective in the school environment.  They have provided a time and a place for students to work with their peers to collaboratively problem solve disputes and should be part of a child’s educational opportunities (Coleman et al., 2014). Without proper planning, purpose, training, funding, implementation, support, and evaluation, the programs could become inconsequential (Coleman et al., 2014; Theberge & Karan, 2004).


Proper planning for peer mediation implementation requires “a serious consideration of purpose, audience, and outcomes” (Levy, 1989, p. 73).  Some schools responded to the increase in school violence by installing peer mediation programs (Coleman et al., 2014; Long et al., 1998).   However, the normal problems that were consuming a lot of the teachers’ and counselors’ time were not violent conduct (Johnson et al., 1995; Jones, 2004).  One educator contradicted the literature about PMP implementation and stated that it was a movement to make schools “less authoritative and more democratic by involving students in decision making and problem solving” (Long et al., 1998, p. 301).

A parent’s or teacher’s aim should be to encourage cooperation rather than obedience so that the child will learn self-control (Coleman et al., 2014).  This type of adherence complements the collaborative nature of CRE and peer mediation.  The change from the school’s traditional disciplinary system responded to the needs of students to learn collaborative avenues to handle conflict on campus, the community and at home.  Teachers were provided CRE training that was to be taught to the students and modeled in their classes.

Schools are the best place to educate youth about conflict and harmful aggressive behavior.  PMPs are not necessarily the vehicle to handle all types of violence, but are important to have in place to handle disputes before students adopt more aggressive actions to settle their differences (Coleman et al., 2014).  The middle years (6-12 years of age) are the best time to introduce peer mediation as the youngsters and pre-teens are seeking peer approval, autonomy and self-direction.  As an example, third-grade peer mediators are able to help other students work out problems occurring on the playground (Coleman et al., 2014).

From the beginning stages of planning for a PMP, inclusion of the faculty, staff, students, parents and members of the neighborhood (Coleman et al., 2014) will generate many perspectives, but will also create interest and support from those wanting to contribute.  A clear purpose for the PMP will take into account important factors, such as: the diversity and needs of the student population, the types of problems that are occurring on the school grounds and in the community, and the desired outcomes.  Following the philosophy from It Takes a Village (Clinton, 1996), schools need the support of other systems as they grow and expand their curriculum. Small systems are always part of a larger environment (Littlejohn & Domenici, 2007, p. 57).  If the school district has not adopted CRE, then the schools need to foster their own “village” in order to achieve their objective.


Administrators, counselors, teachers and staff must learn more about managing conflicts constructively (Coleman et al., 2014).  Adding parents and service personnel, such as janitors or crossing guards to the training schedule connects another system to achieve a culture of mediation (Bickmore, 2002; Lane-Garon, 2012).  Ideally, the training should be provided by a professional training institution such as a university or mediation organization that has developed an acknowledged successful training program (Coleman et al., 2014; Lindsay, 1998). Three psychological principles are recommended for this education:  (1) create motivation to change known conflict resolution skills; (2) overcome resistance to change these skills; and (3) instill commitment to use constructive conflict resolution skills for future encounters involving differences (Coleman et al., 2014, p. 528).  Additionally, Johnson et al. determined that the participants need to be motivated and knowledgeable of the target ideas and behaviors, be actively involved and  treated as a cohort in the trainings and remain part of the ongoing development and feedback (as cited in Tjosvold, Leung & Johnson, 2014, p. 667).

In Fairfax County School District, school adult and student training occurs during school days; the faculty receives release time to understand the importance of this education (K. Woodward, personal communication, February 16, 2016). Many training institutions offer completion certificates that enhance the significance of the achievement (Sanford, 2005; K. Turk, personal communication, February 16, 2016; K. Woodward, personal communication, February 16, 2016).  Follow-up workshops and refresher courses are necessary to reinforce good practices and maintain skills improvement (Coleman et al., 2014; Stein & Ernst, 1997).

