What's Important in Mentor Training?

Lately, I've been providing Mentor Training for a few organizations whose mentors are just beginning their commitments. In providing this training, I find out from the program staff what important aspects of mentor training are most important to cover (and how much time I have!). The Mentoring Institute has offered this training to a number of agencies over the years and we believe we have a solid foundation that can apply to any kind of mentoring program whether the minimum commitment is for two years or three months. (Usually when the mentoring relationship is less than a school or calendar year, I encourage programs to call their volunteers something else, like coaches or apprentice mentors - the shorter time period can dilute the definition of mentoring that we advocate when it comes to formal programs for youth.) So, what's important? Here's a selection of what we believe needs to be included:
  • Mentoring Basics - defining mentoring, having participants reflect on their own mentoring relationships, outlining the potential impacts, and giving a theoretical framework
  • Youth Development and Cultural Considerations - explaining the Search Institute's 41 Developmental Assets and how mentoring can positively impact them, listing (and personally remembering!) the stages of adolescence, and considering a few important cultural competencies and, again, how them might affect a mentoring relationship
  • Key Skills for Mentoring - explaining and practicing realistic expectations, setting limits and boundaries, active listening, and motivation
  • Roles & Responsibilities - provided specifically by the host program so that mentors clearly understand their own boundaries and what they're supposed to do and what can get them terminated from the program
Role plays are crucial to Mentor Training, especially if they're not done like the usual workplace role play - have some fun and help participants feel comfortable and safe to explore responses. While I was working directly with mentors and mentees in our program, I constantly heard from mentors about the scenario we used in training that actually happened! (Usually, they said they flashed back to the training session and would try to remember the advice we offered, sometimes with success and sometimes not, but always they remembered enough to move through that difficult situation.) Two of the most common scenarios I use for almost every program are:
  • Establishing communication and meeting habits ("Your mentee is not returning your telephone calls/responding to emails or voice mails or texts")
  • Working through a difficult situation that involves significantly more trust in the mentor to reveal what is really happening with the mentee ("Your mentee started to open up about what's going on at home/at school/with friends" or "Your mentee is saying that everything is fine, but you're not sure/hearing from program staff it's not/suspicious that there is something really bothering him or her")
One or both of these scenarios happen in so many youth mentoring relationships and giving mentors a chance to practice how to respond before they've even interacted with their mentees can not only help them but also reduce staff time in responding to these situations. Empowering your mentors to solve problems will also help them role model solving problems to their mentees. Finally, if it's applicable to a program's focus and if the mentors and mentees having been meeting for awhile, I like to look at any creative work produced by the mentees and practice "listening"with the mentors to what their mentees are expressing through another outlet besides words. A great example is using activity pages from the Mentoring Journal, whether produced one-on-one with a mentor or in a group.

The First Exposures program in San Francisco (where I was a mentor back in my early 20's) invites me in halfway through the year to review photographs and writings from the students. All mentors in attendance get to contribute their thoughts and observations to arrive at solutions to obstacles a particular mentor is facing or perhaps just to positively reinforce the work they've done together.

What do you consider important in mentor training?


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