Utilizing Peer Mentors

Updated: Jul 12

I've always wanted to incorporate mentoring into my classroom, and this year I stumbled upon how to do it. Before I share how this all came to be, I want to explain my background with peer mentoring.

If you read my very first blog post, you'll know my teaching journey wasn't traditional (meaning from college straight into the classroom). I was in a classroom for two years, then I took a detour to do drug and alcohol prevention, with grades 7-12, at a counseling agency.

There are so many ways that experience has applied to my current job (back in the classroom). A major part of my work, in my previous job, was peer mentoring. The high school students who present lessons/materials/activities/games to middle school students. I absolutely loved watching the interactions they shared.

There is something special about peer mentoring when it's the same age, but I love it even more when there's an age gap. Younger kids always look up to their older classmates; it's just a fact. So why not use the power those older students have for good?

One of my favorite lessons I taught was during my student teaching. Step 1: I taught my 8th-grade students how to set up a paper in the correct MLA format. Step 2: Those students mastered the skill. Step 3: The 8th graders went and taught the same lesson to their 7th-grade peers. This lesson was incredible to witness. I knew they mastered it because they could teach others. This same concept applies to mentors. Mastery can be shown by teaching it to someone else. So let me explain to you how I have incorporated mentoring into my English 1 class.

It all started with a senior, who I had last year, approaching me to ask if we have teacher's aides. I said, "No, but that's a fantastic idea!" Then it all happened so fast, and I got permission for her to be my aide. With the way our school is set up (different than a public school), some of our seniors only need maybe four credits for graduation. My student, let's call her Sarah, is one of the lucky ones. So Sarah can go home after our 4th-period.

After brainstorming, she decided to stay in my 5th-period class with me to mentor and be my aide. Guys, it is amazing. The freshman love having her there. They listen to her, respect her, and 100% admire her. I told them from day one, what she says is like if I were talking to them. They even ask her for permission to leave the room. Haha.

Sarah's one of those rockstar students who feel more like my friend than a student (aka the perks of working with older kids). She is so wise, helpful, mature, and kindhearted. I am beyond grateful for her presence in my class. The first day she was in my room, she said, "Yeah, I see why you need some help in here. There's a lot of immature kids in here." I mean come on...isn't she a hoot?

But Sarah is also able to look past their immaturity and be a role model for them. I heard her tell a student the other day they did a great job on a worksheet she graded. This is the stuff that makes me love my job. Witnessing students lead students in positive ways.

So here are a few tips for having a mentor in your classroom.

1. Explain the benefits of this to your administration, when seeking permission. Luckily, my administrators are fully supportive of basically whatever I do. Haha. This was a quick yes form them, followed by how amazing they thought the idea was. :) 2. Explain your expectations to the mentor. What should they do? How should they interact with peers? What should they keep confidential? I hope you can give them as much permission as possible. Sarah is like a copy of me in the room, as much as possible, and it is fantastic.

3. Reward your mentor for their hard work.

I use tickets and food to motivate all of my students. We give them tickets for buying food, drinks, and merch from our school store. Whatever the mentor likes, reward the heck out of them.

4. Explain the role of your mentor to your students. They need to know what the relationship will look like. What can they ask of their mentors? What can/can't they offer them?

5. Give the mentor a space of their own.

Sarah loves having her own desk, folder, and filing area. I just dump papers and things for her to do in her area. Throughout the day, I come up with projects that I need to be done and she always crushes it. 6. Try to select an older student for your younger students. As I said above, they always look up to their older peers. This will help motivate them and encourage them.

Those are just a few starting points for having a peer mentor/aide. I know what a mentor in each period. Haha. I cannot wait to see how these relationships blossom throughout the school year. I hope you consider implementing mentoring into your classroom environment, however it may look for you.


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