School-Based Conflict Management
A summary of a thesis by Mahduri Pendharkar (1995)
SSTA Research Centre Report #95-02: 42 pages, $11.
|Introduction||This report by Madhuri
Pendharkar includes a summary of a thesis entitled The Effects of Instruction in
Conflict Resolution on the Attitudes About Conflict of Rural Grade Eight Students.
Also included are background information on the evolution of school-based conflict
management and peer mediation programs, information about the content and benefits of
these programs, and a list of resources for student activities.
Managing conflict at school has been an age-old challenge for educators. Recently, attention has been drawn to the level of violence in schools and society. Initiating a conflict management or peer mediation program can be a proactive way to address concerns about violence.
Conflicts are a natural part of life and therefore a natural part of school life. Learning to deal constructively with conflict is a life-skill students need. When students learn to resolve their own conflicts, the atmosphere at school is more pleasant for everyone. Teachers can spend more time teaching and students can spend more time learning.
|Background to the Problem|
|Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation|
|Statement of the Problem|
|Review of the Literature|
|Recommendations for Further Research|
|Sources for Student Activities|
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How can educators help students become responsible adults? Over the past decade or more, the focus of instruction has been evolving to make classrooms more conducive to student empowerment. Students are being encouraged to take part in planning and evaluating their own learning. Chart 1 details some of the changes in curricular focus.
Paradigm Shift (Saskatchewan Education, 1993)
Focus on content
Single text book
One teaching method
Balance of content and process
Resource based learning
A variety of teaching methods
A similar shift in behaviour management strategies is needed to reflect these curricular changes. In traditional models of discipline, adults are responsible for managing student behaviour. Students are expected to follow the rules or live with the consequences. Since instruction is no longer strictly teacher-directed, it seems reasonable that neither should classroom behaviour be strictly teacher-managed. If we want students to develop into responsible adults who can work cooperatively and constructively with others, we must teach the interpersonal skills required and give students opportunities to practice these skills. Many educators searching for ways to enhance constructive interpersonal skills have discovered that school-based conflict management and mediation programs can provide a structure for students to acquire these skills.
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Schools have traditionally been expected to teach children academic skills. Schools are also places where students interact with one another, their teachers, and educational administrators. Many educators believe student behaviour affects academic achievement; therefore, negative behaviour has always been a concern to educators. In the last decade, the concern about student behaviour has escalated to alarm (Boothe, Bradley, Flick, Keough, & Kirk, 1993). Negative interactions may lead to learning problems because students who spend time arguing and fighting have little time or energy for academic pursuits.
Traditional disciplinary practices include various forms of punishment based on the assumption that if negative behaviours are eliminated, the classroom climate will be conducive to learning. Many models of traditional discipline include building positive rapport with students to reduce negative interactions. "Logical" or "natural" consequences are used to extinguish negative behaviour when it arises (Canter & Canter, 1992; Dreikurs, Grunwald & Pepper, 1982). Consequences usually begin with a warning, followed, in sequence, by an in-class time-out, segregation from peers and missing a recess. They escalate to noon-hour or after school detention. The most serious offences require parent meetings and suspensions. After numerous disciplinary interactions, a student may be permanently expelled.
In traditional models of discipline, adults are responsible for managing student behaviour. Students are expected to follow the rules or live with the consequences. They seem to be expected to behave in a socially appropriate manner with little opportunity to practice responsibility. Critics of traditional disciplinary practices believe that the emphasis on punishment "thwarts development of student responsibility, leadership, independence and interdependence" (Dreyfuss, 1990, p 22).
Negative social behaviours seem related to low academic achievement. Seventy-six percent of American school administrators who responded to a survey on school violence reported that low-achieving students are the most likely perpetrators of school violence (Boothe et al., 1993). It seems logical that if negative social behaviours of students were reduced and replaced by positive ones, academic achievement would be enhanced.
As the job market has become more and more competitive, high school graduation has become a minimum requirement for all students. Academic skills are judged as important but the ability to work cooperatively and constructively with peers and supervisors has become as important. A growing body of research suggests that although many students do not possess the social skills necessary to interact cooperatively and constructively, these skills can be taught (Goldstein, 1988). Educators searching for a way to reduce negative interactions and increase positive ones are finding that school-based conflict management and mediation programs can provide a structure for students to acquire positive interaction skills (Van Slyck & Stern, 1991). Improved social skills can help students achieve success at school and in the marketplace.
