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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research: Classroom Management & School Culture:
Peer Mentoring in the Middle School

Research Summary

“When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand… ain’t it nice to know, you’ve got a friend?” James Taylor

The Question:
What happens when a classmate reaches out to help another classmate become more organized and succeed on a daily basis?

An assistant principal and a seventh grade teacher in a suburban middle school set out to discover what they could about this process in the 2004-2005 school year.

Teams at the school, with encouragement from administration, developed “crisis plans” based on research by DuFour, DuFour, Eaker and Karhanek. They discuss “the emergency preparedness of public schools to respond to a variety of crises such as fire, tornado, shelter-in-place, and other emergencies in succinct procedures known to all staff and students. They identified, though, that schools need similar “crisis” plans which respond when students are not meeting the primary function of a school: learning.”

One team’s crisis plan which involves volunteer team mentors was studied by the Met Life fellows Aimee Holleb and Susan Williams for TNLI.

Measuring the effect of year long relationships among teen age middle schoolers is a difficult task. Middle school students are changing so rapidly, physically, mentally, and emotionally, that many times the friends they entered school with become mere acquaintances by the end of the year. It seems inevitable that a relationship based on need and willingness to help, blessed by the teachers involved, and academic and persistent in nature, will have some rocky moments during the year.

Teachers believed that the student mentors make a difference in the lives of their mentees. The researchers hoped to find more positive attitudes, better grades, better self esteem, greater confidence, and most of all, better organizational and managerial skills.

Focusing on four pairs of students with interviews, surveys and photographs, the researchers hoped to show vast improvement. What they found was one student who was drastically changed when he was shown a method to become a better student. The others all stated that they were happy to have a mentor, that the mentor really helped them and that the mentoring process was a success, however, their grades did not show significant improvement.

Researchers decided to keep the plan and to improve it next year to strengthen the positive impact it can have on students.

Possibly the most important outcome uncovered through this research was one which had not even been articulated as a reason to create peer mentor relationships. It came from a student who was viewed as “withdrawn” and “at risk” academically and socially by her teachers. For she, in addition to gaining a mentor in the program, revealed that she found a “best friend” when speaking about her mentor relationship.

Aimee Holleb

Susan Williams

Research Focus:
Peer Mentoring

TNLI Affiliate:
Fairfax County, VA

Lakeside Middle School

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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