All students belong as part of their classroom community. Belonging is about more than just being physically present in the classroom. To truly belong, a student needs to be known by their classmates, participate in class activities, and contribute to the class culture.
All students are inherently social, even those who struggle with social communication skills or those who communicate in non-traditional.
Academic and Behavioral skills can be taught. Peer modeling can be a powerful way to teach those skills.
We are always working to foster independence and promote individual dignity for students. All students benefit from learning together with their peers. A few students may receive additional supports from a formal Peer Mentor program. The peer mentor’s role is to help the student engage in their classroom in the most typical way possible. The peer mentor does not replace the teacher, and should never be a barrier between the student and their teacher or classmates.
All human relationships are two-way. A peer mentor is often in the role of leader or helper. However, the peer mentor will also learn important things from the student(s) they work with.
Peer mentors are students. Peer mentor relationships require adult supervision. Adults in the school are responsible for the safety of all students, including peer mentors. Peer supports do not replace the role of highly trained adults -- particularly in safety, superivision or personal care. But it is often a high-leverage practice to fade adult supports through the use of peer supports.
Safety, Dignity and Confidentiality
When providing support to a student, it is important for peer mentors to think about Safety, Dignity and Confidentiality.
All students want to do well in school, make friends, and engage safely in the school community. Some students experience social-emotional, cognitive, or communication challenges that make it more difficult for them to participate safely throughout the school day.
Teachers and parents are helping the student learn the skills to be safe.
- Sometimes unsafe actions result when a student experiences high levels of frustration or anxiety about a difficult academic task.
- Sometimes students will do something unsafe if they don’t have a more effective way of communicating their needs or they don’t feel like people are listening to them.
- Sometimes unsafe actions happen when a student is facing a change in routine, they don’t know how to navigate a complex social situation, or they are afraid about an unpredictable future.
There are two key elements for teachers and peers in all of these examples:
- Safety - The first responsibility for the peer is to maintain your own safety. If you are working with a student who is exhibiting unsafe behaviors, make sure that you remove yourself from the situation and avoid words or actions that may escalate the situation. Sometimes a calming word or reassuring gesture from a peer can be helpful (like asking the student to identify their Zone of Regulation). But if a student is in a state of high escalation, make sure you maintain a safe distance, and ask an adult to help the student regulate their emotional state. You should never grab or hold a student who is being aggressive or destructive.
- Learning - Students who demonstrate unsafe behaviors are working on learning the self-regulation and communication skills to be able to engage in class safely. As a peer, you can help the student practice these skills when they are in a calm, regulated state.
Students who receive support from a peer mentor are members of the school and classroom community just like any other student. They have valuable things to contribute; the peer mentor should be open to learning from them.
Occasionally, students may say or do things that are unexpected or socially inappropriate. As a peer, think about the way your interactions with the student can promote dignity and draw attention to their positive contributions to the class. If a student has said or done something that makes other students uncomfortable, talk to a teacher about ways that you can help the student repair their relationships and restore their dignity. Avoid words or actions that might put the student in a position to be ridiculed or bullied by other classmates.
Some students require adult support to use the bathroom. Peers can encourage students toward bathroom independence, but they should never assist with toileting or changing routines.
As a peer mentor, the students you work with are trusting you to help them navigate the complex academic and social demands of the classroom. You may learn personal or private things about a student. You have a responsibility to maintain confidentiality for the student. That means, it is not ok to share stories with your friends about things that students say or do while you are working as a peer mentor.
Joy & Belonging
School should be a joyful place where all students feel a sense of true belonging. As you work with students as a peer mentor, consider ways to help students experience joy and make meaningful contributions to their classroom community.
Peer Support Handbook -- This handbook is intended to be a guide for students and teachers as they are working with students with complex learning needs.