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How is Peer-to-peer Mentoring Helping Students to Support Each Other?
By now, our undergraduate students have surely gotten comfortable with their course load, established their study schedules, and fully embraced campus life. The majority have found at least one cause or extracurricular activity to get involved in.
Quite a number of our students have become peer mentors, even if informally.
It’s by no means unusual for a more confident student to help more uncertain peers find their way around campus and adapt to university life. Even if the students experience the same level of discomfort and anxiety, it’s common for such peers to lean on one another and draw strength from each other.
Peer-to-peer mentoring isn’t so much about a confident student aiding a more uncertain one, though, and it isn’t about forming campus friendships. It involves two people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, helping each other grow and learn – about life and academic subjects in school.
You’d be right to argue that friends do that all the time. What’s so different about peer-to-peer mentoring? Let’s find out.
It’s a Semi-formal Commitment
Friends become friends based on any number of shared interests and personal qualities. Along the way, they usually build each other’s strengths or teach each other new skills. By contrast, peer-to-peer mentors agree to engage in mutual skills building and lend support throughout.
Let’s say you and your mentor-partner are both enroled in a joint honours programme, maybe mathematics and economics or maths and accounting. You might understand economic principles really well but lag when it comes to maths. Conversely, your peer-mentor might do maths for fun but economic concepts elude them.
That is a simplified overview of how such a mentoring scheme might work. It doesn’t only apply to joint honours programmes; it could be in a single subject such as biology or modern languages. One of you grasps some aspects and your peer-mentor has others down pat. Thus, you boost each other’s understanding of the whole subject.
Both parties share knowledge. That is the crucial difference between a traditional mentoring relationship and peer-to-peer mentoring.
Peer-to-peer Mentoring Builds Connections
Formal learning relationships such as those with a Superprof academic coach or a tutor also build connections but it is more of a traditional mentor-protege setup, wherein one person helps the other learn or understand something while the other person’s role is limited to receiving guidance.
In that type of arrangement, The mentor enjoys the trust and esteem their protege invests in them but there is no exchange of skills or knowledge.
By contrast, a peer-to-peer mentoring relationship may extend far beyond skill sharing. The peers, not restricted to specific roles or functions, are free to share of themselves and forge as deep a connection as they wish.
For instance, a peer-mentor pair may have initially come together over the need to understand an academic subject but, along the way, they found out that one plays the guitar and the other excels at skateboarding. They may then decide to prolong their mentoring relationship to learn those skills, as well.
Despite peer-to-peer mentoring commitments starting out as a semi-formal arrangement, many of them evolve into lifetime friendships.
Peer-to-peer Mentors and Other Relationships
The examples we’ve listed so far, a confident student helping a less certain one, an academically gifted pupil shepherding a classmate to better grades and a tutor guiding their learner to academic success are all standard, long-established and effective practices.
What sets peer-to-peer mentoring apart is that the peers themselves are mentored, usually by a member of faculty or someone knowledgeable in mentoring practices.
Some schools have extensively-developed peer-mentoring programmes that students can apply to, either to mentor or to be mentored. By contrast, peer-to-peer mentoring programmes call for students to register their willingness to give and receive support with a qualified peer. As a partner in learning rather than a giver or receiver of knowledge.
These students receive training in the proper way to mentor: the ways to present information, how to modulate their tones and ask the type of questions that will lead to productive learning. They learn how to interpret subtle body language and other clues that hint at their peer’s discomfort or confusion over study subjects and even to discern their state of mind.
As the mutual mentoring relationship continues, the peers have access to an advisor who can help them through the evolution their partnership is sure to grow through.
Unlike traditional mentoring relationships, peer-to-peer mentoring removes the authority barrier; the implied idea that that one is somehow superior – in academic knowledge, wisdom and experience, to the other. Instead, it puts both parties on the same level, equal to the other in teaching and learning.
Part academic enrichment, part relationship-building and part skill-sharing, peer-to-peer mentoring fosters growth for both.
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