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During the Peace Movement of the 1960s and 1970s several community-based dispute resolution centers emerged across the United States and Canada. These centers promote mediation as a speedy, humane, and less expensive alternative to the courts (Duffy, Grosch & Olczak, 1991). The process of mediation is based on the concept of "win/win" solutions (resolutions that address the needs of both disputants). Community-based dispute resolution centers typically mediate landlord-tenant matters, environmental concerns, family and divorce cases and a variety of other community problems. They try to assist disputants to reach agreements through mediation rather than litigation. Participants typically report satisfaction with the process and outcome and are often more accepting of the outcome than parties who seek justice in the courts (Duffy et al. 1991). Since the early 1980s, the number of community dispute resolution agencies has increased. Many have developed and promoted school-based conflict resolution programs (Roderick, 1988).
The first school-based conflict resolution program began in New York City in 1972. Peer medication programs appeared by the early 1980s in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. In Canada, the first high school peer mediation program was initiated in Ottawa in 1987. Presently, there are over 350 conflict resolution programs in schools in the United States and programs have been initiated in most Canadian provinces (Picard, 1990).
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Students need to know how to manage and resolve conflicts if they are to become responsible members of schools and of society. Some educators believe competence in conflict resolution skills can lead to increased social and academic achievement in the short run and a more harmonious world in the long run (Van Slyck & Stern, 1991). These skills should be incorporated into existing curricular areas for the following reasons:
1. Escalating violence in schools is a concern to educators and to the general public. It seems that many young people do not acquire the skills on peaceful conflict resolution on their own or from their families; therefore, there are some good reasons for thinking these skills should be taught.
2. Students who lack conflict resolution skills often spend more time and energy in negative interactions with peers and teachers than in attaining the goals of the curriculum. Negative interactions often lead to consequences such as time-out, in-school suspension, suspension, and so on. Levin (1990) found a high correlation between number of disciplinary interventions and the risk of dropping out of school. High school completion is a basic requirement for entry into the work force, so schools must teach the skills that students require.
3. Saskatchewan Education, Training and Employment has mandated that the Common Essential Learnings (CELs) be incorporated into the education of each and every Saskatchewan student. The CELs are a set of six interrelated areas containing understandings, values, skills and processes that are considered important foundations for learning in all school subjects (Saskatchewan Education, 1988). Instruction in conflict resolution can be a way to weave three of the six CELs into the classroom; specifically: (a) Critical and Creative Thinking: during the process of resolving conflicts students learn to generate and evaluate creative solutions. (b) Personal and Social Values and Skills: students learn to analyze conflicts from many points of view and to resolve conflicts in mutually satisfying ways. Also, self-reliance is promoted. Adult intervention is not required when students can resolve their disputes. (c) Communication: students learn to use neutral language (discuss issues without taking sides), express needs and feelings, and maintain open lines of communication as ways to nurture relationships.
4. When students resolve their disputes, educators spend less time dealing with discipline problems, leaving more time to assist students with academic pursuits.
5. Students, in their adolescent years, value the opinions of their peer group above other reference groups (Seltzer, 1989). Conflict management and peer mediation programs capitalize on the importance of peers in the lives of typical students.
Conflict Management Programs: Possible Benefits
For School Staff
* Less time is spent on settling student disputes
* Reduces tension among students and staff
* Better staff/student relationships leads to improved school climate
For All Students
* Active involvement in the problem-solving process
* Increases commitment to making solutions work
* Provides positive modelling for solving problems
* Increases student responsibility for solving problems
* Decreases adult intervention in conflicts
* Encourages open communication
* Teaches students positive ways to meet personal needs
For Peer Mediators
* Develops leadership skills
* Enhances communication skills
* Often results in improved academic performance
* Improves self-esteem
* Increases status with peers
* Refines strategies to solve problems
* Conflict resolution skills learned at school can be used at home with parents and siblings
* Could lead to fewer violent acts
* Constructive conflict resolution skills could be applied to family life and to the work place when students become adults
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The purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of teaching conflict resolution skills on student attitudes about conflict. The research questions were:
1. Can instruction in conflict resolution skills affect students' attitudes about conflict?
2. Do male and female students respond differently to instruction designed to enhance their conflict resolution skills?
Table of Contents
Definition of Terms
For the purpose of this study, the following definitions were used:
Conflict. Tension between two or more social entities (individuals, groups, or larger organizations) that arises from incompatibility of actual or desired responses (Raven & Kruglanski, 1970).
Attitude. A relatively enduring organization of beliefs around an object or situation predisposing one to respond in some preferential manner (Rokeach, 1962).
Confrontation. A physical or verbal attack used to solve a conflict. The use of confrontation usually results in a "win-lose" solution: one of the parties is believed to be right; the other is believed to be wrong. (Sadalla, Henriquez & Holmberg, 1987)
Conflict Resolution Skills. Skills needed to identify and deal with conflicts constructively. These skills include using neutral language, active listening, identifying and understanding distinct points of view, identifying problems, and negotiating and mediating to resolve disputes.
