May 16, 2023 |Blog

Peer Support in primary school: 6 tips for running your program

Group of primary school students from across grades in their Peer Support group.

Primary school teachers: Have you started running your Peer Support program this term?

We encourage you to run your Peer Support Program in Term 2 or Term 3. This timing enables students, particularly your kindergarten kids, to settle into the school year.  But it also means they have time to benefit from, and deepen, the cross-grade relationships formed during the program.  

Our Wellbeing Education Consultant, Sophie Sedgwick, shares her insights on how to get the most out of your program.

Take the opportunity to build student-teacher relationships beyond the classroom

The Peer Support Program provides an opportunity for teachers to get to know students outside their class.

“You’re getting to know students from across all school groups,” Sophie says. “The program gives you an opportunity to get to know more students on a deeper level.”

There’s research to show that increasing student-teacher relationships benefits the school culture. For example, a study of 2,000 students across 18 high schools found that the number of positive relationships with teachers correlated with a student’s engagement in school.

“At a time when we’re hearing many students are struggling with their sense of belonging, having additional teacher relationships is going to help them feel more connected to the school community,” Sophie says.

Build capacity within the school to nurture healthy relationships

The Peer Support Program is designed to be fully managed by your school, with our consultants available for any support as needed.

“It’s an 8-week program, but the legacy carries through beyond the program,” Sophie says. “Our approach builds capacity within the school so teachers and students can own and run the program.”

This model is supported by evidence: a literature review of school wellbeing programs found that a ‘train the trainer’ approach had the best outcomes.

“Why do we get time poor teachers to train the Peer Leaders and supervise peer-led sessions? We do it to build capacity within the school — so the staff involved in the program have a deep understanding of the Peer Support Program and why they’re doing it,” she says.  

The approach also empowers teachers to embed a Peer Support approach across the school.

“We know that teachers’ mental health and role modelling is really important,” Sophie says. “Being trained as a Peer Support Coordinator gives teachers a better understanding of the mental health space. It helps them know how to build protective factors, and they can model that to students.”

Support inclusive leadership

Teachers play an important role in supporting inclusive leadership.

“We hear time and time again how, for some students, having a leadership opportunity changes their trajectory,” Sophie says. “It gives students the opportunity to learn and practise leadership skills in a safe environment.”

Sophie urges teachers to give every student the opportunity to be a Peer Leader. 

“The Peer Support Program is not about creating perfect leaders,” she says. “It’s about giving all students that opportunity to be a leader. For some, this will come more naturally, but for others, it’s important that we encourage and support them.”

“It’s an opportunity for kids who struggle with their social and emotional skills. These are the kids that need it most, and it’s where this opportunity can be the most powerful,” Sophie says.

According to Sophie, the program can change students’ views about themselves, and how others view them too.

“And these skills are transferable — they can use them in other roles in the school and even beyond the school gate, such as in sports or even at home,” she says.  

Remember to give your Peer Leaders feedback on how they’re going, including what they’re doing well, and what could they work on for next time.

“For many it will be their first time in a leadership role,” Sophie says.

These skills will also support your Year 6 students as they transition into high school.

Create groups that foster new connections

The Peer Support Program for primary schools includes all students, from Kindergarten to Year 6.

“Every student in Year 6 is used as a Peer Leader, and sometimes some Year 5s too,” Sophie says. “We ask schools to mix the groups up across years, so you’re maximising connections across grades. This builds protective factors for mental health, by creating connections across the school community.”

Sophie recommends splitting up siblings and friendship groups.

“Try to put together a mix of kids who don’t normally hang out together. Invite all staff to have input into who goes into each group,” Sophie says.

Sophie also encourages schools to include students with disability, including providing leadership opportunities.

“Some kids may need additional support, and you could have three Peer Leaders in one group,” Sophie says.

Actively support Peer Support sessions

Our best practice implementation structure involves teachers briefing and debriefing their own class for each session.  This ensures it’s done at an age-appropriate level, before students break into their Peer Support groups. There are resources in our membership portal to help teachers with this process.

Sophie advises Year 6 teachers to set their students up for success as Peer Leaders.

“Think about the group of students your Peer Leaders are working with. Does any material need to be modified? Does the language need to be modified? Do the activities need to be modified?” Sophie says. “Do this before the sessions, so it’s a truly inclusive session.”

Classroom teachers across the school supervise two to three Peer Support groups each, which will include students from outside their class.

“Supervising teachers should let the Peer Leaders lead the session, stepping in if the Peer Leader needs support, such as managing behavioural issues,” Sophie says.

Help your Peer Leaders feel valued

The Peer Support Program gives Year 6 teachers an opportunity to deepen their relationships with their Year 6 students.

Many schools take extra steps to help their Peer Leaders take their responsibilities seriously.

“Some schools choose to train their students off-site,” Sophie says. “This can help make the Peer Leader training feel special. Other schools let their Peer Leaders wear casual clothes to training, or order pizza for lunch. These things make the kids think, wow this is something special.”

There’s also a supplementary resource, Supporting Change, that you can run with your Peer Leaders later in the year. This is available free to members on our portal.

“Supporting Change involves four sessions of 20-minutes each that Year 6 teachers can use with their students,” Sophie says. “It’s teacher led and helps Year 6 students transition to high school.”

Get in touch with your Wellbeing Education Consultant if you have any questions about the Peer Support Program.  

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