St Peter’s Primary School Bentleigh East in Victoria Celebrates Peer Support

At St Peter’s Primary School we recognise the importance of celebrating the amazing work that our Peer Support Leaders do.

At the conclusion of each Peer Support session, supervising teachers nominate outstanding Peer Support Leaders. These students are celebrated during de-briefing of that session.

We recognise the hard work of all Peer Support Leaders at the end of Peer Support every year. Supervising teachers plan a range of celebration activities that are linked to the focus of our Peer Support module. Students participate in these activities in their Peer Support groups. Our celebration activities in 2019 highlighted the importance of making connections with, and caring for, those around us. Our celebration activities this year linked learning from the “Stronger Together” module with national R U Ok? Day.

Celebration activities included board games, paired drawing activities and making stress balls.

East Bentleigh students drawing

Peer Support Australia Welcomes Our New Patron, Governor General of Australia

We are delighted to announce our new Vice Regal Patron, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd). We were invited to the Government House Open Day last week on 12 October, to celebrate the start of David Hurley’s term as Governor General. Families and children had a terrific time on the jumping castle we brought. You can see more pictures of the day on our social media.

Peer Support Australia Invited to Work with NSW Drought Affected School Communities

Peer Support Australia had the privilege of being one of the few organisations to join the 88 young delegates to the NSW Youth Drought Summit organised by the NSW Ministry of Health and UNICEF Australia.   

We heard first hand from young people their hopes and struggles described with passion, frustration and even anger as they live with the impact of severe drought in their homes and local communities. Innovative and creative solutions were canvassed. It was a fine example of student voice in action.

Peer Support Australia has been invited to work with many NSW drought affected school communities and more details will be shared shortly. We will be inviting schools from metro, regional and rural areas to join with us in this initiative and will be announcing a new peer-led approach to support our regional and rural friends across drought affected Australian communities.

Get in contact with us for more information.

Celebrating 20 years of Peer Support at Magnetic Island State School

Kacey Constantine, the Principal of Magnetic Island State School, Queensland, understands that “relationships come first” with the students and staff at her school. Situated off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island State School has a population of 160 students and its Learning and Wellbeing framework is designed with relationships at its heart.

Peer Support was introduced at the school 20 years ago by Year 6 teacher Martin Hammelswang, and the ongoing significant benefits are clear to see. Kacey describes the overall feeling of the school as one of “calm”, and indeed when walking around the school you cannot help but feel the sense of connectedness and calm that permeates the active learning environment. Over the years that Peer Support has been running, a broad range of social and emotional learning skills have been embedded into everyday activities  at the school. Making relationships central to all that the school does has meant that the Peer Support Program is used as a key part of the organising framework for Magnetic Island State School. The focus on wellbeing and building positive, enabling relationships has been a vital element of school improvement. Peer Support and Positive Behaviour for Learning operate side by side to build, as the school calls it, a Positive Culture for Learning.  The importance of wellbeing for learning is well documented by research: students learn best when they feel safe, happy, and have a positive sense of self and a sense of belonging.

LW-Magnetic-Island-State-School1

The organising framework (above) which Magnetic Island State School has developed identifies the key strategies and guidelines impacting the work of the school, and how relationships are supported by these and also permeate the community. It’s a great example of how schools can develop and express coherence across various initiatives to better focus efforts and hence create synergy.

End of Year Celebrations

Whether your students are graduating from primary or secondary school, the last days of the school year can be exciting, emotional and a cause for celebration. It’s a special time to support your students’ wellbeing, encouraging them to reflect on their learning, celebrate their achievements and the connections made across your school community.

We would love to hear how you plan to celebrate this term. Here are some ideas. 

celebration acronym

Supporting Students During Celebration & Holiday Time

Parents and educators have different concerns for young people as they move into the holiday season. There are many useful, age and context specific resources available for them to share with each other to help promote safe behaviour, whether it be celebrating or engaging in daily pedestrian activity. Students, parents and teachers may find partying advice and information such as this (click here) helpful at this time of year.

Students, teachers and parents can find lots of effective activities and advice about road safety, particularly during holiday time, by using this resource: https://www.safetytown.com.au/

Youthsafe has a number of free resources for educators to use with young people, supporting a range of issues including road safety, workplace safety and safer celebrating:
https://youthsafe.org/free-resources/education-portal/

Why Celebrate?

Celebrating involves much more than party poppers and cake! It’s also about recognising and affirming achievements. The joy and gratitude that this creates adds depth to the wonderful spirit that the year’s end can bring. Reflecting meaningfully on these experiences can have a positive impact on the efficacy of learning.