"Win-win" Solutions. Resolving conflicts in ways that address and meet the needs of all conflicting parties.
Peer Mediation. A structured process used to enable trained pairs of students to act as mediators to help resolve disputes among members of their peer group. Peer mediation is an alternative to disciplinary programs used in most schools. Students and teachers are taught conflict resolution skills so that they can help others resolve conflicts.
Common Essential Learnings (CELs). A set of six interrelated areas containing understandings, values, skills and processes which are considered important as foundations for learning in all school subjects. The six CELs are: Communication, Numeracy, Critical and Creative Thinking, Technological Literacy, Personal and Social Values and Skills, and Independent learning (Saskatchewan Education, 1988).
Table of Contents
This review of the literature is presented under the following subheadings: background on teaching social skills, effects of instructional intervention on student behaviour, gender differences and behavioural intervention, and school-based conflict resolution and peer mediation programs. Literature related to peer counselling was excluded because it is not an instructional intervention.
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Background on Teaching Social Skills
Social skills are socially acceptable learned behaviours that enable a person to interact with others in ways that elicit positive responses and assist in avoiding negative responses (Cartledge & Milburn, 1986). The techniques used to successfully resolve conflicts are social skills. Glasser (1985) suggested that many children exhibit negative behaviours at school because they lack the skills necessary to use positive behaviours to meet their basic needs. The skills necessary to interact in a constructive and cooperative manner may not have been developed for several reasons: (a) Changes in the traditional family structure have reduced children's exposure to parents who model constructive conflict resolution. In some cases, both parents work and have limited time to interact with family members. In other cases, children live with a single parent. In such cases, children may have limited exposure to positive models of adults resolving conflicts. (b) Changes in popular culture expose children to negative models of conflict resolution. For example, popular movies and television shows often portray violence as a glamorous and effective way to solve problems. Limited constructive social skills among youth is a major concern for parents, educators, and society.
In recent years, research related to improving students' interactive skills has focused on training students in positive behaviours. Most research has been in special education and has examined the impact of social skills or interpersonal problem-solving training. While the movement to teach conflict resolution and peer mediation skills appears to have developed independently of the movement promoting instruction in social skills to students who are dysfunctional in the classroom, the movements share two common assumptions: (a) many students lack appropriate interaction skills, and (b) positive interaction skills can be successfully taught to students. The first seems to be conventional wisdom: few parents or educators disagree that many children lack appropriate interaction skills. The second assumption continues to be questioned: can inappropriate attitudes and behaviour be influenced by intervention?
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Effects of Instructional Intervention on Student Behaviour
Research in this review involves pre-adolescents and adolescents who are learning disabled, behaviour or conduct disordered, delinquent, socially withdrawn, mildly mentally handicapped or at risk for school suspension. These populations were selected because they most closely resemble the target population of this study.
Bandura (cited in Goldstein, 1988) found that three major components were necessary to teach children new social skills: (a) appropriate behaviour must be modeled, preferably by several people in a variety of situations, (b) learners must be given opportunities to practise the behaviour with necessary guidance until they perform it "skillfully and spontaneously," and (c) learners must be rewarded for successfully using the new behaviours outside of the training environment. The first two requirements are common in most social skills, interpersonal problem-solving and conflict resolution curricula (Goldstein, 1988; Schrumpf, Crawford & Usadel, 1991); the third is more difficult to provide. It is presumed that students using constructive interpersonal skills will be rewarded socially by improved peer relationships.
Social skills and interpersonal problem-solving training have been part of special education for over two decades. Research on the effectiveness of these programs continues to be mixed. Gresham (cited in Coleman, Wheeler & Webber, 1993) suggested that to evaluate the effectiveness of interpersonal skills training accurately, three categories of outcomes must be examined: (a) problem-solving or cognitive measures, indicating knowledge of the skills taught, (b) behaviour ratings, indicating more global and stable patterns of behaviour, and (c) direct observation of behaviour.
A significant body of research shows intervention can affect the depth of knowledge of skills taught, fewer studies report significant effects on behaviour ratings, and even fewer show the behaviour of students changed as a result of intervention (Coleman et al., 1993; McIntosh, Vaughn & Zaragoza, 1991). In spite of the large number of studies on the effectiveness of interpersonal skills intervention, researchers do not agree on its effectiveness. For example, in a review of nine studies of the effects of interpersonal problem-solving training, Coleman et al., (1993), concluded the "basic assumption that problem-solving training mediates social behaviour and automatically generalizes to a variety of behaviours and settings is not supported by these findings" (p. 26). On the other hand, Torrey, Vassa, Maag and Kramer (1992) found that "social skills training can produce durable and generalized improvement in students' interpersonal functioning" (p. 254).
Several factors seem to affect the effectiveness of social skills or interpersonal problem-solving training.
