Empower One, Empower ALL: Creating a Peer to Peer Culture One Classroom at a Time

This article originally appeared in START Connecting in March 2021. 

For the past twenty years, START has supported the development of Peer to Peer programs around the state. We have observed the magic that results when peers are together building authentic friendships in classrooms and schools, and we have seen firsthand the benefits of these programs for both students with ASD and their peers when programs are implemented with fidelity.

But what if you are a general education teacher and you want to build a peer to peer culture in your own classroom, even though you aren’t able to develop an entire program in the school on your own? Or, what if your building has a Peer to Peer program, but you want to foster a community of support with the students you see every day? Lisa Carruthers, a third-grade general education teacher at Leonard Elementary School in Troy has done just that and she has some amazing strategies to share with you. In a guide, she describes how you can Empower One, Empower ALL by creating a peer to peer culture -- one classroom at a time.

Carruthers’ resources are designed to make the process, in her words, “simple, doable and real.” She provides a checklist of steps, and offers sidebars she refers to as “Real Talk” where she speaks directly to educators with key information, inspirational tips, and hints about implementation. She includes photographs visually demonstrating the culture shift that occurs across the school year as students learn about one another and themselves. As Carruthers describes, a classroom built upon a peer to peer culture integrates aspects of multiple initiatives that are currently occurring in schools. With ties to social-emotional learning, growth mindset, PBIS, and character development, it becomes clear that the STARTism, “Peer to Peer is not just another thing, it is the thing” is true.

The Empower One, Empower ALL resources include many strategies to develop a peer to peer classroom culture. Here are a few ideas to help you empower your students and ignite your culture change. When you are ready for the deep dive, additional resource activities to grow your peer to peer culture are also available.

  • Design a 5-minute daily check-in between peer pairs.
  • Host a weekly, whole class debrief where students participate in a case conference-like discussion around celebrations, struggles, and solutions.
  • Use texts and reading to build the culture you desire to have.
  • Develop a strategy to celebrate student successes, such as a "Yay Me Board."
  • Have students participate in a weekly intention and reflection where they identify something they want to improve and then reflect on the changes they made.
  • Help students build a portfolio demonstrating their participation and growth in the peer to peer culture in the classroom.

Whether you are in a building with a formal Peer to Peer program or are interested in fostering a peer to peer culture in your own classroom, we encourage you to explore the Empower One, Empower ALL resources. We promise you will be inspired and find a place to begin tomorrow.


Written by: Jamie Owen-DeSchryver, Ph.D. - Project Faculty and Lindsey Harr-Smith, M.A., CCC-SLP, Project Consultant

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Page last modified August 17, 2023