Guest Post to Dan Simon’s Transformative Mediation by Sheri Tardio
Last weekend I and about 20 other mediators from Calvert and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland took an advanced training in mediating parenting plans from a transformative perspective. We were extremely fortunate to have Jeff Shepardson from the Community Dispute Resolution Center (CDRC) in New York travel down south to provide the training. The Community Mediation Center of Calvert (CMCC) and the St. Mary’s Community Mediation Center (SMCMC) are the only two centers in Maryland that exclusively utilize the transformative approach. Initially, we had considered doing the training ourselves but ultimately decided that our mediators would appreciate a new voice and a fresh perspective. We suspected that we were becoming a bit “inbred” in our training and practices and could benefit from opening our Southern Maryland boundaries to someone new.
While our intent was to provide new mediators training in parenting plan mediation, we received so much more. Over the course of the weekend, I found myself reexamining some of my beliefs about mediation practice, rethinking my responses to previous mediation challenges, and recommitting to the transformative model. I had gone into the training thinking that I would be assisting Jeff in training others; I came out of it having learned so much myself! Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that there is always more to learn and that there is no such thing as being “finished” with mediation training.
While our training contained plenty of new content, such as custody law, family systems theory, domestic violence screening, and the role of the court in divorce, these matters were really just icing on the cake. The core practices of mediation in parenting plans are the same as they are in any other mediation – listening, monitoring intent, and supportive interventions. This is what we do as mediators, no matter what the presenting issue or conflict may be. Likewise, no matter how experienced we become as mediators, we always benefit from the opportunity to review, reinforce, discuss, and practice the transformative model.
I was reminded during training that one of the things I like most about transformative mediation is that practice ties so intimately with theory. Instead of learning a handful of “techniques” to throw at the parties and see what sticks, transformative mediators rely on theory to intentionally make decisions about how to intervene (or not) at any given time. Why we do is just as, if not more, important than what we do. Intentionality guides our mediation practice from start to finish. Should we find ourselves wondering, “What the heck do I do now?” during the course of a mediation, we need only remind ourselves of our intent as mediators – to promote empowerment and recognition in the participants. The rest follows from there. Every time I hear this, my understanding of the transformative model deepens and my commitment to its principles grows stronger.
Our centers are so thankful to have had the opportunity to train with Jeff and to share in his knowledge and perspective on what we all do every day. I encourage my fellow mediators to take any opportunity you may have to participate in or assist with mediator training. Even experienced mediators can learn something new or deepen our understanding. We are never done learning.
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