1. Setting and Severity of Disorder. Students who were taught in resource room settings for part of the day with primary placement in regular classrooms showed more effects than students enrolled in segregated special education classes (McIntosh et al., 1991). Students with severe disorders showed fewer effects than students with mild disorders (Coleman et al., 1993). This could mean that heterogeneous groups of students would be even more receptive to intervention than students with mild disorders.
2. Length of Intervention. More instructional time generally resulted in more significant effects (McIntosh et al., 1991; Coleman et al., 1993).
3. Selection Procedures for Participants. Studies that targeted students identified as deficient in social skills showed more effects than studies that targeted whole groups of exceptional children, regardless of personal characteristics (McIntosh et al., 1991; Coleman et al., 1993).
4. Teaching Strategies Used. Studies using cognitive behaviour modification (including coaching, modelling, roleplaying, feedback, and mnemonic strategies) were more effective than those without these elements (McIntosh et al., 1991).
5. Accompanying Interventions. Combining social skills or interpersonal problem-solving training with other interventions may be more effective than relying on one strategy alone. Ninness, Fuerst and Rutherford (1991) coupled social skills training with self-management strategies to alter the behaviour of three emotionally disturbed adolescents. Trapani and Gettinger (1989) reported improved communication skills and standardized spelling scores for preadolescent boys with learning disabilities as a result of social skills training paired with cross-age tutoring.
In conclusion, it appears that curricular intervention can effect the attitudes and behaviours of exceptional populations. Although further research is needed, teachers continue to use interpersonal skills training. It is possible that curricular intervention can be more effective with heterogeneous populations.
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Gender Differences and Behavioural Intervention
In our society, males tend to exhibit more acting out, aggressive behaviours than females. For example, over 90% of all violent criminal offenses are committed by men (London Family Court Clinic, 1993). Researchers suggest that schools reflect society in this behavioural trend. In a study investigating the communication and conflict resolution strategy development of high school youth, McDowell (1990) found females tended to integrate arguments and offer tradeoffs to reach solutions while males tended to assert their opinions forcefully and preferred to assume control or dominate arguments. The Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women (cited in London Family Court Clinic, 1993) reported that many girls feel unsafe in school and report a high level of violence, harassment, and sexism. Males, it seems, are more likely to use open confrontation to address conflicts than females. It is possible that females use less observable emotional tactics to deal with conflicts.
Males and females may respond differently to behavioural interventions. In a study investigating the effectiveness of interpersonal skills training on self-reported conflict resolution styles of Grade 11 students, trained females used nonconfrontational strategies more often than nontrained females. The same effect was not noted for trained males (McFarland & Culp, 1992). Many of the studies of social skills intervention and conflict resolution instruction did not investigate gender differences; therefore, more research is needed to confirm if gender differences exist in this area.
Boys are targeted for behavioural intervention more often than girls. Several studies targeting boys report positive results. Weist, Borden, Finney and Ollendick (1991) reported that two eleven year old boys with interpersonal problems were trained in specific social skills that were generalized to untrained role-play scenes with novel partners. A preventative treatment program for 172 disruptive primary-aged boys resulted in less fighting and theft than for untreated boys with similar characteristics (Tremblay McCord, Boileau & Charlebois, 1991). Similar results were reported about intervention with boys with behavioural disorders (Sasso, Melloy & Kavale, 1990), boys with learning disabilities (Trapani & Gettinger, 1989), and boys who were juvenile offenders (Hains, 1989).
In conclusion, males tend to be more aggressive than females. Some evidence suggests that females are more receptive to instruction in interpersonal skills than males; however, as indicated by a large body of literature, intervention with males can also be successful.
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Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation Programs
More than 350 schools in the United States and Canada have implemented some form of instruction in conflict resolution and peer mediation for students. The number of school-based conflict resolution programs grows yearly. To date, research to assess the effectiveness of these programs has been inconclusive.
According to Van Slyck and Stern (1991) many studies documented have been characterized by "a lack of methodological rigor" and the lack of appropriate control groups, the failure to control for pretreatment differences, the ignoring of possible placebo effects, the failure to use standardized, reliable, and valid quantitative instruments, and over reliance on unvalidated, qualitative data. (p. 267)
Criticism of studies of school based conflict resolution programs has also been directed at the research questions. Johnson, Johnson and Dudley (1992) report these studies "focused on identifying how many conflicts occurred within secondary schools, how many students were involved, and whether peer mediation resulted in an agreement". They state that the impact of conflict management training programs on students' ability to manage conflicts had not been studied prior to their study in 1992.
In spite of shortcomings in research methods, Van Slyck and Stern (1991) suggested the consistent results lend credibility to the findings of these studies. A review of several of these programs follows.