Once trained in CRE, the teachers will train the students, i.e. train the trainers.  The peer mediation training will reflect the same standards as the adult training and place emphasis on cooperation, constructive conflict resolution and creative controversy.  Thereby, the classroom becomes a cooperative environment in which both the students and the teacher are modeling cooperation and constructive management of conflict (Coleman et al., 2014).  Due to the wide difference in demographics, socio-economic factors and cultures in our schools, the teacher must possess a clear framework for the training and also be flexible in its application to meet the various needs of the students (Coleman, et al., 2014).

Those teachers who are training peer mediators to practice mediation should have also received the specific education for the mediation process prior to working with the students. The training should include an understanding of the process as a collaborative problem-solving activity.  Mediation has a structure with stages or steps that comprise the process.  These stages are preparation, opening statement, uninterrupted time, the exchange, separate meetings, setting the agenda, building the resolution, writing the agreement, and the closing statement.  Students will need to learn how to listen, take abbreviated notes, ask the right questions, reframe the disputants’ words, identify the disputants’ interests and positions, explore alternative possibilities for a resolution and test the agreement for verification and accuracy (Beer & Stief, 1997).  Role plays are a significant part of the training because they allow the students to practice their newly acquired skills (Beer & Stief, 1997; Coleman, et al., 2014).

It is worthwhile to mention an alternative approach for PMP training and supervision.  The two middle schools in Santa Monica, California, contract with the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s (LACBA’s) CMP.  A peer mediation coordinator who works for CMP is assigned to the two schools and is responsible for selecting the peer mediators, training, organizing the graduation training ceremony with the parents, scheduling and overseeing the mediations, co-producing a one day middle school mediation conference, attending to publicity, holding regular peer mediation meetings, providing beginning-of-the-year refresher courses, preparing PTA and classroom presentations and sponsoring peer mediators for event presentations.  The coordinator is not associated with authority or discipline, but is seen as a champion for the peer mediators and the conflict resolution process.  Mediations are held in a room that is dedicated to non-instructional use.  The coordinator is attached to a larger system (CMP) that is able to provide a consistent flow of trained volunteer mediators who help with supervision of the mediations, peer mediator meetings, training, and the one day conference.  The program is largely funded by a city grant and fundraising by LACBA.   Due to the partnering of the two Santa Monica middle schools the programs are affordable and have been sustainable for over twenty years (A. Culberson, personal communication, March 10, 2016; K. Turk, personal communication, March 10, 2016).

Supervision and Support    

For those programs that do not have the resources to hire a dedicated PMP coordinator,

the school adult who has taken on this role needs sufficient time, appropriate compensation,  and strong support from the faculty and administration to manage the PMP.  Assistance is needed and can come from the “village.”  Willing parents can help with many tasks.  Trained high school peer mediators are effective agents to publicize mediation and assist in sessions at the elementary and middle schools levels.  They are also able to make presentations to the PTA/PTOs, local community groups and businesses (R. Harris, personal communication, March 4, 2016).  At the Fairfax County School District’s Annual Peace Conference Summit, interested businesses participate and support the PMPs because they recognize the value of employing young trained, experienced mediators entering into the workplace (K. Woodward, personal communication, February 16, 2016).

Maintaining consistent relations with the local community mediation centers adds another system into the village.  Trained volunteers from the centers understand the mediation process and are able to mentor and provide valuable information and facilitation techniques (Lindsay, 1998; Stein & Ernst, 1997). From the personal experience of this author, it has always been enjoyable to hear the stories of other mediators, whether it is from Randy Lowry (former director of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law School) or a single volunteer peer mediator (K. Turk, personal communication, March 10, 2016)..  Interns from nearby colleges are another source to enrich the support system (Lane-Garon et al., 2012).  They are good messengers to deliver the mediation presentations to the students on elementary and secondary campuses, mentor peer mediators, assist in training and provide mediation supervision (Cassineiro & Lane-Garon, 2006).  The peer mediators can make announcements, construct posters and create slogans to promote the program.  In one of the Santa Monica middle schools, the peer mediators penned, “Don’t hate; mediate” (K. Turk, personal communication, March 10, 2016; K. Turk).  Warters (2005) proposes to make cross-generation bridges to include older, more experienced mediators to mentor younger practitioners as well as those who are going to college as an ongoing effort to make CRE richer, more prominent and connected to its larger system, the conflict resolution field.

