Guide on educational mentorships

How to Find a Mentor to Improve Academic Performance - Guide on Mentorships

by Becton Loveless

Mentorships are powerful. They bring together individuals with greater knowledge and pairs them with those who have less knowledge and less experience. A mentorship program is often used among students to help improve their academic performance, improve behavior, and improve their attitudes toward schools. These are only a few examples of how mentorship is used. Mentorship is also a valuable tool used to help improve the skills of teachers. It’s often employed as a tool of professional development. Here is a broad look at mentorship and how it’s used for different purposes in schools.


Older Adults Mentoring Younger Individuals

Mentorships between older and younger individuals may be the most common form of mentorship. This is understandable, since older adults bring a wealth of knowledge and experience collected over the years. Such a mentorship holds several advantages over other forms of mentorship since it places an experienced mentor in the position to support the work of a less experienced mentee.

Multiple studies have been conducted into the benefits of mentorship for both primary and secondary students. In many cases, these are one-on-one, but there are also group and team formats that are used. Sometimes, these programs are handled directly by the school and its staff. At other times, the school may partner with an outside group that is specifically geared toward creating successful mentorships.

Regardless of how the program is run, the benefits are the same. Mentorship leads to improved attitudes toward school among students, increases their academic performance, and improves their behaviors. Finally, according to the American Institute for Research, mentoring may be a means of retaining at-risk high school students as well as improving their academic performance.

Researchers have also previously examined the outcomes of student-teacher mentoring at the university level. The Council on Undergraduate Research released five strategies older mentors can take to mentoring younger undergraduate students, strategies developed from the insights of former undergraduates themselves. Some of those tactics should be common sense but unfortunately are not. For example, mentors need to make themselves available. There should be some sort of consistent meeting between mentors and mentees.

Beyond being consistently available, mentors also need to create a sense of community in which the mentorship can thrive. This can be done through various activities that aren’t strictly academic. Social outings and academic clubs are just two places where bonding can occur and community can be created. Mentors can bring together mentees and create a sense of belonging among them. Creating these kinds of communities is linked to a third strategy that mentors should take, which is encouraging mentees to become part of the academic community. This can be done through local activities within the university but also by encouraging mentees to travel to conferences and major events where they can learn more about their field.

The last two strategies mentors should take are less strategies and more qualities that they should possess within the mentorship. Attentiveness and understanding are both qualities that mentors should demonstrate throughout the mentorship. Attentiveness means more than simply paying attention during mentorship sessions. Instead, it means staying in regular communication with mentees, helping to guarantee that the undergraduate continues to participate. Being understanding, meanwhile, is important because of the tough road that undergraduates have to travel. It’s important for mentors to demonstrate some sympathy for undergraduates who are in a constant battle to balance their studies, their jobs, and their personal lives.

Peer Mentorships

A second form of mentorships that are often less prevalent in schools are peer mentorships. Peer mentorships are, much like their name implies, mentorships in which one student mentors another. Peer mentorships happen at all stages of education, from elementary school to college, but reviewing the current information about mentorship programs reveals that mentorships at all levels require participants to be engaged, understanding of their roles, and consistent in their participation.

Primary and Secondary Peer Mentorship Programs

There are numerous types of secondary programs designed for different purposes. Some are meant to help young people transition successfully to college, other programs are meant to help encourage healthier behaviors, like drinking less soda, and yet others are designed for building self-esteem and increased connectedness to academic endeavors. As such, there are numerous ways that peer mentorship programs can be implemented at the secondary level. Schools simply have to assess their current needs and then implement the appropriate peer mentorship program necessary to achieve their goals.

In a report issued by Michael Garringer and Patti MacRae for the U.S. Department of Education, several best-practices were outlined that might help maximize the effectiveness of peer mentorship programs in primary and secondary schools. One of the most important aspects of a good mentorship program is the creation of a logical, goal-oriented mentorship program. This requires work between teachers and administrators in order to create the most effective program possible.

First, goals need to be established and activities identified that will help to best achieve those goals. These activities can be conducted between peers during the mentorship process. However, once the activities are identified, resources need to be identified that will help peers conduct those activities. For instance, if the mentorship program is being designed with a focus on improving academic outcomes, then resources such as the library, computer labs, or even tutors and teachers, should all be made available. Times when these resources can be accessed should be identified and mentorships constructed around that availability.

A final important aspect of any peer mentorship program is the existence of a tool or system by which the program can be evaluated. Peer mentorships have the potential to produce many positive outcomes. However, these programs need to be regularly evaluated in order to ensure that goals are being met. The simplest way of explaining this is by examining a mentorship program designed to improve academic scores. An evaluation of these programs could be as simple as examining the grades of students enrolled in those programs to see if there’s improvement over time. If it seems that grades aren’t improving, the program can be revisited to examine areas where the program is weakest. Adjustments to the program can then be made.

The report by Garringer and MacRae warned that mentorship programs must not be too highly focused on instruction. Instead, mentorships should revolve around building up the confidence of the mentee and showing them that someone cares for them. Activities can include instruction but should include a large focus of developing strong connections between the mentor and mentee. A few activities that have a focus on academics should be included in between much later periods when the mentor’s focus is on the personal development of the mentee. This was referred to as the Five C’s: competence, connection, caring, confidence, and character. Mentors should show a caring attitude, develop deep connections with the mentee, build the confidence of the mentee, and emphasize the positive aspects of performing well in areas like academics and behavior.

