If a playground dispute lands in the principal’s office at William King Elementary School just outside Halifax, chances are that the students brought it there. And just as likely, the kids will iron out the problem themselves through a mediation process—without adult intervention. “It really works,” says Stephanie Trim, an 11 -yearold Grade 5 student acting as an on-duty mediator.Trim’s classmates nominated her to attend two days of mediation training last fell in nearby Truro.They judged her a good listener, an essential quality in a process in which opponents agree to tell their versions of a problem honestly, describe their feelings, and work out a solution. “The hardest part,” Trim says of her role, “was learning not to give advice. They have to figure it out themselves.”
As in many schools across Canada, mediation is part of a broader program of instruction in peaceful living at William King. Principal Hetty Adams’s concern about the subject, however, stems from a tragic personal experience. In 1991, a school bully was harassing her son, Ben. He was an active soccer-playing 14-year-old, with a
medical condition called neurofibromatosis, which reduced the elasticity of one of his arteries. In February of that year, while watching a school basketball game, the other student hip-checked him into a stage, knocking him to the floor. Ben died from internal hemorrhaging.
At the time, Adams was a teacher in Bedford, N.S. One month into her grieving, she travelled to Florida to visit a private school her children had attended when the family lived in Delray Beach, 80 km north of Miami.
There she spent time training with one of the school’s teachers,
Judith Carter, who taught “lessons in living,” a curriculum that encouraged peaceful behavior. Returning to Nova Scotia, Adams began working with other teachers on a curriculum that would encourage mutual respect and harmony among elementary schoolchildren. In 1994, she published Peace in the Classroom, a resource book based on those brainstorming sessions, which has sold 2,800 copies and is now in its second printing. “Teachers are really starving for something like this,” says Adams. “There is not a
Adams’s ideas rest on a belief that punishment fails to address the cause of many playground problems. Unresolved, those disputes can escalate and undermine the learning environment. Trim has witnessed the results of Adams’s approach. Recently, a fight between two boys turned out to be a dispute over privacy: one had read excerpts from the other’s diary without permission. Trim convinced the guilty party to apologize, and to stop telling others about what he had read. Like adult mediation, the program at William King requires that “disputants” agree to try to solve the problem, and to tell the truth, without interruptions or put-downs. The mediators must respect the confidentiality of the parties, listen carefully and remain impartial. “You can’t just slouch in the chair,” says Trim. “That would mean you don’t care what they’re saying. And you really can’t say,‘Omigosh, he did that?’ ”
lot available in terms of practical, hands-on, give-me-something-lcan-use-tomorrow-in-the-classroom material.”
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