Peer help leads to success

Posted on Friday, April 22, 2016

Michel Laurier, Liliane Lukusa, Emmanuel Duplàa

By Sophie Coupal

No one knows better what studying teacher education is like than someone who’s been there.

Alumna Liliane Lukusa (BEd ’14) knows a thing or two about it. During a Teacher Education program practicum at the Glendon College campus in Toronto, she met a teacher’s assistant who had just been admitted into the Teacher Education program at the University. The woman was happy to meet a student of the program she was about to begin and jumped at the chance to ask Liliane everything about it.

“She was worried about the workload, course expectations, the fact that she was going back to school after time off,” recalls Lukusa, who was pleased to answer her colleague’s questions over an ice cream. “I saw that it reassured her. It made me think that I also would have liked someone to be there to guide me when I started.”

The conversations led Lukusa to think about setting up a peer help program. A few months later, she created Projet Alliance, an informal program that matches graduates with new teacher education students.

“The idea is really to guide the other person. It’s a professional partnership and a peer help network,” says the Belgian-born Lukusa, who arrived in Canada in 2001 after having lived in Tunisia and Switzerland. Newly graduated, she is already teaching full time in a Toronto school and is mentoring a student herself.

For Danielle Higgins, coordinator of the Toronto teacher education program, Lukusa is a wonderful example of the innovative spirit that she encourages. And, in a French-language program where more than 60% of its 100 students are newcomers to Canada, peer support and a professional network are not luxuries. They are crucial.

“By giving a bit of yourself, you can accomplish great things and contribute to the community,” says Higgins. “We encourage the students to make an effort, to do a lot with very little. The key in a minority francophone community is to learn to be self-sufficient.”

Higgins, who helped Lukusa get her project up and running, soon got the idea to combine it with another initiative started by student Jennifer Assaly-Damiany, who had created an online Google Plus community to give members of her class an easy way to share resources and stay in touch during practicums. Combining the two projects gave mentors and mentees a superb platform for exchanges and Assaly-Damiany’s classmates an unbelievable source for advice and support.

Whether it’s for sharing best practices, preparing for interviews or getting answers to questions, this online collaboration space has filled a real need. And when someone finds good French-language resources — a rare commodity at times — it’s the ideal place to share these.

Projet Alliance now features around 30 mentors responsible for around 40 mentees. And nearly all full-time students in the class of 2014-2015, as well as some teachers, use Assaly-Damiany’s Google Plus community.

“I hope to broaden this online community in the years to come to include other alumni, teachers and stakeholders. I see a bright future for it,” says Higgins, who believes that such projects allow the Toronto campus and its students to establish deeper roots in the southern Ontario francophone educational milieu.

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