Part 4. Peer Mediation: The Anti-Bullying Strategy of the Future
Laureen Harper, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wife, recently named Peer Mediation as the Canadian Anti-Bullying Strategy of the future. She presented this strategy after an inquiry into preventing Bullying and Cyber Bullying in Canada, and thus preventing teen suicides.
So, Just what is Peer Mediation?
Just what is Peer Mediation, and how does it work? I first encountered Peer Mediation about six years ago, when I was a Teacher On Call in the first District I ever worked for. One lunch hour, I was teaching at the same school of the very first Principal to implement an Anti-Bullying Program in my District, 25 years ago. You will remember from Article 1, 25 years ago I went to this Principal to get the first Anti-Bullying Program, with the goal to eliminate Bullying in my classroom. Unfortunately, my school and many others did not choose to implement this program. But this particular Principal never stopped in his drive to eliminate Bullying. Not only was he the first Principal to implement Anti-Bullying in our school district, but he was also one of the first Principals to implement Peer Mediation.
Arriving at his school at lunch hour, unbeknownst to him, I saw how his Peer Mediation program worked first hand. I arrived when his students were still outside, playing out on the playground. (You will remember in Article 1 that the playground is often where Bullying occurs.)
As I approached the school’s entrance, I noticed two or three students who were wearing brightly colored blue and black jackets. I realized later that this identified them as the Peer Mediators, and the Problem Solvers. I remember being simply amazed when I observed two other younger children run up to them, very agitated and upset. When these children found their Peer Mediators, they quickly told them about a problem they’d had with another student, who had been Bullying them on the playground.
To my amazement, these mediators listened calmly and carefully, valuing and even clarifying what the children said. I was astonished at their level of maturity and skill, with being so young. (I think these children were in about Grade 5. Grades 5-7 intermediate students are the ones chosen to be Peer Mediators.)
Coming out of nowhere, I suddenly noticed the school Principal, and he stood quietly watching in the background. The mediators soon noticed him too, and they turned and began to tell him about what had happened. He stopped them, gave them a quick word of encouragement, and said, “You know what to do! Go on, go and find him!” So off they went, with renewed confidence and ease, to find the “Bully,” and then to problem solve with all of the children involved. All in a quick instant, a problem that at 1:00 pm would have taken the classroom teacher 10-15 minutes of teaching time to solve, had already been to be taken care of.
Problem Solving Strategies, a Part of Peer Mediation
I don’t know what exactly happened next, because I had to sign in for work. But I believe that these children had already been trained in many of the Problem Solving Strategies that I discussed in Part Three of this Article. Summarized here, they are: respectfully discussing feelings and reactions; calmly getting to the truth of what happened; gently encouraging empathy; and finally sharing appropriate apologies.
Rules, Consequences and Rewards Too!
I am fairly sure that this school would also have had a well-established set of Rules, Consequences and Rewards, which the Peer Mediators and the whole school would have known about. Ultimately, if the incident were really serious and frequent, I’m sure the Principal himself would have been talking with the child who had Bullied, and if necessary, beyond an apology, more serious consequences would have been applied.
Add Peer Modeling and Peer Mentoring
Subtly, during Peer Mediation, the powerful tools of Peer Modeling and Peer Mentoring are also at work. In Part 2 of this Article, I described the wonderful work of another very special School Professional, a School Counselor at the great school I was working at this Spring. This Counselor had amazing successes when through the School’s Student Council he implemented the Anti-Bullying Program of Pink Shirt Day. His success rate implementing Student’s Council Peer Modeling and Peer Mentoring was simply amazing. I remember I was astonished that on Monday’s Pink Shirt Day everyone in my classroom arrived wearing pink; and almost every one of my students wore a Pink T-Shirt.
A School Counselor on Peer Mediation
Speaking about this Counselor, just before I left this placement, I spoke briefly with him about Peer Mediation. I asked him if he’d heard about Peer Mediation before, and he said he had. He told me that there was a school in his district using Peer Mediation, and it was working very well for that school. We talked about the upcoming layoffs of Special Education Assistants at his school, who were the lunch and recess time supervisors there. We concluded that his school would benefit greatly from implementing a Peer Mediation Program, and he was very interested in facilitating this.
Sadly, I heard that this coming year, due to even more cutbacks in our government’s education funding, this Counselor’s position had been completely eliminated. –Ah..; and I thought it was Bullying we were trying to eliminate? Need I say more? Sigh. Well, yes, I think I do.
Marnie’s Rant, On Government Cutbacks
This spring, at the wonderful school I taught at, I attended numerous recess and lunch hour meetings about how the School and the District were going to implement this new round of government cutbacks. I was very sadly reminded of the last years of my on-contract teaching days.
