Deep down adolescents would like three experiences: to be cared for (loved), to be valued, and to know that life has meaning and purpose. Peer mentoring can have a positive impact in these ways.
Those working in secondary schools, including teachers, are uniquely positioned to develop peer mentoring programs to enable adolescents to thrive. We will unpack the why, what and how of peer mentoring to help them to do so.
Why is peer mentoring important?
Peer mentoring is valuable because it forms a supportive and healthy relationship between the mentors and the mentees. Both will gain immediate and long-term benefits as a result.
Mentoring has been linked to social-emotional development. Students learn and develop:
- how to handle stress and both positive and negative peer pressure
- self-esteem and self-confidence
- different methods of resolving conflicts
- gain skills to become negotiators, mediators, problem solvers and people of positive influence within their families and communities
- leadership, responsibility and communication skills.
Other reasons why mentoring is important include students having:
- better school attendance
- improved attitudes towards school and better engagement in class
- decreased likelihood of initiating illegal drug and alcohol use.
It is easy to see how these can positively impact young people and set them up for success. So, let’s look at what is involved in peer mentoring.
What do peer mentors do?
In the book Nurturing the Spirit of Mentoring, author Robin Cox uses the MENTOR acronym to describe the role of the mentor.
- Motivating: Inspiring students to become the best they can be and acknowledging that most things that happen to them are under their control.
- Empowering: Letting students know they are valuable and valued. Plus, having expectations that are realistic yet high – and communicating them.
- Navigating: Being a wise guide and communicating clear boundaries.
- Teaching: Being a coach, role model and cheerleader to help the mentee develop and refine life skills.
- Open-minded: Accepting students as they are. They also will remain objective and look at things from all sides.
- Reflecting: Taking the time to teach students how to review their own situations
At the heart of peer mentoring is the concept of the mentor as the older, more experienced guide.
They can act as a “buddy” where they help younger students transition into secondary school. Alternatively, the mentor can be a facilitator in discussions about issues affecting students or a coach in sports.
There are many variations. What peer mentors do is flexible and will depend and the purpose of the mentor relationship. However, they do need to catch up regularly to build rapport and trust with the mentee and to be effective.
How do you start a peer mentoring program?
Therefore, one of the essential first steps in setting up a peer mentoring program is deciding on the role of the mentor. This will dictate the direction of the peer mentoring program, which is another crucial early step.
Successful peer mentoring programs identify what the desired outcomes will be. The goals will determine the structure of the peer mentoring program, eg, how often to meet and where, and give it a clear purpose.
When young people are helping their peers, an adult must be available to provide training, extra context, structure and support. Therefore, gaining enthusiasm and commitment from at least one staff member who will coordinate the program is essential.
Peer mentoring relationships are likely to dissolve without the appropriate level of support from a program coordinator.
The program coordinator is responsible for liaising with and briefing school management. They also establish thorough policies regarding ground rules, boundaries, confidentiality, safety and security. For example, what will be the procedure for any disclosures made?
Another component of the program coordinator’s role is to ensure mentors receive training. In Expanding the Spirit of Mentoring, Robin Cox outlines the essential elements of a training program.
The Spirit of Mentoring series offers a range of activities for the initial and ongoing training of peer mentors. All of them encourage students to be the best they can be. Each activity is designed to develop a specific skill as well, such as teamwork, communication, or resilience.
Adolescence is a time of rapid change and uncertainty. Our young people need to be supported as they navigate the secondary school years. Peer mentoring can have a profound impact during this time and beyond.
The Spirit of Mentoring series provides accessible and practical activities for teachers to establish a peer mentoring program in their schools. Programs benefit everyone involved and encourage young people to be their best selves.