Brennan students 'sorting it out'
Students from UTS Law’s Brennan Justice and Leadership programme recently went back to high school – not to study but to help run and evaluate a pilot peer mediation programme for a group of Year 7 boys.
Almost all the students at Granville Boys High school in Sydney’s western suburbs are from non-English speaking backgrounds – up to 157 different languages are spoken at the school.
In any workplace or organisation, day-to-day disputes and confrontations are not unusual. Conflict in all schools is common and more often than not, it is played out in behaviour which can have an impact on the students, staff and the community.
Granville Boys teacher and Year 7 advisor, Fiona Donnelly has been working on implementing positive behaviour responses to conflict among the students.
I am passionate about improving the well-being and social interaction within the school as well as minimising the very negative aftermath of conflicts.
Fiona is also a former UTS Law student and member of the Brennan programme and she saw a way to help the school students and involve UTS Law at the same time.
‘Sorting it out’ is a conflict management and peer mediation programme developed by UTS Law visiting research fellow, Dr Nicky McWilliam. The programme has been implemented in a number of work environments.
Having participated in a Brennan mediation programme research project with Nicky, Fiona approached her and together they organised to run a pilot of ‘Sorting it Out’ at Granville Boys.
Dr McWilliam says the programme can be tailored to almost any workplace, school or community environment.
Constructive responses to day to day disputes are learned behaviours. If members of a community can reach agreement on how to approach issues, this can improve the community environment, increase productivity and make people feel more inclined to work together.
Seven UTS Brennan students volunteered and found themselves facing groups of excitable Year 7 boys.
Montanna Tassell says it was an interesting experience.
I found the initial workshops quite challenging and it was at first hard to see the impact the programme was having in the chaos of the Year 7 classroom.
Annie He also found the students rowdy to begin with but she says this gradually changed.
The programme was really great in reinforcing and playing out the steps to finding a solution - by the end, it was good to hear students were willingly employing their new mediation techniques in the playground.
The school students scripted and produced short videos. Montanna says it was very satisfying to watch these videos.
It was incredible to see how much they had picked up. The students had taken the building blocks from the workshops and, in very nuanced ways, applied them directly to conflicts that arise in their daily lives in the school yard.
Rachael Polt-Cai says it was a learning experience for all involved.
As a volunteer, it was gratifying to be a part of a programme which has the potential to make a positive and lasting impression on these students…..I also thought it served as a good reminder to all of us of the importance of open and effective communication in resolving disputes.
Fiona Donnelly puts it succinctly:
Instead of coming to blows, students are using their communication skills to resolve disputes.
Dr McWilliam says the skills are invaluable.
At this age or any age - when hurt feelings fester and remain unresolved that’s when people display destructive behaviour and lash out. When people learn constructive ways to respond to issues that arise then not only can these issues be managed constructively for those involved, but the whole community benefits.
Granville Boys High has recognised these benefits and the programme will now be rolled out across the rest of Year 7 during the final school term.