This is part of the reason why the debriefing process is so integral to the Peer Support Program. The Peer Support Program provides opportunities for students to reflect on and celebrate their participation and achievements which we see as integral to the Program’s effectiveness. In doing so, the Program has strong links to the Australian Curriculum’s General Capabilities, such as the Personal and Social Capability elements.

The Personal and Social Capability element of self-awareness involves students reflecting on and evaluating their learning and recognising personal qualities and achievements. Creating opportunities to identify and celebrate the year’s learning across a range of areas can be a powerful way to build positively on students’ self-awareness.

Likewise, school communities can benefit from the process of evaluation and celebration, in terms of both the learning and the valued, trusting relationships that this can create. The Program materials include evaluation surveys which can be used to gather feedback on the Peer Support Program, inform planning for next year, and generate affirmations. Coordinating Teachers can contact their Wellbeing Education Consultant to gain access to these.

Community Approach to Bullying Prevention in South Australia

We congratulate the South Australian Department for Education on the recent release of its bullying prevention strategy, ‘Connected. A community approach to bullying prevention within the school gates and beyond’

The Peer Support Program is a student led initiative that neatly supports the bullying prevention strategy. 

Based on research and consultation, the strategy is underpinned by the knowledge that rather than being a problem of individuals, bullying is a social and relational concern. “Bullying is more likely to occur where the relationships are weakened between a child and their family, their peers, family friends and community members. Bullying may also be more likely where a child is less involved in social groups, activities and networks.” (p.13)

Respectful relationships are enabled by positive social connections within inclusive, informed communities of active and engaged individuals.

The Peer Support Program is a whole school community approach which provides students with skills to improve problem solving, conflict resolution and resilience. Working collaboratively in a Peer Support group gives young people an experience of positive and inclusive community, where respectful behaviour is modelled by peers, and relationships are strengthened.

Our Program materials have focuses on bullying prevention, positive relationships, optimism, resilience, values and leadership.

There are Peer Support Program Implementation Workshops for teachers scheduled in North Adelaide on Thursday 14 November 2019, and at other venues in South Australia on Wednesday 6 May 2020 and Tuesday 27 October 2020. Workshops are one of the keys to involvement in the Program.

If you would like more information on how the Peer Support Program aligns with ‘Connected, A community approach to bullying prevention within the school gates and beyond’ please contact one of our Wellbeing Education Consultants on 1300 579 963.

Thank You Margaret

St Johns College

We specially thank Margaret McNamara from St Johns College in Dubbo NSW, who is retiring from teaching. Ten years ago Margaret implemented the Peer Support Program at her school, to support students in forming positive relationships as well as reducing bullying. She was instrumental in extending the Program to schools across the Diocese.

Margaret told us, “One of my greatest joys of Peer Support – seeing our senior leaders step up, accept responsibility, develop leadership skills and give a glimpse into the wonderful adults they will become. Peer Support has given a whole new layer of depth to my relationships with these students.”

Thank you Margaret for dedicating your time to supporting the wellbeing of Australian students and making a lasting impact on the lives of your school community. 

Margaret McNamara pictured above (left) with Principal Kerry Morris (right)

School Stories: How Does the Peer Support Program Contribute to Students’ Connectedness?

School connectedness is an important protective factor that contributes to students’ mental health and wellbeing. For students to feel a strong sense of belonging, they need to have positive experiences and good relationships with their peers at school. The multi-age Peer Support Program provides students with the opportunity to broaden their connections across the school community in a safe and structured format and also allows them to connect with teachers, by taking on a leadership role. Through hands-on fun activities and discussions, students explore and apply a range of social and emotional skills, leading to improved positive social engagement in and beyond school.

Member schools report that the Peer Support Program is increasing connectedness amongst their students and is helping to build a positive whole school culture. For new schools, the Program has been instrumental in laying the foundations for a positive and connected school community.

Joseph Banks Secondary College

Joseph Banks Secondary College in WA opened its doors in 2015 and has been running the Peer Support Program for three years. John Vandermark, Peer Support Coordinator, reports “The Peer Support Program continues to go from strength to strength. The Year 7s have responded very well to the program by building good relationships with Peer Leaders and appear a lot more settled and confident at school. Feedback from parents, staff and students alike is incredibly positive. Being a new school, we are focused on developing positive culture and know that this program is a huge step in the right direction.”

