Peer relationships are one of the most important things to a child in school. Humans are social creatures and we crave positive interactions with others. This year I am focusing on ways that I can help foster positive student relationships with kids helping kids.
One of the things that my school is encouraging is peer mentorship. Instead of adults stepping in and helping kids, why don’t we have kids who are trained to step in and help out? This helps build a healthy school community where kids are helping kids. It constructs peer relationships where both students feel positive about their interactions.
Buddy benches are a great concept that helps foster kids helping other kids. A buddy bench is simply a designated bench that if a student doesn’t have anyone to play with, they can sit on it. If a student sees another student sitting on the bench, it indicates that they need someone to play with. Any student that is out on the playground can step in and ask that kid on the buddy bench to play with them. What I love about this concept is that no kid is left behind. We are teaching our students to include everyone. No one is invisible out at recess. Recess can be a very scary times for kids. They might feel all alone and not know who to play with. The buddy bench helps solve that uncertainty. It also fosters creating new relationships with other kids that you might not normally interact with.
Being new to a school can be very overwhelming. Everyone already knows where everything is and how things work. It can be daunting to start that first day. To help provide a warm and inclusive environment, my school started doing new student tours. Our student leadership team created a checklist for welcoming new students and meets the new student at the office on their first day. After introductions, the leaders take the new student to their new classroom and help them sign in and meet their teacher. They then go on a school tour. During the tour, students are shown the cafeteria, gym, library, bathrooms, etc. They are also introduced to key people like the PE teacher, counselor, music teacher, librarian, and principal. Next, they go over the school wide expectations so that the new student understands how the school works. By doing the tour, new students start their first day becoming more familiar with the school and have already met at least one new friendly peer face they can reach out to in the coming days.
Another way we are supporting student interactions is having a morning welcomer. I have a kindergarten buddy each morning who stands outside my door. My 5th graders point to a sign of what kind of welcome they want; high five, handshake, hug, fist bump, or verbal hello and then the kindergartner gives them that hello. This helps start everyone’s day off in a positive manner and helps build a community of kids working with kids across grade levels.
Here is a short video of what this looks like: Morning Greeter
The next thing I would like to implement is a student problem solving team. I envision this team helping other students work through peer problems independently, instead of always having an adult help them solve it. Does anyone have any experience with this or advice for setting one up? I’d love to hear ideas.