In a recent youth mentoring article, fourth year doctoral student Julia Augenstern shares research about ‘how mentoring benefits are rendered or the specific processes by which mentoring relationships work.’ Julia describes how her team reviewed theoretical and practical literature as they explored the processes that make up mentoring interactions in an effort to understand the ‘how’ of mentoring.

The result of this research was the identification of a set of five mentoring processes most commonly mentioned within mentoring relationships. These processes became part of a mentoring assessment tool Julia and her team developed.

Five Key Mentoring Processes

The following five mentoring processes are measured by the Mentoring Process Scale (MPS) developed by Julia and her team:

  1. The mentor as a role model – Activities and discussions that provide the mentee the opportunity to experience the mentor as a role model or significant adult in their lives. The mentee might then wish to emulate their mentor, someone they respect and admire.
  2. Advocacy – A process by which the mentor speaks up for or supports the mentee to others. The mentor might connect the mentee with resources; help them seek and access skills and opportunities, or help and support them to navigate social systems.
  3. Relationship and Emotional Support – Instances where the mentor provides open and genuine positive regard and companionship to the mentee. This is done in ways that are likely to result in the mentee feeling supported and cared for by the mentor. This process is characterized by regular and open communication, with empathy and/or reciprocity prominent.
  4. Teaching and Information Provision – A process by which the mentor teaches new things to the mentee and/or provides information that might aid the mentee in managing social, educational, legal, family, and peer challenges.
  5. Shared Activity – The mentor and mentee engage in activities together (e.g., cooking, playing sports, going out to eat, watching tv) or simply spend time together. 

(The full article is available with more information)

Developing meaningful mentoring relationships

My own research, which I have shared often, is that two of the key factors in the success of any mentoring program are the quality of the mentor training and the ongoing support provided to both mentors and mentees.

So, the mentor training which I developed and used to prepare volunteer adult mentors for the GR8 Mates school-based mentoring program covered all of the above points. The nature of the training was experiential, another factor which helped mentors look more deeply both at themselves and at some of the mentoring qualities and skills required to create meaningful relationships with mentees.

The ongoing training and support took the form of a weekly email of encouragement and support, which usually quoted the mentoring experiences of youth mentoring experts. In addition, there were the discussions that took place at the end of each mentoring gathering, during which mentors shared positive experiences and discussed issues they might be experiencing in their relationship with their mentee. The school coordinator of the program stayed in touch with the students participating in the program and provided feedback to me (the program coordinator) throughout.

The quality of the friendship matters

The key to any mentoring relationship is the quality of the friendship developed between the mentor and the student.

Professor Jean Rhodes points out in her new book, Older and Wiser: New Ideas for Youth Mentoring in the 21st Century, that mentoring programs cannot address the fundamental problems of poverty and inequality—housing, healthcare, schools with inadequate resources, and unsafe neighborhoods. Jean states that “In our increasingly segregated world,” mentoring programs can provide channels for “unlikely connections across widely diverse ethnic, cultural, and economic lines” — and help counter a tendency to “dehumanize and blame young people for their struggles.”

The Kauai Longitudinal Study

I remain inspired by the work of Professor Emmy Werner, ‘Mother Resilience’, whose decades of longitudinal research on the island of Kauai contributed significantly to our understanding of resilience. Professor Werner’s research focused on about 700 young people living in ‘high risk’ environments over more than thirty years, Overcoming the Odds: High Risk Children from Birth to Adulthood. This research taught me how meaningful relationships with any youth can be developed, so I was able to offer the appropriate mentor to prepare mentors for the variety of experiences they would face during the mentoring journey..

“Fostering resiliency isn’t just putting stuff into an empty box by the teacher, or elder, or whatever else. It’s based on countless interactions between the individual child or adolescent or adult and the opportunities (in their) world and the challenges they face.” (Emmy Werner)

I would suggest that, in our post-COVID global community, all young people need non-judgmental, empathetic cheerleaders alongside them, another reason why every teacher should also be equipped with the qualities and skills to promote a spirit of mentoring.

How are you sharing messages of hope and encouragement with young people?