North Kellyville Public School

New primary schools also report that the Peer Support Program helps to develop positive relationships and connectedness amongst students. North Kellyville Public School in Sydney’s North West opened its doors in January 2019. According to Peer Support Coordinator, Jessy Smallacombe, “Students at North Kellyville Public School have welcomed Peer Support with open arms and look forward to our weekly sessions where they can connect with their new friends. Stage 3 students are understanding the importance of their leadership in creating positive relationships with their peers and leading sessions. Our Peer Support Leaders are committed to being encouraging and friendly to others.”

Busby Public School

Established schools are also reporting how the Peer Support Program is connecting their school’s community and building a range of transferable life skills in their students. Busby Public School are in their first year of implementing the Peer Support Program as part of their student wellbeing initiatives.

Nicole Brasier, Relieving Assistant Principal explains, “Busby Public School is a small school in South Western Sydney. We wanted to help bring a feeling of connectedness amongst our students so that they could develop peer relations and friendships with less teacher input. Students could then utilise the new skills they have learned in Peer Support to develop further friendships when they see each other out in the community. We celebrated our new Peer Leaders by holding a special assembly to present our leaders with a certificate of training and the badges to proudly wear when we hold our Peer Support lessons.”

Bourke Street Public School

Bourke Street Public School in Sydney is in their second year of implementing the Program. Laura McLaughlin, Assistant Principal, observes “Over this time, students have formed and maintained strong cross grade relationships, highlighted in the increased level of social problem solving evident in the playground, in conjunction with an enhanced sense of connection and widened support networks from students in Years K-6. Students are excited every Friday to attend Peer Support and this connection is fostered in following terms in which the school provides formal opportunities for Peer Support Groups to work together on community activities.

Peer Leader Training is a particular highlight for both our staff and students, as it is extremely engaging, enjoyable and beneficial in developing student leadership capacity and provides an opportunity for staff to really get to know students and witness their strengths develop within a different context. In regards to the Peer Support sessions, a supervising teacher commented that “leaders negotiated their roles and responsibilities with increasing awareness of their communication skills and interpersonal skills, and felt ownership over their responsibility in leading the group”. A group member thoroughly enjoyed “making friends with other students, learning how to be resilient and patient and discovering how to be kind and things you can do when you are sad”.”

Oxley Park Public School

This year was Oxley Park Public School’s first Peer Support Program. Tristan East, Learning & Support Teacher, observes “There was great anticipation among the staff and students about the benefits of the program and how well the atmosphere of our school community may benefit from such a fantastic opportunity. This was particularly evident in the senior student body that took a leadership position by teaching our younger students the important lessons each week.

Students were taught valuable lessons about building and maintaining positive relationships while at school. Each week students were encouraged to continue to build upon these valuable lessons with the goal of making new opportunities in the social sphere of school life and also by transferring these new skills into their wider community life. Also, students are now encouraging each other to solve social problems by themselves.”

Connecting Through the ‘Squirm’

Why Connect?

A recent article published by Melbourne University researchers outlines some important aspects of connectedness. A strong sense of connectedness has been shown to contribute to pro-social behaviour, reduced risk-taking behaviour and emotional wellbeing.

The degree to which young people feel a sense of connection to school is also one of the prime motivators for attendance, hence it has clear links to learning outcomes. Beyond mere attendance however, the researchers have found that the experience of belonging which can arise under the right circumstances contributes to students’ readiness to engage deeply in their learning and immerse themselves in ways that can lead to higher achievement.

Developing connectedness between students, teachers and families ideally comes about as a result of effective policies and practices, realised within an inclusive and supportive school culture. Whilst it could be seen as a by-product of other actions, the significance of connectedness means that it deserves attention in its own right.

Schools can ensure that connectedness is fostered by providing effective adult support, creating a healthy physical and emotional environment, cultivating the belief that learning is important and ensuring that students have a positive peer group.

Connecting Through the ‘Squirm’

“True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable and learn how to be present with people — without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.” 

– Brene Brown

Including a whole school cohort in the Peer Leaders’ training usually means that there will be some young people taking part who may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, not having previously thought of themselves as potential leaders. However feedback from schools tells us that the connections that are created as a result of both the supportive training experience, and then later the group facilitation, are both effective and often enduring.

With the focus on empathy in the Program, the Leaders’ experience of ‘knowingly walking into hard moments’ is certainly recognised. The courage needed is real, and helps shape the true belonging that comes about as part of the group experience.

Our Student Representative Council Leadership Workshop and student training materials also support connections between young people. These resources are designed to create purposeful school structures and skilled leaders that can activate student participation and make a difference. Sometimes this process can cause a bit of ‘squirm’ for teachers, as they enable students to use their voice authentically. The experience of belonging to and making a difference for a community, that such opportunities can create, is well worth the ‘hard moments’.