Younger students naturally look up to older ones - which is why older students should become mentors
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Mentorship: How to Let Older Students Teach the Younger Ones

By Brian Gatens

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear a sermon” — Anonymous

Yes, the students are always watching us, and often it seems they know us better than we know ourselves. Yet there is another group they watch even more closely — the older students.

Younger students naturally look up to older ones - which is why older students should become mentorsTo a child, adulthood is a mythical, far-away land reserved for grown-ups who are done with school. Meanwhile, students just a little bit older than them offer a strong example: a “cool” factor that seems just outside their reach.

Third-graders just naturally look up to fourth-graders, and this will hold true for all of their school years. Turning older students into mentors is a great way to capitalize on this phenomenon. Here’s how to make it happen:

Set the classroom example

All classwork and curriculum should build on one another. Helping your students to understand the big picture of their academic experience is key in keeping them engaged in school. A teaser for this kind of involvement is to show them what is coming down the academic road for them.

Collaborate with a colleague to host older students in your classroom. One high-quality activity is to have a “teaching day” where older students study a subject that’s common to both classes but is presented differently due to student age. Host the older students in your class as they work either one-to-one or in small groups with your students. Being taught by the older students, whose coolness and appeal will always be far greater than yours, will be interesting and exciting for your students.

Let older students model the right way to behave

Students mirror the behavior they’re surrounded by (by the way, this applies to everyone, but let’s just focus on our classes). Use the older students in your school as exemplars for how your students should treat one another, act in the hallways and behave on the playground.

Invite older students to come into your classroom to speak about the choices they make and why your students should do the same. You can incorporate this into the beginning of your school year. Not only is it good for your students, but it also gives the older students a sense of their importance to the school. If you teach the oldest students in the building, assign them to give the presentations.

Build a buddy system

Whole-class presentations are good for setting general culture and expectations, but pairing students together is one of the more effective ways to mentor younger students. Work with your colleagues to form a partnership program in which the older students assist your students individually in completing classwork, practicing the basics and preparing for tests.

Not only will this help your students in the classroom, but it will bond them more closely to their school and help address any older/younger student conflict that may come up in your school. Helping older students get to know the younger ones, and not merely see them as “little kids,” is an effective way to build a positive school culture.

Mentorship is good for the entire school

A supportive, student-centered mentorship program will have cascading benefits on the entire school by helping your classroom and connecting disparate groups of students. These connections will generate good feelings throughout school common areas — hallways, playgrounds — both before and after school.

Advocate to your building leadership and ask them to support you in establishing a mentorship program. If they can’t provide extra time or compensation, at least ask them to offer what they can. They’ll appreciate your efforts to improve the school, and the sense of connection and collegiality between students is well worth that effort.

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