Mayor Steve Martin


Conflict resolution is being integrated into the daily life of student and teachers at Gardner and West Hollywood Elementary Schools.

Phyllis Steinberg, a Conflict Resolution Consultant, has worked with the school administrators to develop a program to meed the needs of each school site. The program is funded by the City of West Hollywood and the California Healthy Cities Project. Ms. Steinberg helps to incorporate peaceful methods of resolving conflicts through varied methods, including peer mediation, teacher training, and in-class programs. The outcome: students are learning and practicing skills to resolve conflicts themselves in peaceful ways, and far fewer students are waiting in the principalís office for discipline.

Peer Mediation. At both Gardner and West Hollywood Schools you can find a peer mediation program on the yard at lunchtime. Students are selected and trained to be "third party neutrals" to assist other kids to work out their difficulties. Gardner mediators are called the "Peace Patrol" and at West Hollywood you can find the "Conflict Wizards." All the mediators proudly wear t-shirts with their logos for easy identification.

At both schools, an adult program coordinator oversees the program and provides ongoing guidance for the young mediators. Ms. Steinberg explains that while the students "can handle the actual mediation on their own, they need ongoing support and coordination from an adult."

Usually four student are on duty at every lunchtime. They see a variety of conflicts that sound like: "He said I cheated!" "I had the ball first and she grabbed it." "He called me stupid and then I called him stupid right back." "She wonít let me play with her and her friend."

The young mediators sit with the children in conflict and help them respectfully discuss the situation. Ground rules are established of how to speak and listen to keep the discussion confidential. The mediators make sure that students understand each otherís thoughts and feelings as their discussion progresses, and heads toward an agreeable resolution for both sides.

"While these typical elementary school conflicts may seem minor to adults, each situation is pretty important for the kids, " Phyllis Steinberg says. "They canít really function until these are resolved. Peer mediation gives them a way to work out their difficulties and their differences in respectful ways. Every time someone uses this process they get an education about how to resolve their dilemmas peacefully and get along with their peers. This is just as important as the three Rs."

Classroom Education. Both schools include classroom education as part of their overall conflict resolution plan. Consultant Phyllis Steinberg engages students and their teachers in four lessons on useful skills: listening, sending effective messages, negotiation, and anger management. Afterwards, the teacher keeps reinforcing the lessons.

According to Ms. Steinberg, to successfully assist our children to incorporate peaceful problem solving into their daily habits, teachers and parents must become involved. "The more comprehensive the learning opportunities, the better. We are trying to change the culture of how we deal with conflict. Traditionally there is a winner and loser, a right and wrong. Children are over-influenced by the media, and other systems in our culture that emphasize an adversarial kind of conflict resolution. We have to teach cooperative conflict resolution, or they wonít learn it. When we provide information and role models, and then reinforce these skill, our children will have the tools they need and can use often."

Conflict Resolution at Home. Peaceful conflict resolution has a place within our homes as well. Ms. Steinberg offers a few tips for families to keep in mind.

  • Cool down before trying to resolve an upsetting situation.
  • Find a good time and private place to talk together - this avoids potentially embarrassing situations.
  • Avoid interruptions when working out conflicts.
  • Listen first - parents are often too quick to give advise when our children sometimes just need a caring ear.

Ms. Steinberg offers this scenario: two sisters are having a fight in the kitchen. They both want the same orange, and itís the only one in the house. Mom comes in, finds them arguing over the orange and cuts it in two equal pieces, one half for each. Were the two girls happy?

"Not at all," answers Phyllis Steinberg. "One girl wanted to make orange juice, and her sister wanted to use the rind for a cake recipe. The point is, had mom found out what each girl needed, or what their interests were, they would have been able to work out a win-win situation. With role modeling and practice identifying the needs, the two may have peacefully resolved their differences at the beginning." Finding the peaceful way to resolve conflict may require an investment of time, however the outcome is a wonderful gift to offer the children.

Contact person:

For More Information About:

  • how to develop conflict resolution programs at elementary, middle and high schools, contact Steinberg Consulting, at (310) 441-1228.
  • the West Hollywood Elementary program, contact Eric Davidson, Program Coordinator, at (310) 248-3822.
  • the Gardner Elementary program, contact Walter DeLeon at (213) 876-4710.
  • California Healthy Cities Project, call (916) 327-7017

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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