Unlocking the Potential of Peer-to-Peer Learning

Recently an event occurred on Grafton’s Elm Street Campus which was so powerful and inspiring that it has to be shared…

It started out much like any other day, wake-up, breakfast, transition to school. Except today was a bit different, today was the day that we all dread….blood draw day. This said, it started off smoothly with our first student of the morning needing some support and encouragement, but being very successful giving the blood that was needed. We then had a second student who would not even enter the nurse’s office. He looked terrified and was pressing his body into a corner while hiding within his coat. His preferred staff tried to verbally encourage him, reinforcers were offered, and the procedure was modeled and explained to show how simple the process would be. However, these steps seemed to only discourage this young man even more.

Now here comes the good stuff….through the bodies of three staff appeared the first student who had just has his blood drawn. He took his buddy by the hand and showed him his band aid. He then, in his own language, communicated it would be okay. The two walked into the nurse’s office, hand in hand. Our student in need of a blood draw sat down with his eyes locked upon his trusted friend. The program support manager stood at the ready to support as the team had been informed by the new student’s mother that he had NEVER had a successful blood draw in the past. But today, an amazing and awe inspiring event occurred; his buddy had it all under control. The nurse proceeded to insert the needle with no more support than this young man’s hand being held by his friend. Not a flinch, not a scream, not a tear, just a smile that said thank you.
Peer support

And this is where my own personal “aha” moment began. As an educator I was taught to carefully assess the educational needs of students across all curricular domains. To accomplish this task I, along with all other educators, utilize a plethora of assessment tools and make it our life’s mission to carefully dissect and analyze learning struggles so that we can then design educational plans which fold in a spectrum of instructional supports, goals, and supporting individualized therapeutic services. We serve as our students’ champion across the IEP table and support parents in their quest to layer in the highest level of supports and individualized services. We lay awake at night wondering if we missed anything or if we ensured that each student was granted the services needed for success. But what if that isn’t enough?

Lately, as I ponder the discussions held and choices made for students within our school, I have begun to ask myself different questions:
1. Are we missing something for this student but we aren’t seeing it because our focus is so granular?
2. Are we so focused on individual trees (i.e. individual plans and services) that we are missing the beauty of what the forest can offer?
3. When crafting the student’s educational plan, were we so hyper-focused on frequent and robust individualized services (i.e. 1:1 Aide, Applied Behavioral Analysis, Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, etc.) that the student is now spending the majority of their day interacting only with adults?
4. If so, will the lack of peer to peer interaction lead to not feeling connected to their peers and also impede in utilizing and generalizing developmental skills?
5. How can we build bridges between providing the individualized services needed and supporting peer to peer connections?
6. Are we facilitating connections with others as part of a larger community?
These questions are not new but they can be relatively difficult to answer. However, I am now more convinced than ever that we are not and should not be solely focused on championing core educational experiences. Instead, I would proffer that we consider how each educational experience imparts skills while also providing opportunities to build bridges, bonds, and trust networks which far exceed any services and supports which we “adults” can offer.