Mediation in NSW schools

by Frances Richards.

Frances is a volunteer adjudicator for the Law Society of New South Wales mock mediation competition. Frances is an accredited mediator and an Adjunct Lecturer at the School of Law, Sydney, The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Mock mediation grandfinal

2017 Mock mediation Grand Final – this was the winning team Trinity Catholic College Lismore, with presiding adjudicators on either end of the team in the black jacket (Lara Bishkov), white jacket (Monika Lama) and pink jacket (Helen Miedzinski). Photo courtesy Frances Richards

This article is about initiatives to introduce mediation to students in NSW schools.

The NSW Department of Education offers peer mediation programs for primary and secondary public schools in NSW. These programs are one of the conflict resolution strategies available for schools to adopt. The Department provides resources for schools to use and intends to update these resources. The resources can be found at: Peer Mediation.

The Law Society of NSW organizes an annual mock mediation competition for secondary public and private school students. The competition provides an opportunity for students to develop, refine and practice cooperative problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

What are the objectives of these initiatives to introduce mediation in NSW schools?

According to the Department’s resources, the peer mediation programs are intended to ‘empower, prepare and support students and staff to deal successfully with conflict situations at school, at home and in later life.’

According to the Mock Mediation Manual 2018, the competition aims to:

“ Recognise the opportunities for change and progress that can result from conflict and improve the ability of students to manage conflict in a way that leads to a positive outcome

Acknowledge the increasing use of mediation by courts and the community, and equip students with the skills necessary to participate in a mediation process.

Educate students about the importance of the process in tandem with constructive dialogue.”

How does mediation in schools work?

The peer mediation program involves one or two trained student mediators assisting two disputants through a structured process to reach resolution of a dispute. Peer mediation programs are coordinated by staff trained in mediation, who provide ongoing supervision and support to student mediators. Peer mediation programs are intended for minor disputes such as gossip and rumour spreading, name calling, friendship problems, teasing, loss of property and exclusion.

The mock mediation competition is open to students in years 9 and 10. Each school participating in the competition has 1 team with a maximum of 9 students.  Each team participates in 3 rounds. All teams in the competition receive a certificate of participation. The two teams who reach the grand final receive a certificate and a medal. The winning team receives a trophy.  The competition requires involvement and support from teachers as coaches and mediators as adjudicators.

To receive points for the competition, the students must demonstrate skills including:

Listening, Brainstorming, Empathy, Judgment, Questioning, Decision making, Communication, Teamwork, Problem solving, Leadership, Negotiation, Time management, Assertiveness and Reflecting.

What are the benefits for students?

Both the peer mediation program and the mock mediation competition are intended to benefit the students, staff, schools and community.

The intended benefits for students are:

  • Skill development including communication, listening and problem-solving skills
  • Assuming greater responsibility for solving their own problems
  • Creating an awareness of their responsibilities when dealing with others
  • Furthering personal development and self-improvement
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Learning to manage conflict in a productive way

In addition to the mediation competition context, acquiring these skills may be of importance for the future employability of the students. A recent study of the Canadian workforce by the Royal Bank of Canada shows that these are the types of skills students will require to negotiate the future. The study found that “An assessment of 20,000 skills rankings across 300 occupations and 2.4 million expected job openings shows an increasing demand for foundational skills such as critical thinking, co-ordination, social perceptiveness, active listening and complex problem solving.”

The study also found that “Virtually all job openings will place significant importance on judgement and decision making and more than two thirds will value an ability to manage people and resources.”

The findings of the study are contained in the report “Humans Wanted How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption” published on 26 March 2018.

What are the other benefits?

The intended benefits for schools and the wider community include:

  • reduced conflict in the school environment
  • reduced bullying and aggressive behaviour
  • reduced tension in the classroom environment
  • reduced time spent by staff on minor disputes
  • safer and more harmonious school environment
  • maximising the opportunity for learning for all students
  • promoting open communication to resolve contentious issues
  • maximising the benefits of cooperative problem-solving
  • encouraging mediation and negotiation as an alternative to litigation

What does the research show?

An exploratory study into a peer mediation program in a primary school context in NSW collected data that demonstrated therapeutic benefits for the school community, that students reported that participation in the peer mediation program had benefited them in their lives after school and that the training and knowledge obtained from the program can be applied in different situations (McWilliam, N., A school peer mediation program as a context for exploring therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ): Can a peer mediation program inform the law?, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (2010), doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2010.09.002.)

