February 1, 2023 |Blog

5 tips for high schools running the Peer Support Program

Peer Support Program at high school

Starting high school can be filled with both excitement and nerves for Year 7 students.

When young people transition to high school, they are faced with new people, new routines, and a new environment. They also shift from being the oldest in their school, to the youngest. Finding their way around school grounds, understanding expectations and requirements, and getting to know their peers and teachers, may be overwhelming for some students.

The Peer Support Program helps ease the stress around this transition.

Our Wellbeing Education Consultants share their advice on how to follow best practice implementation, and deliver the best possible outcomes for your school community.

Focus on building relationships

Wellbeing Education Consultant, Sophie Sedgwick, has helped hundreds of schools implement the Peer Support Program. She says that relationships are at the heart of the program.

“As teachers, you will know better than most, the benefits that come with building strong relationships between students, including across grades,” Sophie says. “The program means that Year 7 students form relationships with new peers, and with Year 10 students, who they often look to for ongoing support.”

“Knowing there is always someone to go to when experiencing a problem, helps to reduce anxiety and forge friendships,” Sophie says. “And Year 10 students develop a sense of responsibility in stepping-up and becoming leaders.”

Sophie recommends building on the skills developed during the program across other areas of school life.

“Give your students opportunities and encouragement to develop their communication skills, leadership experience, and emotional literacy. By helping them nurture these skills and their peer relationships, you’re helping them to build their resilience,” she says.

Raise awareness of the Peer Support Program in your school community

Samuel O’Leary is Peer Support Australia’s newest Wellbeing Education Consultant. Last year, he was involved in running the Peer Support Program at Redlands, a high school in North Sydney.

Samuel advises Peer Support Coordinators to raise awareness of the program amongst the whole school community, including staff, students and parents.

“The program is an opportunity to talk to your school community about wellbeing and the importance of relationships,” Samuel says. “Including parents and teachers in the conversation ensures “everyone understands what the program is and what it aims to achieve. This generates a shared language, maximising engagement and ensuring the best chance of success”

“There are resources on the Peer Support Australia portal to help you with this. Resources are free to member schools and provide everything you need to run the program and promote the program,” he says.

Foster inclusive leadership

Jill Pearman our Senior Wellbeing Consultant with many years’ experience in supporting school communities to build whole school wellbeing and, like Sophie, has supported hundreds of schools to implement the Peer Support Program.

Jill is passionate about inclusive leadership.

“If you can, train your entire Year 10 cohort to be Peer Leaders,” Jill says. “This allows all students the opportunity to learn transferable leadership skills, which can be used in other roles within the school, and into their futures.”

She recommends giving all students the opportunity to take on Peer Leader roles, rather than being selected by staff. This allows them to take ownership of the role, particularly those students who don’t usually put their hand up to lead. Some schools expand the program to include Year 8 students, creating more leadership opportunities. 

Jill says: “If you are unable to use all the Year 10s as Peer Leaders, provide opportunity for them to apply to be a Peer Leader using the application form on our portal. This process helps to build student agency and inclusive practices.”

“Be sure to include students who may have struggled at school, or who are not usually seen in leadership roles. Inclusion in the program will help them to flourish and can change a student’s trajectory,” she says.

We recently spoke to students at a high school in Western Sydney, and one student who was described as having a ‘rocky start’ told us how the opportunity to be a Peer Leader transformed his life, emotionally and academically.

You can watch the video here.

Students and teachers share their experience of the Peer Support Program at their school in Western Sydney.

Jill also recommends using the same teacher for the two days of Peer Leader training.

“This deepens relationships with the students and builds on existing and developing knowledge of the teacher and the group,” she says.

Brief and debrief your Year 7 and Year 10 students

Samuel recommends briefing and debriefing students before and after each 40-minute session. This will help set students up for success and encourage them to reflect and learn from their experience.

He says: “Provide supervising teachers with all the information they need to brief and debrief the Year 7 students before and after each session. Ensure Year 10 students are also briefed and debriefed at each session too.”

“Some schools find it difficult to bring students together before and after the session, so have one session instead, with students being debriefed after the session and then briefed for the following week’s session,” Samuel says.

Session summaries and debriefing questions are available on our members’ portal.

Samuel also suggests sharing a copy of each week’s session on your online learning platform.

“This provides Peer Leaders with the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the upcoming session,” he says. “They can then make changes if required for their group and ask questions beforehand if needed.”

Use the resources available to you

Sophie reminds schools that Peer Support Australia’s members’ portal hosts a comprehensive collection of resources for schools to run their program.

Make sure your school’s membership with the Peer Support Program is current.

“Not only does this provide your school with a 12-month license to run the program, it provides your school with access to resources to deliver your Peer Support Program effectively and efficiently,” Sophie says.

“Peer Leader Training certificates are also available on our members’ portal for students at completion of their training.  You can also order Peer Leader badges,” she says. “Both of these celebrate their achievement of completing the training and raise the profile of the Peer Leader role at your school.”

You can also access additional resources to extend your core Peer Support Program and support your students’ overall wellbeing. 

“Also know that we are just a phone call or email away,” Sophie says. “Our role is to help schools run a successful program, so get in touch if you need support.”

Our Wellbeing Education Consultants can help you navigate the resources on our members’ portal, guide you through the steps to reinstate your school’s membership and work with you to ensure the best possible outcomes of your Peer Support Program, within your school’s unique context.

Log into the members’ portal here. If you’re membership has lapsed, you can renew here.

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