Mentorships and KidsShare
Here’s an overview of why mentorships are increasingly popular, including benefits, structuring guidelines, and lots of helpful information for parents, teachers, and kids.
“The term 'mentor' comes from Greek mythology: Odysseus’ son Telemachus was entrusted to the care of Mentor, a wise advisor. History and literature from classical times to the present abound with examples of mentorships in politics, business, science, the arts, and education. Aristotle benefited from his mentorship under Plato, as Mickey Mouse benefitted from his in Fantasia’s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’”
~ Excerpt from p. 160 of Being Smart about Gifted Education
WHAT, EXACTLY, IS A MENTORSHIP?
A mentorship is a supportive relationship established between a learner and someone who is more experienced in a particular domain. (For example, sciences, business, creative arts, technology, and so on.) The mentor offers guidance, knowledge, and understanding. Mentoring requires an investment of time and patience, and a willingness to support and encourage the learner. Typically, the “mentee” is deemed to be the learner, but in truth all strong mentorships are mutually rewarding experiences wherein both parties interact meaningfully and respectfully with one another, learn, and derive benefits.
WHAT KINDS OF BENEFITS?
Here’s a list of ways mentorships can strengthen a child’s or teen’s learning:
· Enriched perspectives relating to an area of interest, including useful information, skill sets, creative and critical thinking opportunities, and practical applications
· Transmission of values and attitudes
· Enhanced and authentic connections to important domains of competence, and to others within the “real world” (This includes exposure to fields of interest—leading to greater career path awareness, preparation for taking on roles, and appreciation of accomplishment in the chosen area.)
· Emotional support
· Discovery of resources beyond the classroom
· Intellectual challenge and increased competence, including perhaps the creation of a possible portfolio of acquired learning achievements
· Encouragement and guidance for self-directed learning
· Expansion of understandings of diversity and possibility (For example, non-traditional minority professionals can challenge gender and cultural stereotypes, and mentorships can be particularly beneficial for students from culturally diverse or economically disadvantaged backgrounds.)
· Respect for expertise
· Relationship-building experiences
· Positive role models, including helping kids better understand pathways to high achievement
· Potential for academic credit
Here’s a list of benefits for mentors:
· Ongoing learning
· Rejuvenation of spirit
· Sense of fulfillment
· Sense of respect and of being valued
· Fresh perspectives—seeing things anew from the point of view of mentees
· Involvement and enjoyment
· Contribution to the skills and expertise of young people interested in possibly entering the field of interest
· Vicarious satisfaction through accomplishment of the protégé
· Connections to the educational system
· Inter-generational friendship
· Community engagement
HOW TO STRUCTURE A MENTORSHIP?
In any mentorship arrangement, it’s important to clarify expectations. These should be agreed upon by both the mentor and the mentee, with parents and teachers overseeing the process, and with their approval. It’s a good idea to draw up a written agreement outlining intents and responsibilities. This includes the right of withdrawal from an arrangement if it does not seem to be working out well. Periodic review of this “contract” will help to ensure that everyone’s expectations are being met.
A mentorship can be a one-on-one program between two people, or it may take the form of more a complex arrangement with others involved. Either way, it should be part of an individual student’s overall educational plan, and it should also be valued as an integral component of it.
Heads up—any program involving kids requires careful supervision and consistent monitoring by adults. With that caveat uppermost, here are a few possible “models” for mentorships.
· Co-creation of an individualized program by the mentor and the student, always under the guidance of parents or teachers
· School visits by vetted community experts who can help to increase the depth of programming that classroom teachers are able to provide
· Job-shadowing programs, whereby students prepare for the mentorship phase in school, and then spend time in the pre-approved career setting of their mentor
· Online or virtual mentorship programs—especially good for children and teens who want to investigate a field or learn about something that is not otherwise readily accessible to them (Note: Online options demand attentive supervision.)
· Creative approaches, whereby a mix of the above might be contemplated, or an innovative mentorship format is designed for specific purposes. For example, mentorships are a frequently recommended practice in gifted education. Unique or differentiated learning experiences can provide gifted learners with targeted and enriching educational opportunities and challenges in areas of heightened advancement. (Click here for an article with additional information about fostering giftedness.)
WHERE TO FIND A MENTOR?
A conventional way to find a suitable mentor for children or teens is through proactive but careful networking. Teachers and parents can connect with one another and discuss possible mentors. Mentorship drives can also be a feasible recruitment approach. Working and retired professionals can be wonderful mentors. These might include professors, actors, doctors, musicians, chefs, architects, lawyers, athletes, public officials, horticulturists, industry leaders, first responders, artists, entrepreneurs, health care workers, and others who can help children explore and develop their interests and abilities. When selecting a mentor, keep in mind that it’s best if the individual can provide solid and reliable references, possesses really good communication skills, is comfortable working with young people, has a flexible attitude, and is willing to invest the time and effort necessary to make a mentoring relationship work.
