Peer mediation is when trained students attempt to resolve conflicts themselves between others in the same age group.
The process typically involves a pair of students listening to the perspectives of the affected parties and then helping find a commonly agreed-upon resolution.
Because student disputes often have to do with rumors, gossip, misunderstandings, and youth culture issues, offering peer mediation can lead to constructive resolutions that cannot be achieved when authority figures in school administration intervene.
Peer Mediation Definition
A scholarly definition of peer mediation is provided by Block and Blazej (2005):
“Peer mediation is a voluntary process in which a student trained as a neutral third party helps other students in conflict get clear about their concerns, better understand one another, and come to a mutual agreement about how they want to handle their issues”(Block & Blazej, 2005, p. 3)
Students involved in the process of peer mediation can improve their conflict resolution skills, give peer feedback, feel listened to, and feel a sense of empowerment.
They learn to listen and express their opinions in a relatively informal environment where they have an opportunity to act in a mature and professional demeaner.
Many schools have implemented peer mediation programs across the U.S. However, the process can also be applied in other scenarios such as community settings and the workplace.
Related Concept: Peer Learning
Real-Life Peer Mediation Examples
1. Oak Grove Elementary School
This video shows the main features of a peer mediation program at Oak Grove Elementary school.
The program was initiated by the school counselor, Mrs. Vera Perez. As Mrs. Perez explains the goal of the program to help students learn to use communication skills to resolve disputes themselves instead of always relying on adults.
She mentions one of the key advantages of peer mediation:
“And what we learned is that kids tend to listen to kids anyway, more than they’ll ever listen to an adult.”
There are several things to notice in the video. One is that the peer mediators have a set of materials to use that helps ensure a structured process is implemented.
The two students having the dispute are given a small ball to fidget with, which helps them expel extra energy and calm nerves.
2. The Kapaa High Peer Mediation Program
The peer mediation program at Kapaa high school is quite unique in that it takes a holistic approach that consists of multiple program components.
For example, part of the school’s strategy of reducing conflict is to display beautiful artistic creations that reinforce the concepts of harmony and acceptance.
Students are reminded of those concepts when they enter the school and on their way to and from classes throughout the school day.
The school also has initiated a mentor program with the neighboring elementary school. This is a great way to extend the reach of the program and help exert a positive influence in students before they get to the high school level.
The program is student-focused and directed. Students generate ideas to reinforce the principles of peer mediation and conflict resolution, and are then responsible for making those ideas materialize.
When watching the Kapaa High video above, you can tell that the students have really taken ownership of the program and extended it many creative ways.
3. Turf Dispute Between Two Young Males
A lot of conflicts in a school setting can emerge between two young males that are eager to demonstrate their strength and toughness.
It is easy for that kind of situation to quickly escalate into a physical confrontation.
The above video presents a real case study of two young males that were frequently taunting each other. The matter was referred to peer mediation.
The trained peer mediator clarifies the role of the mediators and the goal of the process. After each of the young men express their opinion on the matter, eventually an agreement is reached on how to avoid further conflict.
In addition to just saying what each party will do, they identify specific actions they will take, put those in writing, and sign a contract of agreement.
In the end, one individual in the dispute acknowledges that:
“…it was a good decision overall. It stopped us from fighting and at the time two groups of people from fighting. So, really, it was better for the whole school.”
4. Teaching Students to be Peacemakers Program
David Johnson and Roger Johnson originally designed a peer mediation program in 1991 titled Teaching Students to be Peacemakers (TSP). The program is a conflict resolution program that trains students in increasingly more advanced mediation techniques.
Students in the program receive 30 minutes of training per day for 30 days. The training includes role-plays and supervised opportunities to practice implementing the procedures until they reach a sufficient level of mastery.
Johnson and Johnson (2002) reported the results of a meta-analysis of 18 studies assessing the effectiveness of the program.
The results “indicate that students who learn the integrative negotiation and peer mediation procedures, retain their mastery throughout the school year, apply the procedures to actual conflicts, transfer the procedures to non-classroom and non-school settings, use the procedures similarly in family and school settings” (p. 103).
See the program profile by the National Institute of Justice for more information regarding methodology, costs, and outcomes.
5. The Quaker Peace Education Project
The Quaker Peace Education Project has been helping schools in the UK handle conflict for over 30 years. The Peacemakers programme trains students in peer mediation philosophy and techniques and provides the school with a framework for implementing the programme.
The above video shows the training in progress, which starts with students arranged in a large circle and taking turns saying what “peace” means to them. The trainer then spends considerable time teaching students about “blaming language.”
