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Penny Bassett

 

Peer mentoring in schools

Peer mentoring is the process by which one person assists another to grow and learn in a safe and empathic relationship.

Since 1998 I have been training young people to become peer mentors in many secondary schools. The programme incorporates the Protective Behaviours process (PBs), elements of the 'Thinking Environment' and also active listening techniques.

Mentoring schemes are intended to support new pupils making the transition from primary into secondary schools. The scheme fits in with the goals of Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE) and good citizenship and draws on a genuine desire of young people to offer something that will make a difference.

Case studies

The initial training is usually either one whole day or two half days and covers:

  • What qualities would someone look for in a mentor?
  • Developing and experiencing active listening skills
  • Getting in touch with our personal feelings - acknowledging them and thinking about how best to respond
  • PBs Theme 1 - The Right to Feel Safe, Early Warning Signs
  • Rights and Responsibilities
  • PBs Theme 2 - personal support networks for both mentors and mentees
  • Empowerment - starting from the point that you believe the other person can find their own answers to their dilemmas with your help by the use of incisive questions
  • Confidentiality - can we promise this? No. So how can we tackle this sticky issue?

The schemes have been set up slightly differently in each school. Teachers negotiate when and where mentors and mentees can meet. In addition the mentors have separate meetings to support each other.

In most schools pupils become mentors in year 10 (14-15 years old) as they are still close in age to the newly arriving year 7s - they don't seem too intimidatingly 'old' and they can more easily remember what it was like starting at secondary school. We have found that the best time to train the mentors is at the end of year 9 so they are ready at the beginning of their year 10 and can show the year 7s around the school when they first start. Often they get to meet at the end of the summer term when the new pupils spend a day at their new school and sometimes they visit the primary school to introduce themselves. In year 11 many become mentors to the new year 10 mentors and so continue the process.

The schools have chosen different ways to select mentors and run the schemes. An important factor when setting up a new scheme is to start with what feels manageable to the people involved at that time. Some schools have asked pupils wishing to become mentors to apply, stating their achievements and have then selected them on that basis for the scheme. Other schools have accepted everyone who has expressed an interest.

Accepting all who are interested has turned out to have had a fantastic side effect. Mentoring is truly a two-way process of benefit to both the mentees and the mentors. Some young people who, up until then, were at risk of being excluded from school have blossomed as a result of their involvement in the mentoring scheme - they received acknowledgement of their genuine commitment and felt validated. They honoured the responsibility to be a good role-model for the mentee and so turned up reliably for their appointments. This brought them into school when they may otherwise have 'bunked off' and once in school they have often chosen to stay and attend lessons.

One particular troubled young person really struggled during the training and at one point walked out but later had the courage to return and complete the course. The following year he became one of the organisers of the local peer mentoring conference and also contributed to the training of the subsequent year's mentors and shared his personal difficulties.

The skills and values acquired by being a mentor stay with the young people for life - plant the seed, nourish and watch it grow ... MAGIC.