Consider checking for mentorship opportunities within various local business associations, educational institutions, and community centers. And, there are several organizations to explore online, each of which offers information about what underlies successful mentorships—and can even match mentors with mentees. However, be thorough and cautious as you investigate possibilities!
Two online mentorship-related sites are noted here. (There are several more at the end of this article.)
ANY OTHER CONSIDERATIONS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN?
“Mentoring relationships can be formal or informal with substantial variation, but the essential components include creating caring, empathetic, consistent, and long-lasting relationships, often with some combination of role modeling, teaching, and advising.”
~ Extracted from the Youth.Gov website on Mentoring
Here are some questions that parents, teachers, and kids should think about when figuring out the nuts and bolts of a particular mentorship:
· Interest: What is the child interested in? What does s/he want to learn?
· Receptivity: Is the child receptive to the idea of a mentorship? And, is s/he willing to forth time and energy to make it a successful relationship?
· Ability: What is the child’s current level of ability in the domain? What can s/he do independently, and what kind of help would be beneficial? Are there any learning exceptionalities or issues to consider?
· Learning modes: How does the child learn best? (Click here for an article about how children learn.)
· Concerns: Are there any special concerns? (For example, with respect to the child’s personality, attitude, behavior, resilience, emotional or social well-being)?
· Motivation: Does the student demonstrate a high level of motivation? Self-management skills? Task commitment? Responsibility? Productivity? (Click here for an article on how to help kids stay on track and reach their goals.)
· Creativity: How will the child be able to use his/her imagination and engage in creative expression?
· Environment: Is there a safe and comfortable space available for learning, or can such an environment be created?
· Resources: What community resources have already been used wisely? What new resources can be tapped?
· Commitment: Is the mentoring arrangement going to be casual? Frequent? Strongly goal-oriented? Flexibly responsive to individuals’ changing needs?
· Responsibility: Who will be involved?
DO MENTORSHIPS REQUIRE A LOT OF ORGANIZATIONAL WORK?
Yes—organization is a foundational aspect of any good mentorship. This includes designing, maintaining, monitoring, and evaluating the mentorship. And all of that is time-consuming. So, ask yourself: who will take on the responsibility of coordinating the process? Typically, a mentor and child work under the auspices of parents and/or teachers. Many parents and educators recognize the value of mentorships, but they should also think about the form that they want these experiences to take, and what their own roles will be in the context of their many other commitments. So, for example, a school mentorship might be coordinated by a resource librarian, or a member of the administrative support team, working collaboratively with teachers, parents, mentors, and children. And, a home-based mentorship will take place with parental attentiveness and, hopefully, strong connectivity to the learning that the child is engaged in at school.
“Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic, and professional situations. Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity.”
~ Extracted from The National Mentoring Partnership’s “Impact of Mentoring”
At the end of the day (or week, or month, or year….), a mentorship relationship is a learning partnership. Ideally, it culminates in many happy and productive hours for both the mentor and the mentee. By co-creating and shaping an environment, and by developing a shared focus and a mutually respectful dynamic, there are endless possibilities for pleasurable and worthwhile learning experiences—for children and for adults, and across the lifespan.
READING AND RESOURCES
Material in this article has been adapted from content in Chapter 7 (pp. 160-164) of the award-winning book Being Smart about Gifted Education by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster. Readers can find additional information about optimal child development by checking out the authors’ book Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. Joanne Foster’s most recent book is Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (recipient of the Independent Book Publishers’ Association’s 2018 Silver Benjamin Franklin Award), and its predecessor is Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. To learn more about these books, and to acquire accessibility to a wide range of articles and links, go to www.joannefoster.ca. Information about professional development workshops and speaker sessions with Dr. Foster can also be found at this website.
Mentorships provide educational programming alternatives embraced by many gifted/high-ability learners. Check out the assortment of material published by Great Potential Press for excellent resources on supporting and encouraging gifted and high-level development.
For resource articles on mentoring, visit this page on the Roots of Action website.
Click here for a government-affiiated mentoring website that supports youth programs and services. There are abundant resources and tips to help actualize successful mentorships.
For additional information on mentorships for high school students, and on becoming a mentor, visit the site iMentor.
The National Mentoring Resource Centre’s “What Works in Mentoring Page” offers materials such as curricula, handbooks, resources, and a range of materials designed to help set up mentoring programs and practices.
The Mentoring Group site is actually geared more for adult/business-based mentorships, however there is plentiful information about mentorships for anyone interested in learning about them.
Finally, I’d like to extend my thanks to Sherri Flegel. Her inquiry about mentorships inspired me to write this article.