Adventures in Teaching
On Wednesday, my colleague Renee and I finished teaching our last Mediation class of the semester at George Mason Antonin Scalia Law School. It's hard to believe we have finished an entire year of teaching; we taught an Alternative Dispute Resolution class last fall as well as our Spring 2018 Mediation class.
During our first three classes, we focused on teaching our students basic negotiation skills, using the wisdom of Roger Fisher and Bill Ury's Getting to Yes. The book focuses on interest based negotiation rather than position based. The premise is to: (1) separate the people from the problem, (2) focus on common interests, not positions. (3) invent options for mutual gain, and (4) use objective criteria. We had our students participate in a negotiation where one party needed the seeds of a sunflower and the other party needed the petals -- and there are a limited number of sunflowers available. Neither party knew the need of the other party, and our students focused on trying to buy as many sunflowers as possible! Our students also participated in a negotiation involving the purchase of a used car from a work colleague and development of a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).
We sent our students to Multi-Door Dispute Resolution, which is located in D.C. Courts, to observe mediations of Small Claims cases which are disputes under $10,000. Our next few classes were a combination of exploring the various stages of the mediation process (including introduction and orientation, understanding the parties and issues, problem solving, caucusing, and agreement writing) and practicing mediator skills such as active listening, reframing, and paraphrasing. We spent a good portion of one class discussing how to manage emotions in mediation by using Bill Eddy's "So What's Your Proposal" and EAR (Empathy, Attention, Respect) methods. Our students participated in a role play involving a landlord/tenant issue and another one involving college students in a dorm who were trying to resolve conflicts over noise and items borrowed without permission.
We had three wonderful guest speakers visit our class: mediator and lawyer Rick Shapira, retired judge Honorable Paul Sheridan who is with the McCammon Group, and litigator/mediator/substitute judge Brian Hirsch. Rick focused on the importance of the attorney role in mediation, while Judge Sheridan spoke about the McCammon Group's particular style of mediation. Most mediators at McCammon are retired judges. Mediations can go for many hours until all issues are resolved in just one session, and attorneys are always involved as part of the process. Brian spoke about evaluative mediation, which he says is at the intersection of mediation and litigation. He contrasted the evaluative approach, which is typically practiced only after a judge has at least 10 years of experience on the bench, with facilitative mediation, which is the type of mediation that I practice. Our class participated in one final role play, Waltham Construction versus Foster Fuels, a lawsuit between two companies over an allegedly defective product. Last, our class concluded with an ethics discussion.
Our students kept journals that they wrote in weekly after each class. They had to turn in two separate journal reflections in class with no advance notice. Students turned in all thirteen of their journal entries yesterday, and it was fascinating to read their impressions and thoughts about what they were learning in each class and how they were applying these principles in every day life. We are looking forward to reading their final research papers which are due in one week. We have really enjoyed getting to know our students and teaching them about mediation!
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.