Research has also been conducted into the use of mediation as an educational strategy in schools in other countries. One recent study of mediation in Spanish schools found evidence that the programs did teach students skills that they do not have the opportunity to learn in other subjects and to manage their own conflicts (Raga, L. G., Sanchis, I. C., Mora, A. M., & Santana, G. R., (2016). Strengths and weaknesses of the school mediation from the perspective of students in secondary education. Pedagogía Social: Revista Interuniversitaria, (28), 203-215. 10.7179/PSRI_2016.28.15.)

Conclusion

As an adjudicator for the mock mediation competition I have observed the students participating enthusiastically and reflecting on their experience of how hard it is to actively listen, what it feels like not to be heard and how hard it is to find strategies to unlock deadlock.

The potential of the peer mediation program and the mock mediation competition to deliver their intended benefits is limited by the time, resources and commitment of staff and volunteers.

Research is needed to provide evidence of the benefits of students participating in peer mediation programs and mock mediation competitions. Such evidence would assist schools in deciding to allocate time and resources to expanding the use of mediation initiatives. Submissions to conduct research in NSW public schools can be directed to: <http://www.serap.det.nsw.edu.au/>. Information about participating in the mock mediation competition in 2019 can be found at: Law Society Mock Mediation

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Experiencing the Potential of Mediation

The Australian ADR academic community is committed to ensuring that ADR is embedded across the syllabus of Australian Law Schools. This has been assisted by the agreement that ADR will be delivered within Civil Procedure as part of the Priestley 11.

This is an important achievement and owes some of its success to the efforts of our own ADR Research Network members who have championed the change – including, for example, Rachael Field and Kathy Douglas. As part of building the value of ADR teaching and learning, we continually seek opportunities for students to experience the potential of ADR processes, and to develop as practitioners whose skills are relevant nationally and internationally.

The ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition is one such opportunity. An annual event offered in Paris, the ICC now also offers an annual Asia-Pacific Commercial Mediation Competition, for teams who wish to compete with our Asia-Pacific neighbours.

I am just back from Paris where the 4 team-members from UNSW, were this year’s  competition winners.

ICC 2018 winners (1)

Team UNSW ICC Winners 2018. Photo Credit: ICC, with permission

Approached by Kluwer to blog about the competition and the opportunities it provides to students internationally, I was delighted share my views about its enduring value which stretches far beyond the competition itself.

My blogpost includes seven insights that provide a foundation for successfully coaching a team as I have had the privilege to do for the past 12 years. I also hope my insights might be a resource for those who are teaching negotiation, mediation and dispute resolution at a tertiary level.

See you in Paris 2019!

Hybrids have arrived – hosted by the beautiful city of Vienna

Hybrid processes are not new to those of us who teach and write in the ADR space. We have all heard of arb-med and med-arb. Some of us have even heard of Baseball Arbitration, Night Baseball Arbitration and Medaloa.

Step into the practitioner’s world and the view is different.

Here the processes of mediation and arbitration remain distant strangers, practised and accredited separately. Few practitioners have dual qualifications and even those who do are rarely comfortable with the concept of offering a hybrid process.

The next generation of practitioners is being given the opportunity of seeing things differently via a new student mooting program.

The starting point is the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot (Vis Moot) which has just reached its 24th anniversary.

This moot tests the oral and written prowess of students in dealing with a complex international commercial conflict. This long established arbitration competition now has a sibling.

town hall vienna

View of the historic Town Hall in Vienna – site of the competition cocktail party. Photo Copyright Rosemary Howell

Established three years ago, the IBA-VIAC Consensual Dispute Resolution Competition (CDRC) commences in Vienna on July 10th at the beautiful University of Economics and Business (Wu Wien). Students participate either as negotiators or as mediators with separate scoring and evaluation for both roles.

The competition follows the Vis Moot and draws on the same case study (amended to remove all the procedural challenges of the arbitration). The competition opens with the news that the arbitration has been adjourned for a little over a week to give the parties the opportunity to see if they can resolve the conflict by mediation.

The competition gives an important signal that extends far beyond the students who are participating. The working committee drafting the problems has required consultation between arbitrators and mediators and encouraged a collaboration that is not often seen. Expert assessors too are being given experience in both the arbitration and mediation arenas.

The significant outcome is that not only is the next generation of practitioners being given the chance to consider hybrids up close, but practitioners are also joining the dots to draw together practices that once were very separate.

A great outcome.