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Hi, I’m Renee. I’m a year 12 student.
Module 8 Renee 4

M8 Fostering peer relationships

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Supporting peer interaction and friendships

Why this module?

Research in New Zealand and overseas has found that support from a teacher aide can get in the way of students developing friendships and learning from and with their peers. This module is about how teachers and teacher aides can support students who have additional needs in ways that foster their connections to peers and their sense of belonging at school.


Caring and supportive relationships are critical to students’ learning and well-being at school (Alton-Lee, 2003; MacArthur, 2009). When we feel connected, we have a sense of belonging within our community. Teachers and teacher aides have an important role in supporting positive relationships and students’ connections with each other.

All school staff need to recognise, respect and include the identity, language and culture of every student. This is demonstrated in their relationships with each other and with students, in the environment and in the school’s programmes. It includes modelling the desired behaviours and teaching students to take responsibility for each other. Staff use deliberate strategies to help all students develop a sense of belonging in their school. Examples include greeting a student in their first language and providing opportunities for students to learn their mihi and use it with pride.

Teachers and teacher aides who have high expectations believe that all students can participate, learn and succeed across many social situations.

Peer-to-peer learning

Students learn as they engage in shared activities and conversations, with peer-to-peer interaction an essential component. Teachers foster this by providing opportunities for all students to work in paired, team, group and whole-class activities. It is important to consider how all students get full access to, and the most out of, learning from peers. Special consideration about peer-to-peer learning is needed for students supported by a teacher aide.

Making space for peer-to-peer learning

Viewing teacher aides primarily as a resource to provide one-to-one support for a student can have unintended negative consequences. It can foster the student’s dependence on adults and restrict their opportunities to work with their peers (Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Rutherford, 2008).

Teacher aide support for individual students needs to be sensitive to the situation. This means that a teacher aide will sometimes step in to support a student and sometimes simply observe. Observation provides space for spontaneous interactions with peers and teachers and opportunities for the student to persevere with tasks as independently as possible or to interact and learn with others. For example, if a student asks a teacher aide if the student can join in a game, the teacher aide should tell them to ask the student themselves.

Fostering friendship

Teacher aides can help foster friendships between students by looking for ways to identify common interests and activities and to consider whether students need support to join in. However, if a teacher aide is constantly in close proximity to a student, other students may not approach this student. As a result they (and the teacher) may pay less attention to the student. The student being supported by the teacher aide may feel that they ‘stick out’ or are different to the others and may become dependent on this adult support, seeing the teacher aide as belonging to them.

Working together

Teacher aides are used optimally when they work in partnership with teachers in inclusive classrooms where teachers assume responsibility and have high expectations for all learners (Rutherford, 2012). Teachers and teacher aides need to plan how they will work together to ensure all students have opportunities to develop relationships and connect with their peers, as well as learn from them.

References and additional information

Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Causton-Theoharis, J. N., & Malmgren, K. W. (2005). Increasing peer interactions for students with severe disabilities via paraprofessional training. Exceptional Children, 71(4), 431–444.

Giangreco, M. F., & Broer, S. M. (2005). Questionable utilization of paraprofessionals in inclusive schools: Are we addressing symptoms or causes? Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 20(1), 10–26.

MacArthur, J. (2009). Learning better together: Working towards inclusive education in New Zealand Schools. IHC New Zealand Inc: Wellington.

Rutherford, G. (2008). Different ways of knowing? Understanding disabled students’ and teacher aides’ school experiences within a context of relational social justice (PhD). University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Rutherford, G. (2012). In, out or somewhere in between? Disabled students' and teacher aides' experiences of school. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(8), 757–774. doi: 10.1080/13603116.2010.509818