The support groups are smaller systems that contribute and form the larger PMP system.  They create patterns that interact within the PMP system putting it into a stable state called “homeostasis.”  The PMP system will exert energy to stay in balance (Littlejohn & Domenici, 2007).  In homeostasis, the system’s internal mechanisms are able to counteract or adapt to outside influences such as a crime-ridden neighborhoods and supporting community groups (Littlejohn & Domenici, 2007).

Peer Mediators         

The peer mediators should reflect the diversity of the student population, be respected among the students and able to handle interactions with other students.  They should not all be “straight A” students, but representatives from all groups on campus with considerations for gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic levels, culture and social groups (Lindsay, 1998; Long et al., 1998).  Studies show that the pairing of diverse mediators during mediations has been successful (Bickmore, 2002; Coleman, et al., 2014).  Ongoing feedback is important, especially to the new practitioners (Lindsay, 1998).  In the Santa Monica middle schools, after the peer mediations had concluded, time was allowed for the peer mediators to evaluate the session and their performances. They were able to step out of their roles and ask questions of the supervising adult.  Going beyond the script was the most sought-after information (K. Turk, personal communication, March 10, 2016).  Coleman et al. (2014) suggests going beyond scripted role plays for deeper understanding of differences. This exchange proved to be very beneficial to the peer mediators as it alleviated any emotional stress, unpleasant condition, or frustration from lack of understanding on the disputants’ part (Coleman et al., 2014) before returning to class.

This ritual was also followed during this author’s tenure in the community mediation program since the project was part of the responsibility of that training organization and observers were in all of the sessions (K. Turk, personal communication, March 10, 2016).  This author’s belief is that the “debriefings” helped maintain confidentiality.  The rule was that only those who were in the mediation could participate in the immediate debriefing session that was held in the same room; and, after that point, no further references to the parties or details of the conflict were allowed.  In five years, there was never a breach of confidentiality among the 100+ volunteers who completed their training with the community program.  Sometimes mediators also need to “get it out” (K. Turk, personal communication, March 10, 2016).


Administrators, teachers, staff and peer mediators need to believe in the PMP and its potential to help disputing students.  This type of faith is called institutional trust (Bachmann & ; Inkpen, 2011), whereby individuals put their trust in institutions.  They believe that the rules and norms will provide future interactions (Coleman et al., 2014); therefore, the mediation process will provide an outcome.  An example of this trust was experienced by two peer mediators at a Santa Monica middle school.  Two quarrelling eighth-grade boys requested mediation.  The only available peer mediators to facilitate this “ripe” (ready for intervention) conflict were two seventh-grade girls.  They were nervous and afraid to mediate because the boys were very popular eighth graders.  This author’s advice was to respect the process (institutional trust) and they put their faith in following the mediation steps (K. Turk, personal communication, March 10, 2016).  The disputants shared their feelings and gained understanding of each other’s pain.  The peer mediators overcame their insecurities by using institutional trust.  Respect and trust create the backbone of any successful peer mediation program (Hessler et al., 1998).

Constructive Controversy

For those schools who have tried peer mediation and believed that it didn’t work or failed, need to find out why.  Constructive controversy is a method of looking at one’s position or belief, and then re-evaluating the merits and points that have caused that certain point of view (Coleman et al., 2014).  If other schools have successful PMPs, what positive elements made them sustainable?  Although the school is not in conflict with another PMP, the negative opinion does not agree with the studies that show peer mediation is effective.  An agreement is not the objective in this case; however, an examination to discover what the differences are can lead to new information and possibly a revised conclusion on the part of the disbeliever.


PMPs are the gift that keeps on giving.  Trained students help other students learn about cooperative problem solving.  Some disputants responded well to the process and became peer mediators (Pastorino, 1997).  Peer mediators often mentor younger peer facilitators who repeat the ongoing cycle.  Peer mediators practice their skills at home and with friends (Johnson et al., 1995).  Then, colleges and the workforce have young adults using collaborative methods to resolve campus and workplace problems.  The giving continues.



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