One particular morning, before I had my coffee, one of our staff members brought into my office two upset freshmen. One argued that she did not want to be in the counselor’s office while the other one was

very quiet and teary-eyed. On the couch by my door, there was an impatient parent waiting to see me (sans appointment) and several students who wanted work permits, transcripts, and to talk before the bell. Okay, I thought, I can do this!  Through all the commotion and lack of caffeine in my depleted veins, I decided to take the girls to our career center.  One of the girls protested saying that she was going to class; however, I promised her that I would come to check on them and then she could go. Now, I had to come up with a plan that included cloning myself.   

Do you ever have mornings, days, or years like this?  There may be calm counseling offices in somewhere in the world, but not mine. From the time I walk in the door, it is hit the floor, zero to sixty, and nonstop action until I can leave in the afternoon.  Some days I eat lunch at my desk or forget to eat lunch (I am trying to change this habit) because we are so busy with the day to day problems and general school business. Realizing this pattern was not going to stop, I decided I had to put a plan into action (unfortunately, the cloning was not going to happen). Then it came to me…the “Breakfast Club”. You know that 80’s movie where five kids of diverse backgrounds come together and talk about the reason they were there on a Saturday.  Without an adult present, they were able to talk about their issues and even look at life from a different perspective. Taking the same concept, I think I could train my students to talk to their peers!!  AND this could be a great program to help our students and even our department (insert evil laugh)!! 

Ally Sheedy before Peer Listening

Ally Sheedy after Peer Listening

So the idea was born (thanks to Molly, Michael, Emilio, Ally, and Judd) and I decided to train my peer helpers in peer listening skills. Many researchers agree that peers often seek help from other peers and there is a great deal of research to support that peer support benefits students. For instance, many youth-led programs in suicide prevention, drug education, conflict resolution, and mentoring have been found to be highly effective. Geldard states, from her research, that there are great differences in communication among adolescent peers and between an adolescent and adult.  In her thesis on peer pro-social behaviors, she identified peer listening as one of the most useful ways to help students. She identified the three stage problem solving by Egan as an effective model for peer listening.  

Egan’s Three Stage Model

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 3

Establishing trust through story-telling.
Offering confrontation to challenge perceptions.
Problem solving and action.
Use attending skills and active listening:
Open questioning
Identifying basic human needs
Offering new perspectives
Commitment to a tentative plan
Problem solving
Decision making
Goal setting

How To Establish a Peer Listening Program in Your School

1. Get permission from your administration

First, don’t go rogue.  Get permission from your principal and show him/her its benefits. Many peer programs have been studied and found to be helpful in making an impact on school culture, academics, attendance, and the drop-out rate.
See Education Week Article on the Benefits of Peer Led Programs
ASCA Position on Peer Helping
Broward Prevention-Peer Counseling
Patrick Henry Middle School Peer Counseling Program

2. Training

Next, get training in peer programs. Don’t just don’t read a book, but find a reputable trainer.  I am a big believer in investing

in the appropriate training so that I don’t have to rely on someone else. 
Look for a Trainer in Your Area

3. Recruiting Students

Third, recruit your students.  Creating an application is really helpful.  Here is one I created and continue to update.
Salem High School Peer Helper Application

4. Training Students

Fourth, and very important, train your students! My students go through an intense 24 hour training and are exposed to skills like: active listening, conflict resolution skills, how to identify bullying, how to identify if someone is suicidal, how to make an appropriate referral, and the difference in an emergency, a crisis and a problem. Following their peer listening training, students must conduct and observe three peer listening before they can accept their first referral.

5. Advertise your services!

Last, advertise your program to your student body and staff. Investing in t-shirts is a great way to show off your group. Also,

put referrals in teachers’ boxes, online for students, in the counseling office, and the front office.

What Types of Referrals are Appropriate for Peer Listeners? 

Our referrals generally include issues in relationships, academics, conflict, family, and behavior. Sometimes my peer listeners are great at identifying bullying and some severe underlying issues that require a referral to a school professional.

What Types of Skills Do Peer Listeners Acquire?

Our peer listeners learn and practice the following skills:

Attending Skills
Non-Verbal Communication
Active Listening
Problem Solving
Use of silence
When to break confidentiality

 How Many Stages Are in the Peer Listening Model?

There are four stages that students must learn and practice:

Stage 1Getting to know each other and setting the guidelines. 

In this stage, the student will introduce him/herself to the peer and
discuss his/her role, the guidelines of the relationships, and limits of confidentiality.  Following this important information, the student will break the ice by asking the peer to tell about him or herself.

Stage 2-Listening to the Story

Encourage the peer to tell the reason for his or her referral. If 
the peer is reluctant, continue to build a relationship to establish trust.  If the peer opens up about his or her issue, it is time to start using peer helping skills (like restating, paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, and empathizing).

Stage 3-Brainstorming Options

Allow the peer to brainstorm options for his or her problem.  

Stage 4-Follow up

It is important to make sure to support the peer and that he or she follows the action plan. If the student is not following the plan, review the plan.

When Should a Peer Listener Refer?

One should make a referral to a school professional if…

1. If you feel uncomfortable.

2. When you believe the person is not improving.

3. Obvious negative changes in appearance or behavior.

4. The person gets so emotional that he or she cannot communicate.

5. The person talks about constant physical complaints.

6. Substance Abuse.

7. It seems the peer may be having a hallucination or hearing voices.

8. Threats to self or others.

9. Aggression and abuse.

10. The situation gets unbearable.

11. If you feel unsure, please refer!

What are the Ethics a Peer Listener Should Follow?

Here are our ethical code from my school.  I have both parents and students sign and I conduct an orientation.

·We honor confidentiality-whatever we say stays in this room EXCEPT if you or someone is going to harm yourself/themselves, someone else, or someone is harming you/them.
·We do not gossip or share information about each other, our helpees, or staff.
·We do not use put downs or offensive words, including shut up.
·We value and respect other people’s opinions and beliefs, even if we do not agree.
·We do not intentionally inflict emotional or physical distress on others.
·We confront and resolve our own issues and problems by using our conflict resolution skills.
·We do not interrupt others while they are talking or presenting.
·We follow all the rules of the school. 

Need some help getting started?
If you are thinking about incorporating a Peer Listener program, check out this link for my draft to my Peer Listener  Booklet (it is a work still in progress). Feel free to browse it and contact me if you need more information!!  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.