#IBelong makes the barriers between peers a lot easier to break – how prospective teacher experienced #IBelong

Ben Broadhurst is a student at Edge Hill University, at the Faculty of Education. Ben is about to start his second year in a Primary Education with QTS (Qualified Teacher Status), with specialism in both English and History. Upon completion, Ben will build a career in primary teaching, inspiring and nurturing curious minds of children aged 5-11.

Ben Broadhurst, EHU Student

He started his studies in 2019/20, the same year #IBelong interventions were included in the program at Edge Hill. We met over Zoom in late August 2020 – we were curious to hear how Dialogue Days and mentoring programme influenced his first year as a student.

Ben is first in his family to study at a University. He has two older brothers who after finishing high school went directly to work. His mom left school when she was 16, to join British Airways as an air hostess, and his dad joined the Royal Navy. Even though they had no personal experience of being students, they were very supportive, and that encouragement meant a lot to Ben.

“My parents were amazing in all the support they gave me. They took me to Open Days and they drove me to all the enrolment interviews. They didn’t know much about the actual process of applying to the University, so I did all the paperwork, but they would always inquire how did it go, what was it like… I couldn’t ask more help from them as they were new to the process but they were really amazing. “

Before he started his first year, he had common fears that many students face when they are about to change the environment.

“I feared I would lose contacts with friends that I have back at home. Even though I am not too far away from home, many of my friends moved away. We are a small group of 4 friends, one has moved to Ireland to study, one stayed in Liverpool for studies, another is moving to Paris as an au-pair, so it was a big thing for us – what is going to happen, how are we going to keep in touch. But we all managed to keep in touch”.

Then when academic year at Edge Hill began, I was wondering if people will like my ideas, will peers like me, what will they think of me. But after only a few days at EHU this eradicated.”

And it is #IBelong Dialogue Days that had important role in making Ben feeling accepted and valued.

“First session of Dialogue Days was a week before lectures formally started. It was 3 hour interactive session with 3 lecturers/student mentors from #IBelong programme, but you really didn’t feel these 3 hours. We discussed our expectations and fears, our decisions to enroll to the programme, and we could go in more detail with giving an answer. It was useful, because you don’t feel like you are on your own.

Ben (on the left) with his EHU Classmates

You may think, Oh am I the only one who feels like this, but  in fact half the room feels like you do. At the primary education course it’s 300 of us, and it is really hard to speak with everyone, and Dialogue Days broke down these barriers, and made it all easier for us to communicate and talk to each other. It is such a diverse group – there are students like me, who came directly after school, or people who worked for several years in the industry, you have mature students, people who have 3 kids to look after, and we all have different reasons for joining the course, and Dialogue Days made it easier to talk about this with others.

My high school friends who went to study at different university didn’t have similar interventions, they had small group sessions. This type of IBelong programmes, helps everyone feel as one, that everyone is in the same boat, and makes the barriers between peers a lot easier to break.”

Ben is about to become Student-Academic Mentor. It’s EHU’s peer-mentoring scheme through which second and third years students apply to mentor first year students. EHU’s SAM scheme applies some of the methods developed by #IBelong Community Mentoring Programme. Peer mentoring proves to be vital for students, and Ben explained us in what way peer mentoring supports students’ success.

“Some students don’t feel comfortable around their teachers, to ask for clarifications, and it is different with peer-mentor students – we’ve been there, we have the experience, and first year students might feel more comfortable telling us “I’m not 100% sure what I need to do, what is my task?”.

Science seminar session, students at EHU dissecting owl pellets as part of the practical excercise

It is important to have that balance between student and a lecturer, and that is where SAM comes in. SAMs meet with students every 2 or 3 weeks – we would sit in a group, and discuss if they any problems, see how they are getting on, if they feel as though they have settled in. That is in the beginning, to make sure they feel they are settled. Then throughout the first year, we meet for referencing sessions, how to write academically, sessions on how to deliver academic journals; and before going for on professional practice we have session on how to dress, how to start your teacher standards portfolio and some tips and guidance. These are little sessions throughout the year to help students along. Studying without mentoring support wouldn’t be as easy, especially in the first year: SAMs do have a big role and play a big part in our studies. There are many things that SAMs can do that lecturers might not be able to do – helping perfecting students’ tasks and deliverables. A lot of my friends at other Universities are left on their own devices, without that type of support.

Through its Team Teacher Reflection sessions #IBelong puts great emphasis on the role of the teachers in creating welcoming and inviting atmosphere for students. Ben agrees that teachers’ attitudes can enhance students’ sense of belonging.

“At EHU Open Days everyone was warm and kind, and they always answer your questions quickly. With Open Days you never know if they will really be like that or it is just for appearances, but I could not ask for nicer lecturers.

At Primary Education Course we are all teachers, and we all work with kids, so everyone is very friendly, you walk in the corridors and everyone is like “Hi Ben, nice to see you, how are you, where are you up to?”. Atmosphere is warm, and cosy and nothing is a trouble. We spend a lot of time in the building of Faculty of Education as we have lectures almost every day. Naturally, after that much time you start feeling at as being at home: everyone is warm-hearted, and it makes you feel welcomed.”

Ben on his first day of professional practice placement

Ben already had his first professional practice placements. His’s future plans have been shaped by the feeling of belonging he felt when he joined EHU.

“I am not very academic at all, so I worried when I enrolled, because I was never good at exams. But lecturers tell me “You can do it, believe in yourself” – and indeed, I did pretty well in the first year.

I never dreamed I would get the results I received with my exams in the first year. That all built my confidence and hopes. I never had thoughts five years ago that maybe I would enrol masters degree, before I would think – Oh, degree, no chance, I’m not good for that, but now, I think I am ready for that step.”

This comes as a confirmation that #IBelong interventions are necessary. Students thrive when their learning environment is supportive and encouraging.

We wish Ben success in his journey towards becoming a teacher!

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