The Law and Public Service Magnet High School was established in Cleveland in 1982. In this school, students are included in the governance process, and a school-based peer mediation program has been established (Dreyfuss, 1990). As well as incorporating peer mediation into the curriculum and discipline continuum, students participate in a learning experience in the community in each of their four years in high school. School administrators reported that mediation saved "about half of the time they had traditionally spent resolving student-to-student conflicts". The director of the program observed:
We saw the climate of the school become one where the student ethos rejected fights as a way of settling disputes; where students held each other accountable for their behaviour; where students dealt openly and effectively with anger, fear, and aggression; and where students used their school-learned skills of conflict resolution to provide service in the community. (p 23)
Students became so skilled at handling disputes that, in many cases, mediation was no longer necessary.
In San Francisco, the Community Board began school-based mediation in 1982 (Davis & Porter, 1985). The program has three major components: (a) A conflict resolution course is taught in high schools. It includes experiential exercises, reading and discussion, and specific activities on interpersonal communication, assertiveness, one-to-one conflict resolution skills and conflict mediation skills for third parties. (b) Classroom meetings are conducted in Kindergarten through Grade 5 classrooms. The meetings take place for about 20 minutes immediately following lunch hour. Alternate conflict resolution methods are taught to students through discussion of problems, role-playing and structured experiences. (c) Conflict managers are trained to mediate disputes on the playground. Students from Grades 4 and 5 are selected by their peers based on leadership ability. They represent the gender division and racial/ethnic identify of the school. Students receive 15 hours of training in active listening, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, assertiveness, open communication and conflict management. They wear "conflict manager" t-shirts and, using a simplified version of the mediation process, make themselves available on the playground to help students resolve disputes (Davis & Porter, 1985).
Evaluations from the Community Board projects in San Francisco show that conflicts in the school decreased. The principals of the four schools using the Conflict Manager program stated "conflict managers make significant contributions to a calm, friendly atmosphere on the playground". They noted "what students learn about resolving conflicts on the playground is carried into the classrooms" and results in less teacher time on "refereeing disputes". These principals also observed that "conflict managers teach what they have learned to parents, siblings, and friends" (cited in Davis & Porter, 1985, p. 24).
Gentry and Benenson (1992) implemented the Community Board Program in an elementary school in central Illinois and evaluated its effects on how students trained in conflict resolution skills deal with sibling conflicts at home. Students trained as conflict managers reported a significant decline in the frequency and intensity of conflicts with siblings. Parents of these children perceived a similar decline in the frequency of conflicts and their need to intervene. They reported a significant improvement in their child's use of productive talk during conflicts.
School Mediators Alternative Resolution Team (SMART) was initiated in New York in 1983. The program has four components: (a) Classroom seminars are designed to generate campus-wide interest in mediation and to recruit mediators and cases. Seminars are conducted over two days during regular 40 minute periods and re incorporated into core subject areas. (b) Mediators are trained. Students, school personnel, and parents volunteer. Training takes 20 hours and is devoted to skills such as setting up a hearing, gaining trust, gathering facts, questioning, note-taking, identifying and priorizing issues, and writing an agreement. Training programs are limited to 25 participants. Those who complete the training receive a certificate and are considered eligible to be a mediator. (c) Disputes are mediated. Administrators, teachers, security guards, counsellors and students can make referrals to mediation. Referrals are processed by the coordinator who interviews the parties to determine if the case is appropriate for mediation and, if so, selects the mediator(s). (d) Follow-up interviews are conducted to assess compliance with mediated agreements and to offer additional service, if necessary.
Davis (1986) reported that during SMART's first two years at William Cullen Bryant School in Long Island, Queens, New York, 260 disputes were resolved through mediation. In follow-up interviews, students reported 90% of these agreements were upheld. Six hundred and twenty students used mediation to settle problems and reconcile differences. More than 30 students who went through mediation as disputants subsequently decided to become mediators. Suspensions for fighting dropped from 63 in the 1982-1983 school year, to 34 in 1983-1984, to 18 in 1984-1985. From 1985 to 1987, the program was expanded to include four more high schools and a junior school. Student incidents not involving weapons or injury are now referred to mediation at these schools (Lam, 1989).
Stern, Van Slyck and Valvo (cited in Van Slyck & Stern, 1992) conducted the first reported empirical study on a school-based mediation program. They examined the impact of the program on the school in three areas: (a) impact on school discipline climate, defined as the perceptions of students and faculty concerning issues such as discipline and violence in the school, as well as the number of disciplinary problems and violent incidents; (b) the effect on student peer mediators, including self-image; and (c) the effect on student disputants, including the number and nature of disciplinary problems experienced subsequent to a mediation. The program was implemented in a middle school in New York State. The majority of the students had minority backgrounds from low-income families. Nearly one-half were welfare recipients. Peer mediators were selected by the administration to represent a cross-section of the school population. They were trained in basic mediation skills over a three week period.