Peer mentorships do not always succeed, but there are common reasons why this is the case. Mentors who are not appropriately screened may enter the program and become negative role models for mentees. This can lead to delinquent behavior that teachers want to reduce, not encourage. When mentors do enter the program, it’s important that they undergo some training so that they better understand how to be positive examples for mentees. It’s also important for both mentors and mentees to understand their roles in the mentorship. Mentees may not understand how mentors can help them, and sometimes mentors may not understand how to help mentees. This is where a brief period of training can help each partner better understand how to contribute to the relationship. Finally, it’s important that both participants be consistent in participation. Otherwise, one or the other may feel discouraged from continued participation.

College Peer Mentorship Programs

Peer mentorships even occur at the university level. An example of such a program was studied by researchers Michael Snowden and Tracy Harden, who examined how the introduction of such a program would affect students. The program was introduced among university students enrolled in a health and social welfare program.

The mentorship program paired third year students in the program with first year students. Several best-practices were followed in the creation of the program, including ensuring that mentor and mentee were an appropriate match. These matches were based on areas of interest, study focus, and age. Previous research suggested that the closer the match between a mentor and mentee, the more likely the mentorship will be successful, which is why such a strong effort was put into ensuring those who were paired together shared sufficient qualities. Students acting as mentors were also paired with faculty and were themselves mentored in that way.

At the start of the mentorship, both the mentor and mentee received training for their roles. This training included the creation of a contract in which each of them agreed to fulfilling certain responsibilities as part of the relationship. The mentorship then lasted throughout an academic year. Although each partner had to discuss how often they’d like to meet throughout the year. So, the program involved closely matched personalities who fully understood their roles and agreed to limits regarding how often they would meet.

The findings of the program were very encouraging. Assessments of the performance of both the mentee and mentor improved as a result of the program. In addition, both mentor and mentee reported lower levels of stress. Perhaps the ability to meet with someone else and have discussions about the rigors of working at the university levels helped reduce the stress of each partner. Since stress is related to lower academic performance, the ability for mentorships to lower stress for both mentor and mentee was a very positive finding. Also, each member became more engaged in the university’s academic community. The findings demonstrated that mentorships were good not only because they improved academic scores, but because they helped improve mental health and made participants more engaged with their surrounding community. As a result, there are multiple benefits of employing a mentorship program at the university level.


Professional Development Mentorships

Mentorships aren’t just used among students. They’re also used among teachers. Mentorship has become more important over the years for helping teachers, especially newer teachers. As documented by researchers in the journal for Teaching and Teacher Education, these mentorships have benefits both for the mentoring teacher and the mentee teacher. Mentors benefit because through the mentoring process, they have the chance to reflect on their own approaches to teaching. This helps them learn from the mentoring process themselves and helps them refine their own instructional approaches. Mentors are able to gain new perspectives on how to teach most effectively. Besides the improvements to their teaching practice, mentors also benefit psychologically, deriving a certain degree of satisfaction and pride from the process.

The traditional focus of the mentorship is on mentees though, and mentees benefit from the mentorship process in several ways. Mentorship is an effective method of providing professional development to teachers, helping them improve their teaching skills while also personally benefiting them. For instance, mentees often feel less isolated within their new teaching environment as a result of their mentoring. Simultaneously, they experience an improved sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. The mentoring process also helps mentees become better at self-reflection, helping them to better assess their teaching practices. Mentorship also acts as a form of both emotional and psychological support that helps newer teachers, in particular, handle the difficulties of their jobs with greater confidence.

In order to create an effective mentoring program for teachers, programs should be structured in such a way that both mentor and mentee can maximize their time. Mentoring teachers should be provided additional time outside of the classroom to prepare for the mentorship. This is understandable, since between class time and preparing for their lessons, teachers are already pressed for time. Granting additional time is necessary so that a teacher can prepare for their role as mentor. These mentoring relationships are best when they’re free of external pressures. For instance, mentorships that are only deemed successful if classroom grades go up, as just one example, are more likely to fail. The additional pressure makes it less likely the mentorship will succeed.

There’s value in having the mentor become involved in designing the mentorship program. Mentors are able to bring their experience to the design and maximize its effectiveness. When mentors are involved in the design, it helps create a more cohesive program that’s more effective in attaining the goals of its designers. It also helps to increase their level of commitment to the program. If the program is being directed toward the most novice of teachers, it’s more likely to succeed when it’s hosted inside a school where the culture is collegial and oriented toward learning. This is an issue of school-wide culture that administrators should work toward improving.

Recurring Themes in Mentorship

What’s clear from a look at mentorship among both teachers and students, it’s clear that several themes emerge. First of all, regardless if the mentorship is between teachers and students or between students, it’s clear that both mentor and mentee benefit. This often occurs in the form of psychological benefits. However, mentorship often sharpens the skill of both partners as well. It’s also clear from the literature that while mentorships should include transferring skills and knowledge, it’s the supportive element of mentorship that’s most important.

By creating a supportive, positive environment, mentors help mentees feel more confident in themselves. These environments are also natural ways of encouraging mentees to become more highly connected with the larger surrounding culture. For teachers, this means connecting a mentee to the existing academic culture of teachers that work within the organization. Among students, this means connecting the student to academic culture and helping them feel more comfortable being part of that environment.

Mentorships should be carefully structured to achieve specific goals rather than be broad. For this purpose, mentors may be involved in its design. Mentors and mentees should certainly be clear on the roles and responsibilities they will take on, and be closely matched in terms of goals and other characteristics, such as values and personality. By creating a focused mentorship that brings together similar individuals in one specific goal, both mentee teachers and students can grow in knowledge and expertise.

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