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Benefits of Peer Support at school


There are many benefits of peer support at school. Students have the opportunity to lead others, develop positive skills and create a safe school environment.

What is peer support?

‘Peer support’ in school can include many things. Usually, peer support at schools provides students with the opportunity to connect with each other at school.

Jill Pearman is a Wellbeing Education Consultant at Peer Support Australia working with over 1000 schools across Australia to address mental health and wellbeing via Peer Support.

Jill believes Peer Support at school is centred around ‘student agency and student voice’.

“Our main focus is to really help kids and create this environment whereby students feel connected as though they belong, matter and have a voice.”

Most peer support programs at school involve trained students to assist other students with anti-bullying, transitioning into the school community or any other skills to navigate the school.

What does Peer Support at school look like?

Each school has its own peer support program involving students from different levels assisting with different experiences.

Peer support could look like student-to-student:

Many peer-support programs assign ‘leaders’ to provide positive peer influences and increase self-esteem and self-acceptance.

“About 80% of people will turn to a friend for life advice so it’s about skilling up young people well enough to support themselves and have the skills to actually support another person or a friend.”

Jill explains Peer Support Australia has 4 underpinning key concepts:

  1. Sense of self;

  2. Resilience;

  3. Connectedness; and

  4. Sense of possibility.

Benefits of Peer Support at School

Peer Support at school allows students to build connections through hands-on activities.

“When kids feel safe they will actually be able to take on board those skills that they need for life and for relationships in life to help their life go forward in a positive trajectory.”

Jill Pearman, Wellbeing Education Consultant at Peer Support Australia

1. Resilience and development

Peer support programs at school assist with building resilience and development for Australian students. Research reveals peer support programs have been particularly important following COVID-19 at school.

A Peer Support Australia study conducted at Deakin University’s Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development (SEED) found that peer support initiatives including peer tutoring and mentoring promote ‘positive youth development’ at schools.

peer support at school. students helping each other. peer mentoring at school.

Photo by Mary Taylor: https://www.pexels.com/photo/serious-multiracial-girls-doing-homework-with-textbooks-near-school-5896589/

According to Peer Support Australia, students build resilience by “exploring protective factors and strategies used in new and changing situations.”

“(Peer Support) is shown to be very effective in creating connection and belonging and also those social and emotional skills that actually help towards making young people resilient.

There couldn’t be a more important time than now for schools to have their eye on this because of course, after the 2 years we’ve had with lockdown, COVID-19 and also the natural disasters… It’s very timely that we provide opportunities for young people to have peer-to-peer support in a structured environment.”

2. Student involvement opportunities

One of the main benefits of peer support at school is student involvement.

Peer support allows students to have an opportunity to experience leadership and get involved at school.

Students who provide peer support gain skills including:

Anamaria Martinez, was a Peer Support leader in Year 10 and 11 of High School.

“I think it definitely gave me leadership skills for my future career.”

Anamaria volunteered for different forms of Peer Support at school including guiding a small group of Year 7 students and one-on-one mentoring.

“I think it definitely helped me in terms of leadership skills and being more outspoken and able to lead a room, speak to many people at once. Having to take care of kids and being a kid myself was a good connection and opportunity for development.”

Jill also believes, Peer Support at school allows teachers to view students in a different light, “it’s not just one way of succeeding, it’s a variety of different ways.”

3. Safe school environment

Peer support provides positive peer influences or ‘role models’  at school. For Year 7 Peer Support, new students can build peer networks.

The involvement of peer support and peer learning helps schools achieve a positive school culture.

“What happens is that peer support extends so that when students are out in the playground, they’re able to discuss, they’re able to meet with that relationship with their peer leader and also with their group leader, so it’s not just while they’re in peer support sessions, it’s actually designed to be extended right across school and actually be linking to other wellbeing initiatives happening across school as well.”

Peer support often assists with improved resilience, reduced bullying, social and emotional teaching ensure a safe and respectful school culture.

 “What you see is students developing greater abilities to solve problems, teachers are called in less to put out conflicts in the playground, you see students feeling as though they can achieve and succeed and really thrive and nourish.”

Peer support arrangements at school

Peer support for Year 7 students

The most common peer support arrangement is Year 7 peer support.

Year 7 peer support is often conducted by students in Year 9, 10 or 11. Peer support ‘leaders’ or volunteers, are chosen students who represent school values.

They are trained by teachers to demonstrate skills that support their peers to achieve a healthy school life. Year 7 peer support leaders are most common as they assist new high school students adjust to a daunting new environment.

“They would be put into pairs and work with younger students to develop. They would work in small groups of year 7 to help them transition to secondary school.”

Jill explains high school’s most commonly have Year 10 students working with Year 7 or Year 11 working with Year 8.

Peer Support in Primary School

Peer Support models also exist in Australian primary schools.

The Peer Support Australia approach includes all Year 6 students, to promote inclusivity.

“This isn’t about schools picking the ‘good kids’, we’re saying to every student ‘we believe in you, we know you have these skills, we know you can do it.’”

Year 6 students work with Kindy, Prep or Foundation Year students to explore themes like ‘optimism, resilience, relationships, friendships and also anti-bullying’.

Innovative Peer Support at Schools

Xavier College, Victoria engaged with their university partners to develop a peer support programme hiring Pre-Service Teachers as Tutors to work alongside teachers in a support that also provides mentoring. Pre-Service Teachers are pre-graduate teachers still embarking on their university studies, training to become teachers.

“This year we started a programme of in-class support in areas of Numeracy and Literacy across years P-10. Core to the programme is Pre-Service Teachers. Pre-Service Teacher Tutors prepares adjusted curriculum resources, support materials, formative assessments and provide feedback so that the classroom learning captures the broad range of student needs that is emerging because of COVID gaps.

We know that there is a current teacher shortage across the state, and while our State and Federal Government looking to ways to monetarily attract teachers into the profession our contribution and at Xavier is to find ways to create positive work and mentoring experiences for Pre-Service Teachers because we value teaching and teachers.”

Monique Dalli, Director of Learning and Growth, Xavier College

 

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