The peer mediation program had a positive effect on all three areas. Overall school discipline climate improved,the level of violent disciplinary problems were reduced, and there were beneficial effects on students who were peer mediators. The most dramatic effect for the peer mediators was increased self-image, social morality, and vocational-educational attitudes.
Dispute Management in the Schools Project (DMSP) was a three year cooperative project of the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii State Department of Education. Beginning January 1986, the project was designed to train student mediators to manage disputes at a high school, a feeder intermediate school, and a feeder elementary school. Student mediators, perceived leaders who volunteered to participate, completed a 20 hour training program. They were on call throughout the school day and agreed to make up all school work missed. Araki (1990) reported "scheduling mediation sessions at the convenience of all parties was a major problem" (p. 55).
During the second and third year of the project, 133 out of 136 mediated cases reached agreement. Twelve cases were teacher-student disputes mediated by a student and teacher team. School personnel reported that co-mediators seemed to work most effectively. Females were more likely to use mediation than males and students in Grades 7, 8 and 9 used the mediation services more than other age groups. Thirty-one percent of the mediated disputes were among Grade 8 students, 18% among Grade 7 and 11% among Grade 9 students. Ethnic group distribution was in proportion to that of the schools. The types of disputes mediated were: gossip/rumour, harassment, arguments, and classroom behaviour (Araki & Takeshita, 1991).
The overall leadership roles of the student mediators were enhanced through training in questioning for feelings as well as facts, analyzing and synthesizing problems, listening supportively, and communicating verbally and nonverbally. Student mediators improved academically, especially those with marginal grades. Teachers and administrators observed improved attitudes of mediators and disputants (Araki, 1990). In spite of positive perceptions of the program by participants, empirical data showed no improvement in school climate, no reduction in retention, suspension or dismissal incidents, and no improvement in student attendance (Araki, Takeshita & Kadomoto, 1989).
The New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution conducted an extensive evaluation of their Mediation in the Schools Program in 1986-1987 (Jenkins & Smith, 1987). Seventeen elementary schools, five middle/junior high schools and one high school were involved. Both urban and rural populations and three major ethnic groups (Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo) were represented.
Grade 4, 5 and 6 teachers were asked to teach a 19 lesson unit on conflict resolution. Students were nominated by teachers and peers or volunteered to serve as conflict managers. Final student selection (based on leadership skills, gender, and ethnicity) was made by a committee of teachers. Conflict managers went through an intensive 12-16 hour training sequence to learn a 14-step mediation process involving problem solving, active listening and communication skills. Pairs of mediators were scheduled to be on playground duty to observe conflicts between students and offer mediation services.
At the middle and high school levels, mediators were selected on criteria similar to those in the elementary program. After students were trained, meditations were held in a special room. In addition to student-to-student conflicts, conflicts between students and teachers or administrators were also handled. Teachers were trained, along with students, in a 14-hour training course. Pairs of students mediated student disputes and a student-adult team mediated student-adult disputes.
Post-test results indicated positive effects on the student mediators in problem solving and conflict resolution skills, self-concept and commitment to school. Positive effects were observed in elementary and middle years groups. Lack of a control group may have reduced the validity of the results obtained from the high school group.
At the elementary level, student mediators acquired problem solving and conflict resolution skills to a greater extent than did students not exposed to the Mediation in the Schools Program. Teachers believed that students trained as mediators showed improved verbal skills and self-concept and decreased use of violence.
At the middle school level, students trained as mediators showed improvement in all areas: self-concept, peer relations, communication abilities, knowledge of problem solving and conflict resolution and commitment/attachment to school. The data includes evidence that middle school students were more receptive to the program than their counterparts in elementary or high school.
Johnson, Johnson and Dudley (1992) reported implementing a peer mediation program in a middle-class elementary school in suburban Minneapolis. Peer mediation training was conducted in four stages: (a) introduction to conflict training; (b) negotiation training; (c) mediation training; and (d) periodic refresher lessons to refine students' negotiation skills. Once training was completed, peer mediation was made available to the students. Each day the teacher would choose two students to be the class mediators. The mediators would wear mediator t-shirts, patrol the playground and lunchroom, and be available to mediate conflicts that occurred in the classroom or school.
Teachers reported that, after the training, conflicts among students became less severe and destructive. Conflicts referred to the teacher were reduced by 80 percent and those referred to the principal were reduced to zero. Many students reported using negotiation and mediation skills at home with their siblings. Several parents said they observed carry-over effects at home. Trained students were much more likely than untrained students to discuss conflicts and negotiate solutions. When placed in a simulated conflict situation four to five months after the training had ended, pairs of trained students engaged in more negotiation steps than did pairs of untrained students.
