Complicated Moments in Mentoring

Those complicated moments in mentoring…..Mentor puzzle piece

Have you experienced one yet?  If not, get ready…. at some point your mentee may just say something that causes you to wait, worry and wonder…… “What should I do?”

Those complicated moments in mentoring can sometimes create stress and worry, leaving even the most seasoned mentor to wonder, what should I do?

At last month’s Seedling Mentor Training, Mentor Directors challenged participants to consider some common mentoring dilemmas highlighted in The Mentor’s Field Guide” and engaged mentors in discussing how best to respond with authenticity and care.

Mentor Dilemma- My mentee and I come from different economic, cultural, racial, or ethnic backgrounds.  How can I honor and accommodate these differences?

We are all unique, with our own stories and history. Mentors and mentees coming together from diverse backgrounds present us with an opportunity to share and learn from one another, expanding our horizons.

Ways to honor your differences:

  • Show an interest in your mentee’s ethnic and cultural identity and share about yours.
  • Learn about your mentee’s family traditions by asking how he/she celebrates holidays.
  • Encourage inter-generational stories; ask about extended family and what qualities he/she admires about them.

Always be mindful of any preconceived notions you may have related to your mentee’s background or culture. Your success will depend on your ability to build a bridge between your world, your mentee’s world, and the larger world around you both. Consult with your Mentor Director if there are disconnects between you and your mentee that are challenging to understand.

Mentor Dilemma- My mentee is not a whiz at school. How can I help her/him make the most of the school experience? 

Mentors often feel it is their responsibility to take on the role of “tutor” if they hear their mentee is falling behind in school, or if a teacher asks for your help. Is it okay to take on the role of tutor? As mentor, our primary role is that of caring adult and friend.

Sometimes, however, tutoring can be an activity of focus with our mentee.  When doing so, we must be mindful not to assume the role of teacher or parent. Mentors should always ask mentees for permission first: “Would you like me to help you in math?” This demonstrates respect for your mentee and allows him/her to feel comfortable with your help. If your mentee responds with a “no,” there are alternatives to traditional tutoring:

  • Engage your mentee in creative activities. These activities can build academic confidence.
  • Make a game of flash cards.
  • Read a favorite book together.
  • Encourage discussions about topics he/she is studying.
  • Make connections between life goals and school.

Mentor Puzzle 2Mentor Dilemma-  My mentee wants to talk to me about what seems like a sensitive issue, and I don’t want to, so….…Help!

Everyone has their comfort level and personal boundaries.  It is not a requirement for mentors to discuss issues that seem out of their mentor scope. If this dilemma presents itself, know that having all the answers is not expected. Remaining mindful, mentors can respond by:

  • Sharing: “I don’t feel confident in answering that question for you,” or “ I am not an expert on this issue. Who at school could help you with this?”
  • Asking open-ended questions. Focus on your mentee’s feelings and needs rather than jumping to problem solving.
  • Avoiding offering your opinions. (You may not agree with how your mentee chooses to handle a situation, but it is not your role to direct.)
  • Showing that you want to understand from his/her perspective.
  • Remembering the confidentiality rule, “I have to get help if you talk about hurting yourself, someone is hurting you or you know of someone who is being hurt.”

Remember that you have support, too; Mentor Directors are always there to help.

Mentor Dilemma –  My mentee says he is being bullied.  How do I approach a discussion about teasing and bullying?

Bullying is typically defined as an intentional pattern of behavior rather than a one-time incident. 

If your mentee shares that he/she is being bullied:

  • Listen non-judgmentally, and ask open-ended questions to better understand what is going on.
  • Ensure mentee understands the confidentiality rule.
  • Encourage your mentee to share his/her story with the School Contact or school counselor and/or family member.
  • Share problem solving skills and encourage your mentee to use his/her voice.

This is an ongoing dialogue, not a one time discussion; check back in to let your mentee know you are listening and care.

If your mentee is confronting obstacles that are considerably more serious than those addressed here, please reach out to your Mentor Director for guidance.

~Seedling Mentor Program Staff

Source:  Manza, G., Patrick, S. (2012). The Mentor’s Field Guide.  Search Institute Press.

This entry was posted in Children of Incarcerated Parents, Mentoring, Site-Based Mentoring and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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