21st century schools must include effective and high impact approaches to school violence prevention and student conflict resolution. Unfortunately, “school-wide” or “outside speaker” approaches to reducing student violence and conflict have largely proven to be ineffective.
Too often these “imported models” do not have a lasting impact on student conflict and violence prevention. Students listen to the “guest speaker” and then go back to the old habits after lunch. Predictably, these “dose-effect” programs rarely exist long enough to be properly evaluated.
However, emerging interactive video technologies can support new and innovative approaches to the preventive and reflective side of school violence prevention and conflict resolution.
Peer Mentoring 2.0 and Prevention
Referred to as Peer Mentoring 2.0, this 21st Century model of peer mentoring functions at the preventive end of conflict and violence instead of engaging after a destructive episode has occurred.
Peer Mentoring 2.0 connects students from different grade levels within the same school or between different schools. Peer mentoring 2.0 can be implemented in face-to-face classroom settings or virtually using video chatting computer programs such as Skype or FaceTime. The creative applications of these interactive video technologies provide immediate real-time access to credible and believable student mentors on a wide variety of subjects.
Schools too often create student competitions that only provoke conflict. By removing these harmful competitions and inviting more realistic “cooperation and conversation,” students can become peer listeners and peer leaders with one another.
Age and grade division are also common in school. Peer Mentoring 2.0 bridges the natural and unfortunate gaps that may exist between students at different grade levels; this cross grade level commitment can dispel the fears of younger students in earlier grade levels, reduce their intimidation, and reduce their fear of asking for help.
The Peer Mentoring 2.0 Process
When implemented within an elementary-school environment, middle-school students can mentor incoming fifth-grade students and help dispel anxious beliefs and urban myths that typically exist upon entry. Implementation can also exist between differing grade-levels within the same school, or even between schools. For example, upon entering a new middle school, 6th or 7th graders can meet 5th graders in participating classrooms face-to-face, or use Skype to discuss how to be successful within their new school environment. Other examples include: 8th graders mentoring 7th graders; 9th graders mentoring 8th graders; 12th graders mentoring 9th graders, etc.).
Before the formal day of the mentoring, teachers should select students who represent the diversity of the whole school (i.e., every ability, background, race, gender etc.) to elicit their participation.
(Next page: Selecting topics and timing; 10 components to prevent school violence, including Skype)
Selecting Topics and Timing
The discussion topics can include, but are not limited to:
- How to be successful within that particular teacher’s classroom
- How to be a successful student within this school, today and in the future
- How to manage friends, relationships, and schoolwork
- How to avoid getting in trouble
- What to do if you’re being bullied
- Who to go to for help
- Focusing on what myths exist within school environments and how to avoid them in the interest of student well-being and academic success
Educators may agree that the bookends of a student’s education can generate impactful timing. The placement of this implementation at critical moments within a school year is important to consider (i.e., after the first month of school, and during the last month of school).
All educators should facilitate these preventative and personal exchanges between students as such cooperative and personal connections can be absent.
10 Components to Help Prevent School Violence
- Conduct peer mentoring at the beginning and end of the school years to allow for advice sharing, resourcing, and reflection. Students love helping other students, particularly when given the chance.
- Mentoring can exist in every class as well. Have six to eight mentors per class.
- Have participating mentors represent the whole-school environment (mentors should be every gender, race, background, and achievement level). Refrain from picking only straight-A students. The more mentors the mentees can relate to, the better.
- Meet with the mentors before hand to organize the topics of discussion.
- Use Skype or FaceTime to connect classes or different schools if students cannot attend face-to-face.
- During face-to-face mentoring, have the mentors sit at the front of the class and take turns talking.
- Encourage mentees to listen and ask questions.
- Have permission slips filled out by mentors, parents, and teachers. Make participating school administrations aware of the activities and enlist their help if needed.
- Moderate the whole discussion and keep it on point with the previously discussed topics.
- Encourage students to reach out to the mentors anytime for help and encourage mentees to think about becoming mentors to their younger peers before they leave their current school.
The Generation of Student Leaders
Schools should be safe places to learn. 21st Century technologies can help eliminate reoccurring and formally unsolvable problems. These technology support connections could create opportunities for students to participate in problem solving, thinking critically about serious topics, and hear from other students regarding their personal experiences.
Along with forming new relationships, student leaders might emerge where they have previously been invisible, undiscovered, or underused. Peer Mentoring 2.0 may also reduce the historic problems of grade-level transition and energize new student leaders, as most student mentors gain immediate influence, creating better friendships that support overall program effectiveness. The program also has a perpetual forward motion, as most students who are mentored by their peers immediately ask at the class’s conclusion if they too can be future mentors.
Peer Mentoring 2.0 can also be seen as an activity that benefits society, as students engaging in leadership roles may decide to hold decision-making positions in the future.
Overall, the simplicity of Peer Mentoring 2.0, bolstered by technology, can be an impactful arrow in the quiver toward the prevention of peer conflict and school violence.