In the late 90’s, we as teachers were finally able to celebrate having obtained Class Size, Class Composition and Preparation Time language in our Teacher contracts. The next year though, suddenly the Provincial Government came in and completely stripped our contracts of this language and more. Suddenly, we felt that the much more stable and positive learning environment that we’d achieved, for both ourselves and our students, had been lost.
As long as I can remember, government funding to School Districts has been decreasing almost every year. In 1985, when I first started teaching French Immersion Kindergarten, I actually had an assistant who made teaching materials for me, several hours a week. That was so great, because back then, there were no French materials to buy. (Teachers, by the way, buy most of their own resources.) But the next year, and almost every other year afterward, reductions in support time of various kinds occurred. Over the years, Resources Teachers such as this wonderful Counselor, had their time reduced and reduced, because they did not enroll a classroom, and they were not deemed essential.
I remember the final year of my on-contract teaching days, during the 1999/2000 school year, when my Learning Resource Teacher announced that she was not going to be coming to my classroom anymore. No more time for her to take that small group of children who needed extra help to learn to read and write. (Forget about time for Math: that had been gone a long time ago.) No more time for her to assess their needs, and then to work with myself and parents to design a program that would work for them. No more time for her to model for me new and old teaching strategies, and to help me become a better teacher: because usually Resource Teachers are our Master Teachers, and their input is highly valuable.
To clarify, because Resource Teachers do not enroll a classroom, they are not encumbered by the need to do report cards five times a year, nor for organizing programming for 25-30 children. They have time to research and develop new programs. Too, they have often been very successful teachers, who have taught for a long time, and then who have gone back to university to get a Master’s Degree in Special Education. Without them, then, what does this mean, for the quality of our children’s education? They are our mentors: and suddenly they were gone.
A Stressful Learning Environment
Too, when cutbacks are very large, such as they were this last year, District strategies are to lay off everyone first, and then they reoffer employees their jobs, but for a lesser amount of time. Some classroom teachers have to move to another school; and Principals and staff are left with very difficult decisions to make. Until this has been decided, however, many meetings go on at school, at recess and lunch. As a result, much stress occurs amongst Administrators, Teachers and Resource Staff; and yet they must all continue running their schools and their classrooms. Ultimately, I believe the students suffer from this stress also.
The Parent View
While all parents see is strikes, the need to get babysitting for their children, and a lack of report cards or after school sports, there is truly much more going on within a school that counts. I mean, aren’t we really there too teach? Aren’t our children really there to learn? Where is that in this picture?
When teachers consider job action, there is really much more at stake than an after school Volleyball game. Can your child read? Can your child write? Can your child perform Math activities, at their grade level or more? Why is this no longer a concern?
Also, Is Your Child Happy at School, or is He or She being Bullied?
And, for the purposes of this Article, is your child happy at school? Is your child well adjusted?
Or, even more specifically, at school, is your child being Bullied?
One day, because of government cutbacks, are you going to find out that your child was Bullied, to the point of committing suicide? And all because of a government that swore to eliminate Bullying, eliminated Counselling positions instead? Because it is a School Counsellor who will help a child who seems unhappy. It is a School Counsellor, who given the time, will find out what is going on, and work with parents, teachers and students to fix the problem. It is a School Counsellor who will model compassion and concern, and find and implement the programs that will help to eliminate Bullying in our schools.
I’ll never forget the year too, again during the 1999/2000 school year, when the School Counsellor at my school told me, “I don’t have time to work with your kids Marnie. Just put in the referral, and I’ll refer them out to another service.” She, too, even back then, was spread between three schools.
When Teachers Strike
I know, when teachers strike, it is important programs like Anti-Bullying Programs, and important Resource Teachers such as the School Counselor and Learning Resource Teachers, and ultimately the quality of our education system as a whole, that teachers are fighting for.
By Sept. of this year, when I had posted Part 1 of my Anti-Bullying Article, I tried to contact the School Counselor that I had been writing about. When he didn’t respond right away, I found out that that he had gone from working almost full-time at this wonderful school, to completely losing his position, to then working at this school part-time; but then he had been placed at two other schools as well. When I sent Part 1 of this Article to him, he told me he read my article in his car, parked and taking a short break from driving between schools. Need I ask, how effective is this?
This, I believe, is the real issue. There is a need in our society for Anti-Bullying Programs and Special Education Resource Teachers, such as this Counsellor and my former Learning Assistance Teacher. Yet there is simply no funding for it: and what there is, continually gets eroded.
Anti-Bullying is Moral Issue
I would like to leave some final thoughts about Anti-Bullying with the same Principal who first implemented the two very powerful Anti-Bullying Programs in my District; the first Anti-Bullying Program, “Bully Beware,” and then later, Peer Mediation. As you will remember from Part #3, I had recently met with him at his new school district, where he was made Director of Instruction, when I went to pick up an old T4 for my records.
