Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Harvard Mediation Program Training Corps Brings New Depth to Student Experience

Lisa Fitzgerald
 by Lisa Fitzgerald ’16

The Harvard Mediation Program (HMP) Training Corps prepares and presents basic mediation training for new HMP members each semester. It is a team of seven enthusiastic HMP mediators that work collaboratively to make the training as effective as possible. I joined the Training Corps as a way to continue learning about mediation, to get to know more of the HMP community, and to step outside my comfort zone. The idea of facilitating discussions and presenting in front of large groups has always made me nervous, but I want to develop those skills and I couldn’t have picked a better opportunity. The HMP Training Corps is more encouraging and supportive than I could have imagined.

The Training Corps is a mix of HMP members that are students at HLS or from the local community, all with different styles, strengths, and challenges. Throughout the preparation for the training, there are many opportunities to get feedback on everything from the content of the presentations and planned activities, to presenting tips like effective use of space and body language. Staff from the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program and the “Negotiation Workshop” hold “Train the Trainers” sessions, where they share great tips about crafting engaging and creative presentations. Members of the Corps then practice what they’ve learned to hone their teaching.

One of my challenges was to appear confident and relaxed while presenting. My co-presenter noticed that I seemed more comfortable speaking conversationally and improvising while she preferred to have a prepared script. We were able to tailor our teaching module to our strengths while working to improve our weaker skills.

It was interesting to be on the inside of the training development process. So much thought goes into choosing which activities are best for teaching each mediation skill, presenting for a variety of types of learners, and preparing for challenges. Brainstorming and problem-solving are done with a lot of mutual respect and patience; I think we all used our mediation skills during the process.

Actually teaching new mediators at the Basic Training was the most rewarding part of the experience.  The trainees all approach mediation from different perspectives. They bring with them all of their life experiences and their specialized knowledge in topics ranging from psychology to business. It is remarkable to watch how their mediation skills develop over the course of the two weekends. One of my goals was to encourage the trainees to ask questions and to engage with the various skills we were teaching. The more we delve into the tough questions, the more we gain an appreciation for mediation as a skill set that continues to develop over time. Facilitation and training are very similar in that way; my experience on the Training Corps gave me the foundation and encouragement to continue to explore and grow.

I think about the basic training as a type of language immersion program. The content presented gives trainees the necessary tools to begin mediating, but a lot of the learning is happening through their participation in activities and role plays throughout the two weekends, and even subconsciously through observing the Training Corp members who use mediation techniques while presenting and facilitating.

During the training, I gained a new appreciation for the power of transparency and teamwork. I became much more effective as I allowed myself to share my thought processes and to draw on the strengths of my co-presenters.  These are skills that I know will be useful in any collaborative environment. I would encourage HLS students to consider joining the HMP Training Corps—especially if the idea makes you nervous!

Above all, HMP is a wonderful community and I really enjoyed getting more involved. Meeting the new members of HMP and helping to introduce them to something that I really love was a highlight of my 1L year. I am looking forward to more training this Fall!

Lisa Fitzgerald ’16 received her B.A. in Health Policy from Brandeis University.Before coming to law school, she worked for three years as Director of the Integrated Medical Center of Norwalk, CT, and as a certified victim advocate with the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. Currently, Lisa is a mediator and member of the Training Corps with the Harvard Mediation Program and a volunteer facilitator with Communities for Restorative Justice in Concord, MA.