Mediation vs. Detention

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
‘Mediation’ spelled out in wooden blocks surrounded by more wooden blocks.

What is Mediation?

Mediation as defined is intervention in a dispute in order to resolve it. Mediation in schools, however, takes on a slightly different meaning. In school, mediation measures are taken to resolve a conflict without the use of detentions and suspensions. These conflicts can be between a student and a teacher, or with a fellow student. Mediation in its purest form in schools seeks to “temporarily” isolate the offending student and attempt to mediate a solution. The desire is for the student, through this mediation process, to become compliant and be able to return to the regular classroom setting.

Mediation vs. Detention: Differences

Mediation attempts to help the student to resolve the conflict first within themselves so that they can return to their classes. The idea here is that in a calm and peaceful place the student will become calm and peaceful. By successful mediation, the school can avoid more punitive consequences such as detention (either during or after school) and in-school or out-of-school suspension.

The major difference between mediation and detention is that mediation allows the student to be a part of the process of correcting their inappropriate behavior and return to class without further consequences. Detention, on the other hand, is punitive in that the teacher or administrator assigns the detention and the student is forced to comply. Mediation gives the student an opportunity to first calm down and get under control. The student can then realize where they went wrong and through the process resolve to return to class and not engage in that type of behavior again. Detention forces the student to sit in isolation and ponder what they did to be put there. Often times the student only becomes more upset about the situation and can be more apt to act out again once they return to the classroom.

Why You Should Consider Meditation Before Detention

Schools should consider mediation over detention first for the obvious reason: the student is allowed to return to class. Invariably there are going to be situations where only detention, suspension, or expulsions are appropriate responses. By having a mediation program, though, many of the minor offenses can be handled without having to keep a student out of the classroom. This becomes a win/win for the student and the school.

Another benefit of mediation over detention is that the number of office referrals that must be handled by the administrator will go down, possibly significantly. With reduced behavioral referrals, administrators can spend more time with the students, as well as on teacher evaluations and interacting with other stakeholders.

Very few discipline issues are positive. However, mediation can take a bad situation and calmly, reasonably resolve the conflict. Through mediation the situation can become a positive experience for everyone involved.

Another benefit can be the way the community views your school or school district. So often there is a great debate about how many detentions and suspensions are happening. Through mediation, the community can see that administrators, faculty, and staff are striving diligently to keep the students in the classrooms.

Examples of Mediation

So, what are some ways that a school can implement mediation?

  1. Peer mediation is a type of mediation where students intervene with other students to resolve conflict. If this is implemented in the school, students must be trained in techniques to resolve the conflict but also must be adult monitored. Often times peer mediation is effective because students can talk “straight” to each other.
  2. One-to-one, student-to-adult mediation is a type of mediation where an adult sits with the offending student. This person can be a teacher, administrator, counselor, or other staff personnel. The adult mediator helps the student to first calm down. The mediator can offer techniques such as deep breathing exercises to help. Once the student is calmed down, the mediator can help the student to accept the error of their ways and discuss ways to keep it from happening again.
  3. Teacher support teams can be effective in helping a student. However, this situation can be counterproductive if the student feels overwhelmed by too many people in the room.
  4. A behavior support specialist can be very effective in helping a student through mediation. These specialists often can even spend time after the resolution with the student. This bond can be beneficial to the student in that they can grow to feel like they have someone to advocate for them if times get hard again.

This list is not exhaustive of ways to effectively implement mediation. Factors that have to be considered when implementing a mediation program are: staffing, space, time, and even finances. However, with a little thought and a few caring staff members, a mediation program can and should be implemented in all schools.

We all understand that students are going to have behavioral problems from time to time. How we handle these child behavioral problems is going to determine how our students will behave down the road. Not only is discipline imperative in the schools, it also teaches important life skills on how to resolve conflict in the “real world”. We owe it to our students to do everything we can to get them back in the classroom as soon as possible after a behavior issue.

As stated earlier, there are going to be some times that returning to the classroom is just not an option. However, in most cases at least, attempting mediation should be our “go to” first step in the discipline ladder. We must strive to use behavior situations as “teachable” moments. Remember, sometimes proper behavior must be taught as well as the curriculum.

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