The International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, from Teachers' College at Columbia University trained several students from an alternative high school in New York City in cooperative Learning and Conflict Resolution. Students from three campuses participated in the study. One group was trained in cooperative learning, one in conflict resolution, and one in both conflict resolution and cooperative learning. Deutsch (1992) found that students, teachers, and administrators had generally positive views of the training and results. Researchers thought the group that received both types of training was most positively affected. This impression was not supported by the empirical data. A qualitative study of the same project (Mitchell, 1992) reported that a needs assessment should have been conducted separately for each site before the project began and that if more time had been available, prior to implementation, to build trust and rapport between the trainers and school personnel, the project might have been more successful. Complications were student absenteeism, lack of interest by students and staff in the research component, and limited funding. Interviewers indicated that as students improved in managing conflicts they experienced increased social support, improved relations, higher self-esteem, increases in personal control, and high academic performance (Deutsch, 1992).
To conclude, evaluations of conflict management programs suggest positive results. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents seem to feel that training in conflict resolution can affect attitude and behaviour. Generalization to other settings seems possible. The results in many of the studies are tentative because of questionable methods. Research is needed to discover the long-term effects of conflict resolution training and peer mediation as alternatives to traditional disciplinary practices.
Conflict Management Programs: Content
* Students learn about conflict.
- styles of dealing with conflict
- reasons for conflict
- feelings and attitudes related to conflict
* Students learn about communication.
- active listening skills
- using neutral language
- clearly expressing feelings and needs
* Students learn about solving problems.
- working cooperatively to meet the needs of both
- creating options
- looking at both points of view
- negotiating to resolve disputes
- mediating to resolve dispute
What is Peer Mediation?
Mediation is an alternative to the traditional disciplinary practices (dentention, suspension, etc.) that occur in schools. It is a structured process that enables two disputing students to talk out and resolve their problem with the assistance of a pair of neutral peers. The end result is a written contract.
Mediation is a voluntary process. Conflicting parties must agree to try to solve the problem together or may choose to proceed through traditional disciplinary actions, instead.
A group of students are selected to be peer mediators. These students should be a representative sample of the larger group in terms of gender, academic ability, general interest, etc. The selection process could be a combinatin of teacher nomination, student nomination and self nominiation.
The mediation group could be organized like a club, managed by a teacher-coordinator. The teacher would match mediators to disputing students appropriately and help the students with their mediation skills.
Mediation services would be made available to students by request or by teacher or administrator referral. The teacher-coordinator would decide which disputes were suitable for mediation. The process could take place before or after school, at noon hour, or during class with teacher permission.
If a contract established through mediation is broken, students could return to mediation or administrative intervention could take place.
Peer mediation can be used at the classroom level, with a specific age group such as middle years students, or as an integral part of the discipline cycle of an entire school.
The Mediation Process
Peer mediators usually work in pairs. If possible, each mediator should be selected to represent the same gender and/or interest as each of the disputants. Peer mediators follow a set process. This process can be adjusted according to the maturity of the students. The following are guidelines for middle years students:
1. Open the session
- establish rules
- overview of process for disputants
2. Gather information
- each disputant takes a turn explaining the problem
- mediators summarize both sides using neutral language
3. Focus on common interests
- mediators find out what each person wants
- mediators encourage disputants to imagine what the other disputant wants
- mediators summarize common interests
4. Problem Solving
- disputant brainstorm options
- mediators encourage by asking each disputant what s/he could do to help resolve the problem
- disputants select from the brainstormed list
- mediators write up an agreement
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The purpose of the current study was to discover the effects of instruction in conflict resolution skills on student attitudes about conflict. A pretest was administered to the instructed group prior to instruction. An identical posttest was administered. A comparison group that did not participate in the instructional unit also completed the pretest and posttest. Students were not randomly assigned to groups. Students in the instructed group were grade eight students from schools in which an administrator expressed an interest in starting a conflict management program. There were 94 students in the instructed group. Students in the comparison group were enrolled in the only other school in the jurisdiction with a grade eight class. There were 25 students in the comparison group.
One administrator and one staff member from each of the participating schools attended a three day short course conducted by Saskatoon Community Mediation Services in August 1993. Print information as well as after-school sessions were made available to other interested staff members.
Instruction in conflict resolution skills took place in either Health 8 or Social Studies 8 classes. Topics studied are detailed in Chart 3. A strong emphasis on group work and role playing persisted throughout the unit of study so students were able to practise the skills that had been introduced. About 16 hours of class time was devoted to learning about and practising conflict resolution skills.
