This is designed as a quick look at some common questions pertaining to conflict resolution and mediation in the schools. Of course if you have further questions please don't hesitate to contact a member of our staff.
Q: What is the role of the Student Safety and Wellness Office (SSAW) in relation to conflict resolution?
A: SSAW in the Office of Student Services, Department of Special Services, supports conflict resolution education in FCPS. SSAW assists schools and offices interested in developing conflict resolution environments and/or peer mediation programs. A conflict resolution environment supports and affirms diversity and seeks to establish an overall tone of mutual respect. Peer Mediation programs are one form of conflict resolution that teaches intervention and problem-solving strategies.
SSAW supports conflict resolution in the following ways:
Q: What is Conflict Resolution?
A: Conflict is a part of everyday life. Conflict resolution is the use of communication and problem solving skills to help people understand each other and solve their problems together peacefully.
Q: What is mediation?
A: Mediation is one form of conflict resolution. A third party may be invited in to guide parties in a dispute through the steps of the mediation process to reach a win-win solution. The process is voluntary and confidential.
There are five steps to the mediation process. The first is an introduction in which the mediator(s) will explain the process and ask if the parties would like to continue. The storytelling stage allows each side to present its story. Next, they will be asked to identify issues that have arisen through the stories told. In the problem- solving stage, the disputants will have the opportunity to brainstorm creative solutions for the raised issues. Finally, an agreement may be crafted that will detail the accepted terms of the resolution.
Q: What is Peer Mediation?
A: Peer mediators are students who are trained to mediate disputes between their peers. They are taught skills in communication, active listening, and mediation process management. The underlying assumption of peer mediation programs is that students will be willing to allow other students to help them resolve conflicts (rumors, fights, harassment, misunderstandings, etc.) when they occur. The role of the peer mediator is to listen to the issues raised and guide the disputants through the process. He/she is not there to determine right or wrong. The disputants are encouraged to work together to find a solution that works for them both.
In Fairfax County, over 25,000 students have been trained as peer mediators in the past eleven years. They are prepared to work with other students in conflict and have done so in thousands of cases. Thanks to their efforts positive and constructive solutions have been reached rather than destructive outcomes. At present in FCPS, there are around 100 peer mediation programs at various stages of development. In addition to schools with peer mediation programs, there are many elementary schools that teach conflict resolution skills, but do not have formal peer mediation programs.
Q: What are the benefits of peer mediation?
A: Benefits extend in many directions. Students, both mediators and disputants, learn communication, problem solving, and interaction skills. They also learn to take responsibility for their actions and build confidence in their ability to help themselves.
The school benefits from positive student leadership, a decrease in levels of violence, a safer school environment, and sense of student responsibility for creating change.
The community is provided with responsible students, lessened violence, and students enabled with skills that can be used in any environment.
Q: Do all schools in FCPS have peer mediation programs?
A: Peer mediation programs exist in 83% of the elementary schools, 92% of middle schools, and 91% of the high schools. Under the new Student's Responsibilities and Rights all students have a right to seek mediation as a form of dispute resolution.
Schools that do have programs offer them in different forms. Some may hold classes in peer mediation while others may have after-school clubs. To determine if your school has a program, please call its number to request information.
Q: How are Peer Mediators selected and trained?
A: Selection is done differently for each school. Some may have selection by peers, others offer it as a class for whoever would like to participate, and some may require teacher recommendations and interviews.
Training is also different from school to school. Some use their class time for training, some use meetings after school, and others devote a couple days for intensive training. Many schools also send participants to the Annual Northern Virginia Regional Student Mediation Conference held at George Mason University to enhance their skills.
Please contact your school for further information on the specifics of its program and how you and/or your child can get involved.
Robin Sheare, Web Development Specialist
September 7, 2011