Mentorship is the special gift of helping a student recognize their full potential and use their strengths. A mentor is a trusted and respected person who can provide support and guidance to their mentee. They are actively involved in the student’s life and have an interest in fostering success. Teaching mentors can make a substantial difference in students’ lives and even become lifelong friends. Guiding students toward good mentors is a job that many teachers do on a daily basis.
As we reach the end of January, we want to recognize National Mentoring Month and discuss how teachers help students pick good mentors. Knowing how to recognize the characteristics that make a good mentor and how to connect students with their own potential mentors can improve the likelihood of a successful mentoring relationship.
Recognizing the Characteristics of a Good Mentor
Willingness to Mentor
If you are going to help kids connect with mentors, you first need to recognize the characteristics of a good mentor. Perhaps the most important characteristic of a good mentor is simply their willingness and openness to fulfill this role. The connection between a mentor and a student can be one that is rich and lifelong. Guiding students to someone willing to give of themselves helps to ensure a successful connection is made. It doesn’t matter how smart, successful, and dynamic a person is; if they are unwilling to engage and step into the role, the likelihood of creating a successful relationship won’t likely be high. On the other hand, when a person is willing and open, the doorway to success is opened.
In order for a mentor for kids to be successful in guiding a student, they have to genuinely care about the student and their opportunities for success. Caring is a basic tenet of guidance that can be seen and felt. Kids can recognize in an instant when someone is disingenuous, so having a caring personality is of the utmost importance for mentors. No matter what you do or say, a strong relationship without true caring will be difficult—if not impossible—to create and maintain. Fortunately, teachers can recognize a caring attitude as well. Encouraging connections with those who stand out as compassionate people can help lead students to people who will naturally form a bond and the best mentoring relationship.
A Growth Mindset
One of the fundamental benefits of mentorship is exposing students to someone who believes in bigger possibilities than they could ever have imagined for themselves. Kids are not always aware of the options ahead of them. There are a variety of reasons that such possibilities are not always readily apparent. In some cases, a student may come from a background that did not give them an introduction to the options that lay ahead. In other cases, there is a fundamental lack of education that makes understanding possibilities a more significant challenge for some students.
When connecting with a mentor, it may be the first time in a student’s life that they are being shown their own potential. The mentor needs to be someone who truly believes in the student’s growth beyond what the student thought was possible for themself. Mentors have to be able to see the student’s potential beyond any barriers that may be present. When the mentor believes it, they can cultivate that potential within the student and encourage goals that weren’t even ideas before the mentorship began.
Another critical characteristic of a strong mentor is the ability to provide real and substantial support—this is where the rubber meets the road. The mentor has to be willing to be in the trenches and help the student complete tasks and achieve their goals. Though having specific attitudes and attributes that make up a good mentor is important, all efforts will fall flat if the mentor doesn’t also have the desire to be hands-on. Providing that support is crucial for modeling the specific behaviors needed for completing goals and conveying to the student that the mentor believes the student is capable and worthy of their time and energy.
Successful mentors also understand that treating their mentees with respect is crucial. Extending respect lets the student know that they are valued and that they have a say in their future. Getting respect encourages the student to extend that same respect to their mentor. In many instances, it may be the first time the student has truly felt valued. Giving students a say in decision-making, goal-setting, and planning lets them know they can be proactive players in their own future plans. Mutual respect allows students to be active participants rather than merely following directions. When kids feel respected, it becomes more likely that they will extend the same respect to their mentors and others who guide them. Engaging in mutual respect demonstrates healthy, collaborative relationships and allows kids to experience what a constructive relationship feels like.
How Teachers Can Help Students Pick Mentors
Once teachers have been able to identify the characteristics of a good mentor, guiding students to pick a mentor becomes much easier. Identifying mentors that are right in front of them allows teachers to point students in the right direction, connecting mentors with students who could benefit from their involvement.
The right mentor for a student may not be physically present in the classroom, but that does not mean teachers can’t locate a mentor elsewhere. Online mentoring resources are growing and becoming more widely available. The National Mentoring Resource Center (NMRC), for example, provides a variety of resources that can point teachers to established mentoring programs, many of which have niche focuses.
There are mentoring groups specifically to support young women, Native Americans, and students in foster care, just to name a few. The NMRC also has a wide variety of instructional resources for students to use when developing their mentoring relationships and videos on how to be successful when using such programs. Teachers are in a unique position to guide and encourage mentoring relationships, and their success improves the lives of students, mentors, and our communities at large.