Peer-to-peer mentoring is becoming increasingly popular for supporting students. These mentoring programs usually involve an older student (the mentor) who is ‘assigned’ to a younger one (the mentee) to support them through managing certain issues such as bullying, online safety, or improving attendance and behaviour.
Mentoring programs are known to be rewarding for everyone involved. Students learn how to form positive relationships with their peers and support them in overcoming the issues they face. For teachers, peer-to-peer mentoring means students can help one another which puts less pressure on teachers as their pupils work together in teams.
Some of the most common benefits of peer-to-peer mentoring include:
Mentors help develop leadership and management skills.
Students understand how to build working relationships with their peers.
Children build self-confidence and self-esteem.
Schools will instill a level of accountability in their students, as mentors help mentees reach desired outcomes.
Kids understand the importance of teamwork and sharing ideas.
Children learn to solve problems together, which teaches them about empathy, diversity and how to advocate for others.
Schools can move towards an interactive and shared approach which supports student well-being.
Mentoring also helps with early intervention, as problems can be identified and solved before they escalate.
Teachers and leaders have a greater understanding of any issues as concerns are raised by mentors immediately.
So, how do you implement a peer-to-peer mentoring program at your school?
The first step is to think about the issues your school faces that need to be addressed. The Mentoring Befriending Foundation suggests that most schools focus on tackling bullying, attendance or behavioural issues; with bullying being the most common motivation behind mentoring programs. You could consider conducting a student survey to find out which issues they require the most support for. Not only will this help you decide which area to focus on, but it will also keep students at the forefront of your program and make sure they’re involved. Plus, if students have selected the areas themselves, they are much more likely to stay engaged and motivated during the program.
Make sure you nominate a staff member to be in charge of the program — they should be responsible for coordinating it, for example, overseeing the pairings of mentors and mentees, and for organizing the training needed for mentors. They should also be responsible for reviewing its effectiveness, by determining the outcomes of the program and assessing progress towards these. When it comes to selecting your mentors, the program in charge should ensure mentors receive the right training and are supported throughout their role.
The first step is to think about the issues your school faces that need to be addressed.
Now it’s time to select your mentors! You can ask staff to nominate students who they think will make good mentors, or make the process more formal by asking students to apply for the role and go through an interview process. Look for qualities tailored to the issues you want to address — for example, if you are focusing on improving attendance, pick mentors who have a solid attendance record. Make sure you also look for mentors who have good communication skills, are able to make friends easily and who are empathetic.
To motivate mentors to put themselves forward, why not run some sessions for students explaining the roles of mentors and the benefits of being one? Encourage them to come to their teachers for one-to-one discussions about the program and find out what it involves. You can make use of your displays around school by putting up posters to raise awareness too. Be sure to explain that being a mentor will look great on their applications for internships and university and the school will also provide a letter of recommendation.
Think about how you will reward your mentors — badges, certificates or trophies are a good idea, but you can choose anything you like! You can also ask students for their input on what the reward could be. Making sure mentors know that they are recognized for their work throughout the school is a great way of creating a positive school environment.
Think about how you will reward your mentors.
If you do decide to carry out interviews, make sure you have a fair application and selection process so everyone can participate including children of determination. For example, don’t only make application forms available to certain pupils, like those that are more able academically — everyone should be given the chance to apply, even if they aren’t selected.
Now your mentors are picked and the next step is to make sure they are trained. Having well-trained mentors ensures they are prepared for the role and are able to guide mentees correctly. Consider running training days (perhaps led by your program lead) designed to get your mentors ready for their roles. The Mentoring Resource Center suggests using individual activities, exercises and discussion opportunities, to ease students into the role. For example, try role-play activities and give the kids example scenarios they will encounter as a mentor, asking them to practice their response. Think about a scenario of their mentee being bullied — how would the mentor respond? What actions should they take? Who should they tell?
Put students in small groups and get them to discuss how they would help someone through a situation, or what they understand about a certain issue, for example, staying safe online.
If you are focusing on a specific issue make sure you also include training tailored to that topic. While tackling online safety, mentors can be taught tips and strategies on how to stay safe online and the rules of different sites/apps such as Facebook and Instagram. You should make sure that the training includes guidance on how to raise concerns — this will help you with early escalation, so pupils know how to recognise a concern and who to report it to.
Trial and error is key.
Next, you should review the mentees and mentors and make adequate pairings. Consider running some trial activities, such as homework help or problem-solving activities, so you can see who works well together. Trial and error is key here, so keep going until you get the couplings right — this is so important for making your program and the support effective and successful.
Review, review review! Your program lead should meet with both sets of students regularly to see how they’re getting along. Make sure you establish your goals and know how to assess when students have successfully met these — for example, attendance. What are your targets for attendance? How will you measure a positive improvement for attendance via the mentoring program? Define your aims, make sure your pupils understand them, and review at regular stages.
And finally, leave your students to it! The key to this whole-school approach is to let children support one another. Put trust in your students to guide one another, knowing that they will raise any concerns when they need to.
Eleanor is a writer based in the UK who has a firm understanding of the education sector, with a focus on helping others to support the well-being and educational development of students. Follow Eleanor on Twitter.