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Peer support as a means of improving wellbeing in education

Teacher peer support can be efficiently implemented to empower, inspire, establish professional growth, integrate new employees and enhance employer loyalty. Ene Andra and Crister Nyberg suggest formal mentoring programs to assist beginning teachers.

Published : 16.11.2021

Peer support is an essential element of wellbeing in a school community. It works among students, teachers, administration and all other school personnel. Taking peer support seriously and enhancing it systematically is an effective way to support the whole network of relations in educational institutes. Here we consider the school community in a holistic manner where peer support of teachers benefits all the members of the community.

The importance of peer support

The systematic use of the idea of peer support traces itself to the establishment of organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. The underlining idea was the principle, that people who have experienced and overcome obstacles are more effective in assisting others in offering support, encouragement and hope. Peer support resists the boundaries between an expert and patient. It is not based on diagnostic criteria. It is about empathy stemming from a shared experience of emotional and psychological pain. In short, peer support can be described as a system of giving and receiving help founded on key principles of respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful. (Mead S,. & al. 2001)

Taking these key principles as natural elements of a well-functioning school community, we may consider peer support also as preventive activity.

What are the elements of peer support that enhance wellbeing in the context of learning related activities in schools? This question concerns the whole school community, which becomes obvious when we look at the 12 core principles of peer support:

Mutuality, solidarity, synergy, sharing with safety and trust,
companionship, hopefulness, a focus on strengths and potential,
equality and empowerment, being able to be yourself, independence,
reduction of stigma and respect and inclusiveness
(Peer Support Report, 2014).

We consider these elements especially important in community integration.

Peer support as an integration tool

In a fast-paced environment that modern education has become nowadays, the feeling of isolation and exclusion is more prominent among teachers at the beginning of their career. The first years of teaching might become overwhelming and most of the time, integration within the community might be challenging. This aspect might have a negative impact not only on the new teachers’ well-being, but also on further career and professional development.

There is a strong connection between exclusion, the feeling of belonging to a group or community, professional development, employer loyalty and an institution´s lack of retaining its new academic staff. A study from Mary Lou Fulton College of Education Arizona State University (2003) stated that nearly 540,000 teachers moved to other schools or left the teaching profession in year 2000—many of them due to feelings of isolation. Almost half of the new teachers in the United Sates of America leave the profession within the first five years of service (Ingersoll, 2002). The annual turnover rate for teachers is close to four percent higher than the average of all other professions in USA (Carroll & Fulton, 2004).

The isolation and exclusion have its roots in lack of peer support, role and position ambiguity, and unfamiliarity with the institution´s values and strategies. Job satisfaction and wellbeing are oppositely symmetrical with isolation and exclusion: once job satisfaction and wellbeing rises, isolation and exclusion diminish. Same pattern follows once the feeling of isolation and exclusion rises, job satisfaction and motivation decrease gradually, creating a negative impact on well-being.

How can peer support make a difference?

In a professional environment peer support can be efficiently implemented to empower, inspire, integrate the new employees, establish professional growth and enhance employer loyalty. By implementing such a model, new employees are less prone to isolation and to experience uncertainties regarding their further development. All these factors enhance higher employer loyalty, increased self-esteem, and successful career development.

These findings suggest formal mentoring programs to assist beginning teachers to move from the Initial orientation stage to a professional stage. The overall purpose of such a mentoring program is to improve teaching and learning. In addition, it affects the whole community by enhancing the 12 core principles of peer support.

References:

  • Carroll, T., & Fulton, K. 2004. The true cost of teacher turnover, 16-17.
  • Ingersoll, R. 2002. The teacher shortage: A case of wrong diagnosis and wrong prescription. NASSP Bulletin, 86(631), 16-31.
  • Mead S, Hilton D, Curtis L. 2001. Peer support: a theoretical perspective. Psychiatr Rehabil J. 2001 Fall;25(2):134-41.
  • Peer Support Report. 2014. Student Minds.