5 Things I Have Learned and Relearned from Peer Educators

“True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.”— Sheri L Dew

I have had the sincere pleasure of working side-by-side with many different Peer Educators throughout my time at Student Learning and Transitions this year. With summer well under way, our summer Peer Educators are hired and already making significant strides in their projects and contributions to both our team and university. It is nothing short of inspiring working with these folks and I often reflect on a few key lessons I’ve learned and relearned from our Peer Educators:

#1 – Go big or go home
Okay, so you don’t have to go home but if there is anything I’ve learned from our Peer Educators, it’s this: you do not, by any means, need to ease into your first day. I’ve seen our summer students start their first day and first week by bringing their A-game to the table, contributing to important conversations, and taking leads on intensive summer projects. It inspires me to do better.

#2 – Own your strengths
I’m not sure if it’s the Peer Educators I have worked with in particular but I have noticed a common trend: these students are not only aware of their strengths but they are able to advocate for how their strengths can make an impact to colleagues, supervisors, and teams. In my professional life, I tend to shy away and be unsure of my own strengths. Witnessing the effect that owning your strengths can have – especially in a professional environment – has helped me redefine what my strengths are and how I can advocate for myself in the various professional circles that I am a part of.

#3 – Laugh it off when you can
In recognizing that there is indeed a time and a place, I like to think I have a pretty good sense of humour. If I can respond with laughter instead of stress or frustration, I try my best to do so. However, it will take me a while in new situations or in situations where I am feeling unsure to really let my humour come through. That being said, I have personally seen the way in which our Peer Educators use their own sense of humour in their everyday work and the way in which it contributes significantly to team building and morale. As cliché as it may sound, I have seen laughter and humour lead to our team being more effective and simultaneously more cohesive.

#4 – Stay true to your values
At times, it can be difficult to speak up and stay true to your values, especially if someone disagrees with your particular stance. Personally, I have been working on my tendency to agree with people, merely to keep the peace (inspired by a fortune cookie – no joke) especially when my values are in question. Working with students who model this behaviour well has helped me relearn that even when two people disagree, they can still respect one another for the values that they hold.

#5 – Experience is relative
Similar to my experience from Lesson #2, when reflecting on my own abilities I tend to limit myself by undermining the experience that I do have. Yes, there are circumstances where more experience is necessary to accomplish certain tasks or a prerequisite to taking on leadership roles; however, I would argue that those circumstances are fewer than we assume them to be. Furthermore, our society tends to place more value on experience than we do passion, drive and ability to learn. I have seen Peer Educators with varying degrees of experience in the roles that they take on be more successful in the initiatives they lead than one might assume they could be, based on their experience alone. I believe strongly that these successes result from the passion they exude, the drive that they focus into their work, and the willingness to learn that they demonstrate each day.