During our conversation, while I had heard that he was no longer involved in any type of Anti-Bullying work, he told me that he had actually not abandoned this pursuit at all. Several years ago, he became involved in a Nation-Wide Campaign to Eliminate Bulling. He travelled all across Canada, coordinating with the RCMP and several other key educators, teaching about what Bullying was and how to eliminate it.
He also stated that in his opinion, dealing effectively with Bullying was really a moral issue. What he meant by this, initially I wasn’t sure. Just like when I first met him 25 years ago, I was slightly taken aback by his unique and innovative position. –He was always so ahead of the game.
What Did He Mean?
Upon reflection, I believe this is what he meant. Teaching tolerance and respect is essentially, teaching morality. For example, by addressing bullying, you are actually teaching the moral and golden rule of, “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you.”
Also, I think he means that as bystanders, we all have a moral obligation, or a responsibility, to stop any type of Bullying: whether we are teachers, principals, parents or government leaders alike.
During our conversation, he also shared that sometimes it is not easy to stand up for someone who is being Bullied. Ultimately, he was implying that this takes courage.
Certainly implementing the new programs such as those mentioned above takes courage. By doing so, the people involved are taking a stand against Bullying. Certainly this principal and the teachers, administration and support staff at the wonderful school that I recently taught at, demonstrated all of these qualities; and many, many more. I believe that we need to ask our government leaders to actually show more courage, and now to actually fund the programs that they endorse.
It’s Not Just Children Who Bully
Returning to what this Principal shared, lastly, he added that it’s not just children who Bully. I was so surprised to hear this from a fellow colleague: but I knew it was true. Not every school I had worked at had been as positive, forward thinking, and as inclusive as the one I taught at this spring.
At some schools, Principals simply impose their policies, rarely valuing teacher, parent and staff input. Also, some parents can Bully school staff, if there was the slightest hint that their child is misbehaving. Too, for whatever reason, teachers have long been the target of what seems to be unjustified Bullying by certain media and governmental groups. Not that all teachers are completely innocent themselves! I have sometimes for example observed teachers let Bullying comments by students go unchallenged. Unfortunately, this allows Bullying to thrive, and this puts students at risk.
Eliminating Bullying Takes Moral Courage
It takes strong and courageous people like this Counselor and this Principal, however, to step up and make all of these Anti-Bullying strategies successful. I only hope that those in charge, especially government leaders, begin to see how even the slightest cutbacks in education are actually eroding the success of not only our education system, but Anti-Bullying Programs today.
Ultimately, in my opinion, if we want our youth not to Bully, and we want to prevent Teen Suicides, then we must have the courage to do everything within our power to achieve this. We must model positive, respectful, and inclusive behaviors ourselves. This does not mean that we must be “mamby pamby.” It is us, the adults, who are in charge! We must remember this. When necessary, we must be tough, “courageous,” strong, implementing consequences when necessary, and doing everything we can to uphold the values—and morals—that we want in our society. Lastly, we must be educated. Ultimately, we must encourage our government to spend money on developing and providing many more Anti-Bullying Resource Materials, and we must encourage them to fund Resource Teacher and Counsellor Teaching times.
Building a Strong, Safe Anti-Bullying Community
I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to work at such a stellar school this year, and for finally being able to see my desire to have effective Anti-Bullying Strategies implemented in Lower Mainland Schools. I am so grateful for the strong leaders I have met along the way: those who helped me to develop my own Anti-Bullying strategies in my own classroom, and those who developed these programs on a school-wide level: this school’s Counselor, the special Principals; and the Learning Resource and classroom Teachers, who all taught me so much.
Ultimately, building a safe, strong Anti-Bullying Community for our youth takes time, education, special strategies, encouragement, moral courage, innovation, committment, funding, and very special, skilled, kind and courageous people like those described above.
Also, I do not believe that these strategies are just for teachers alone. Parents and government members all need to be aware of and utilize these Anti-Bullying strategies, so that we all can bring them to bear on any type of Bullying: be it cyber, emotional or physical.
If we do this, I believe we will develop much stronger, healthier, safer and happier children. Our children will know how to make good, healthy decisions; and as a result of our elimination of bullying, and they will not even get close to bullying others, or ever considering suicide themselves.
Thank you for listening. Here are the Website links for the Anti-Bullying Programs I have mentioned in this article.
For Discipline with Dignity, http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin534.shtml
By Marnie Hancock, B.Ed., Author, & List Trainer.
Marnie Hancock is available to speak to individuals and groups upon request. If you would like to learn more about The List, AKA Reality Dynamics, the ultimate Anti-Bullying tool, please visit the website above. If you would like to contact Marnie personally, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.