Peer Supporters Trained to Add Another Layer of Support
Kathryn Als, School Counsellor
The workshop provides a way to set students up with the tools they need to help navigate conversations.
On Friday, November 18, eleven Senior School students took part in our first, full-day Peer Supporter Workshop that was developed by the Pemberton Woods School Counsellors (Colin Montgomery and I) and Nurse Susan Duffell-Warthe. The workshop provided a way to set students up with the tools they need to help navigate conversations they are having with their peers in which a peer might be going through a difficult time.
The workshop consisted of five modules, each building on the next and giving the students the skills to be empathetic, active listeners. Typically, students who are struggling will talk to their friends before talking to an adult and this workshop was a way to provide the skills for those conversations that are already happening. Within these conversations, students are sometimes faced with difficult information but may not always know how to respond or best offer support. We gave these peer supporters training on how to listen and respond while keeping themselves safe and recognising when they need to get additional adult support for their peers.
We also talked about compassion fatigue and taking care of yourself first. We stressed the importance of being a positive member of the community so that others could feel safe coming to you—being a person who presents themself in a way that makes you trustworthy and approachable is vital in this role.
Confidentiality was also a big theme in the workshop as we instilled in the students the importance of not telling others what is being confided in them. “Up not out” was our saying, as we wanted them to know that any concerns for a peer's safety or wellbeing should go “up” to an adult and not “out” to another student. For additional support, each peer supporter has also been assigned to a health team member for regular bi-weekly check-ins and mentorship
The 11 students enjoyed the opportunity to utilize their new skills (and demonstrate their acting skills!) through a number of role-playing activities. They used active listening skills such as non-verbal cues, open body language and eye contact as well as appropriate responses such as validating and affirmations. These tools are important because peer supporters are not meant to be counsellors doing therapeutic work but rather peers who support their friends by following the peer supporter model of “Listen, Respond and Refer.”
This full-day workshop provided them with the core concepts needed to be peer supporters and additional mini sessions throughout the year can continue to add onto their knowledge and skills by teaching the students more about topics like mental health first aid, supporting a friend through grief, supporting someone with test anxiety etc.
Our hope is that training students to be peer supporters adds another layer of support for students in a way that may feel less intimidating than immediately talking to an adult, but also have listeners who know how to be empathetic and compassionate and keep them safe.
We wish to acknowledge and respect the Lekwungen-Speaking Peoples on whose traditional territory we stand, and the Songhees, Esquimalt and Wsáneć Peoples whose historical relationships with the land, where we live, work, play and learn, continue to this day.