There are specific words that are used in the heat of the moment that point the finger at others, which only serves to escalate the situation. Peer mediators are taught to take blaming language out of the equation to help calm the situation.
Jackie Zammit, Programme Director, explains that one of the key goals of Peacemakers is:
“…to develop children’s confidence, to know that they have choices they can make when they’re in difficult situations; that they don’t always have to go to an adult, and that the answer to their problems lies within themselves.”
6. Peer Mediation in the Workplace
The modern workplace is more complex than ever before. Employees come from a very diverse range of cultural and religious backgrounds and often have quite different values, beliefs, and work habits. That can be a recipe for workplace conflict.
Many organizations offer a version of peer mediation to help de-escalate a situation before it becomes severe. Those options can involve workplace peers with proper training, or if the matter is more serious, a company may bring in an external mediator.
By offering employees an informal process to resolve conflict, formal complaints to HR can be avoided.
However, there are instances in which peer mediation is not suitable. For example, in cases involving workplace bullying or harassment, formal contact with the organization’s HR department is the correct path.
7. Peer Mediation at Romeo High School
The above documentary shows the development of a peer mediation program at Romeo High School. The program was initiated after a violent incident between two students. The program started as a formal class where students were trained in the basic principles and concepts of peer mediation.
The students that serve as peer mediators have different reasons for participating. Some students just want to help others learn how to handle difficulties. Other students have longer-term goals, such as wanting to work in the field of psychology or school counseling.
They see working as a peer mediator as a great experience that provides insights into how others think and feel.
One of the key elements of the Romeo program, and other programs as well, is its confidential nature. It is very important that what happens during the mediation process is not discussed outside the meeting. This element is especially important for students at this age level that are sensitive to their public appearance.
8. Peer Mediation Role-Plays
There are numerous factors that affect the success of a peer mediation program. The school administration and faculty need to recognize the need. Students must be willing to give the program a sincere try. And of course, the training must be thorough and sustained.
Properly trained peer mediators are the key to implementing a successful program.
Although some schools have the financial resources to hire an external agency to train teachers and students, that is not always the case. Some schools may need to develop their own curriculum and training materials.
One common component of peer mediation training programs involves role-plays.
Role-plays allow students to gain practice implementing the steps of peer mediation and applying principles such as not using blaming language, remaining neutral, and facilitating a resolution.
The Institute for Nonviolence in Los Angeles provides an extensive set of role plays suitable for various grade levels, as well as many other resources.
9. The REDRESSTM Program at the USPS
In most organizations, employees have three options to resolve a dispute: file a complaint with HR, the labor union, or the EEOC.
Peer mediation differs from these options in several ways. The process is consensual, involves a neutral third party’s evaluation and guidance, and resolution is determined by the disputants.
Bingham & Novac (2001) examined the effectiveness the REDRESSTM program (Resolve Employment Disputes Reach Equitable Solutions Swiftly) at the USPS (United States Postal Service). At the time, the USPS had over 800,000 employees.
“The early results of this program were promising. Researchers found qualitative benefits such as high participant satisfaction among employees and supervisors and perceptions of improved conflict management skills” (p. 311).
USPS experimented with various models of the program that included in-house or externally trained mediators. After piloting indicated better results with the external model, USPS implemented the program nationwide. In 1999, more than 9,000 cases were mediated through the program.
The evaluation by Bingham & Novac (2001) found “…a decrease of about 2,000 formal EEO complaints per year after implementation of the program” (p. 326).
The Six Steps of the Peer Mediation Process
There are 6 basic steps to the peer mediation process. Although different institutes may have more or less, they each contain the same basic components and use very similar terminology.
As a case example, lets look at the guide offered by the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
- Step 1: Preparing for the Mediation – The room needs to be set-up so that each disputant has the same kind of chair and equal space.
- Step 2: Delivering the Opening Statement – The opening statement sets the tone, reinforces the mediators’ neutrality, and lays out the ground rules for discussion.
- Step 3: Gathering Information – Each disputant is given equal time to speak without interruption. Mediators should engage in active listening and remain impartial.
- Step 4: Identifying Key Issues – The main issues are restated. This gives each disputant an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings.
- Step 5: Exploring Options – Each party can make suggestions on how to resolve the matter. It is possible that a standstill occurs at this stage.
- Step 6: Finalizing an Agreement – The agreement specifies what each disputant will do in the future to resolve the matter and avoid escalation. All parties sign the agreement.
Peer Mediation Advantages
1. Develops Vital Skills
One of the most significant benefits of being a peer mediator is developing essential life skills.
Students are trained in how to talk to others who are upset, how to not use language that makes people feel defensive, and how to help others find common ground.