The Student Attitudes About Conflict scale (Jenkins & Smith, 1987), a 32-item, 4-point Likert Scale with "Strongly Agree" and "Strongly Disagree" as endpoints, was used as the pretest and posttest instrument. In addition, six open-ended questions that are part of School Mediation Program Evaluation Kit (Lam, 1989) were added to the scale so student behaviour could be reported and compared to attitudes.
The unit of study was intended to train a group of students from which peer mediators could be selected. Following the selection of peer mediators using a combination of self, peer and teacher nomination, peer mediation was make available to students in grades six through eight in the participating schools.
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At posttest, overall differences between instructed and comparison groups were evident. Students in the instructed group reported more positive attitudes about conflict than did comparison group students. Also, boys in the instructed group showed more positive attitudes about conflict than did boys in the comparison group.
Gender effects were also noted. Females reported more positive attitudes about conflict than males, regardless of whether they were in the instructed or comparison groups. Females reported significantly improved attitudes toward conflict on the overall scale, on the school attachment/commitment subscale, and on the conflict resolution/problem solving subscale.
Student responses to six open-ended items showed no strong differences between control and experimental groups. Gains in attitude reported by students in the experimental group and by females in the control group did not result in more reported problem-solving behaviour. Gender differences, however, were observed. Females reported more use of problem solving than did males. Males indicated more use of confrontation than females.
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Teaching conflict resolution strategies to middle years students can have an effect on their attitudes about conflict. Females may acquire the skills of constructive conflict resolution from day-to-day social interactions, but males seem to require direct intervention to affect their attitudes.
Males have traditionally demonstrated more aggressive and violent behaviours than females. The present study supports the hypothesis that the aggressive attitudes traditionally attributed to males can be moderated by instruction. This moderation of attitudes can have an impact on behaviour.
Improvement in student attitudes about conflict may have been limited by the nature of the instructional unit. It was approximately 15-20 hours in length and delivered over a period of two and half months in Health (School A) or Social Studies (School B). During the intervention, students were exposed to other styles of reacting to conflict used by teachers, parents, peers, TV characters, etc. These alternate models of dealing with conflict may or may not have reinforced the ideas promoted by the unit on conflict management. For example, students may be more likely to change their attitudes about conflict if the significant adults in their lives model constructive conflict resolution. If adults in authority use anger, threats and coercion to manipulate behaviour, students may not believe conflicts can be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.
Modifications to the intervention may have resulted in more pronounced improvements in student attitudes about conflict. For example, the intervention could have been longer or, presented in a more multi-disciplinary format. If the unit had been presented in conjunction with more intensive parent and teacher education, strategies presented in the intervention could have been systematically reinforced outside of the classroom.
Brophy (cited in Bentro & Van Bockern, 1994) asserts that the quality of human relationships in a classroom may be more influential than the specific interventions used. So, the climate of the classroom may have influenced the receptiveness of students to the intervention.
This study was initiated by the researcher, a school division consultant. Although an effort was made to include school personnel in the planning and delivery of the intervention, ownership for the project remained with the researcher. Greater changes in the attitudes of the students may have occurred if the project had been initiated by the teachers in the schools who had direct contact with the students and were in a position to model and reinforce positive models of conflict resolution on a daily basis.
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1. Instruction in conflict resolution skills is a developing component in Saskatchewan schools. Similar studies should be conducted in a variety of settings, urban and rural, with varied populations, elementary and high school, to verify and extend the results of this study.
2. The researcher suggests that longitudinal studies are needed to discover the effects of instruction in conflict resolution skills on the behaviour of students. The effects of instruction on teacher perceptions of student behaviour should also be examined.
3. The effects of instruction in conflict resolution skills on student behaviour and on teacher perceptions of student behaviour need to be examined.
4. Pairing instruction in conflict resolution skills with other interventions could increase its effectiveness. For example, cooperative learning skills could enhance students' abilities to work together, and promote increased problem solving behaviour.
5. For a conflict management or peer mediation program to be used as an integral part of the discipline process, the teachers must understand and support it. If teaching staff had had more opportunities to become familiar with the conflict management program and the mediation process, the program might have been more readily accepted and used in the schools.
Understanding and Resolving Conflicts
Students will demonstrate increasing:
* understanding that people respond to conflict using three main styles: avoidance, aggression and problem solving
* ability to identify the advantages and disadvantages of each response style
* ability to identify which response style is being used in given conflict situations
* understanding that conflicts are caused by attempts to meet basic individual needs
* understanding that conflicts result from limited resources or different values
* ability to identify the causes and types of conflict
* ability to identify actions that can lead to escalation or de-escalation of conflict
* understanding that clear communication can be a means of avoiding or resolving conflicts
* ability to use active listening techniques and neutral language as a means of maintaining clear lines of communication
* ability to understand various points of view
* ability to identify problems
* ability to resolve conflicts using problem-solving techniques such as negotiation and mediation
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