They also learn how to spot situations that could escalate into a more serious conflict. They learn how to intervene in a constructive manner and calm the parties involved in the short-term.
Then, the matter can be addressed at a later time when everyone has had an opportunity to calm down.
Students develop a sense of responsibility and empowerment as a result of peer mediation.
Whether in the role of the mediator or one of the parties involved in the dispute, participants learn that they can resolve conflicts themselves.
Instead of needing to rely on an adult, students take control of their own matters.
This builds self-confidence and teaches students that they have more control over what happens to and round them than they once believed. That understanding can be very empowering, especially for young adults.
3. Classroom Benefits
Disputes among students can disrupt classroom instruction and decrease student motivation.
It not only interferes with the learning outcomes of the students directly involved, but it can carry over to friends as well.
If an argument breaks out in class, the teacher must stop instruction and handle the matter immediately.
That takes away from the already limited time for teaching and disrupts the learning process for all students in the classroom.
Therefore, when students learn to handle interpersonal misunderstandings themselves in a constructive manner, it allows teachers to devote more time to instruction, which benefits all students.
4. Benefits Beyond the Classroom
Effective peer mediation programs affect more than just the students in the classroom. The benefits also extend to the family environment.
Many parents recognize that their child has learned more constructive ways of handling conflicts that occur at home.
Instead of becoming too emotional or losing their temper, children approach disputes with a calm and more mature attitude.
They are able to use the same techniques they learned during peer mediation training when having disagreements with siblings or parents.
This helps foster a home environment that is more pleasant and supportive.
Peer Mediation Disadvantages
A well-developed peer mediation program usually requires funding.
Training students to become peer mediators can require 20 hours of training, plus training materials and resources, not to mention hiring trained professionals.
Although it is possible to apply for grants or seek funding from community sources, that also requires significant time.
When schools are struggling to afford basic educational supplies, finding the time and money to implement a proper peer mediation program be a severe obstacle.
2. Lack of Evaluation
Peer mediation at the school level has become quite popular among school boards, teachers, and parents.
Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence investigating the effectiveness of peer mediation programs in schools.
In fact, Theberge and Karan (2004) state that:
“Little formal evaluation has been done on either the impact these programs have had on reducing violence or on the quality of these programs. Much of the success that is reported by trainers is anecdotal” (p. 283).
3. Peer Pressure Discouraging Use
Peer mediation programs are highly dependent on the active participation of students.
Students must play the role of mediators, and students in disputes must be willing to have their conflicts handled through mediation.
Unfortunately, it can be easy for students to develop a negative attitude towards peer mediation. They may distrust the process, question its confidentiality, or just generally perceive peer mediation as “not cool.”
That attitude can spread like wildfire throughout the student population and severely hinder the program’s effectiveness.
Peer mediation offers students an alternative approach to handling disputes. While it is usually discussed in the context of schools, there are examples of similar programs at the corporate level.
Training peer mediators involves teaching students how to remain neutral, avoid certain language, and help others reach a common ground. Those are all valuable skills to learn and can carry over to other aspects of life.
Students and schools can benefit from peer mediation programs in numerous ways. Teachers can spend more time on classroom instruction and students can gain a sense of empowerment and responsibility.
If schools are not provided funding for well-developed programs, they may find that seeking outside funding is unsuccessful or too time-consuming when other needs seem more urgent.
The lack of high-quality scientific research to determine the effectiveness of peer mediation in schools is disappointing and can be an impediment to funding. At the same time, student populations may reject peer mediation programs for a variety of reasons that make the program’s success unlikely.
Block, M. F., & Blazej, B. (2005). Resolving conflict with a peer mediation program: A manual for grades 4–8. Maine Centers for Disease Control. https://umaine.edu/peace/wp-content/uploads/sites/173/2016/03/PEER_MEDIATION_FINAL_11.pdf
Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1995). Teaching students to be peacemakers (3rd ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.
Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (2002). Learning together and alone: Overview and meta‐analysis. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 22, 95-105. https://doi.org/10.1080/0218879020220110
Johnson, D. W., and R. Johnson. (1991). Teaching Students to Be Peacemakers. Edina, Minn.: Interaction Book Company.
Bingham, L. B., & Novac, M. C. (2001). Mediation’s impact on formal discrimination complaint filing: Before and after the RedressTM Program at the U.S. Postal Service. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 21(4), 308–331. https://doi.org/10.1177/0734371X0102100403
Theberge, S., & Karan, O.C. (2004). Six factors inhibiting the use of peer mediation in a junior high school. Professional School Counseling, 7(4), 283-290.