Meaningful Mentorship: 5 Tips for Teachers

As educators, we understand the power of mentorship for our students. You’ve probably also, at one point or another, listened to Josh Shipp’s keynote on The Power of One Caring Adult. According to a 2015 report from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, children that do well in spite of serious hardship have had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult. This relationship helps the child build resiliency skills that allow them to respond to adversity and thrive despite developmental disruption.

We may not always know or be able to influence what is going on in a students’ personal life, but we do have control of providing access to (and being) that one caring adult. I’ve recently had the opportunity to serve as a mentor for Lake Zurich High School’s IncubatorEDU program.

As a mentor, I support a group of students in the development of their entrepreneurial venture, Venato. This team is working on a full body tracking software that connects to virtual reality platforms to better enhance the immersive experience. The students are brilliant. In this mentorship environment, they’re much more knowledgeable about the technological aspects of their idea than I am. As their mentor, I am there to encourage them, connect them to others that can support their growth, and push them outside of their comfort zone.

Here are five tips to provide your students opportunities for mentorship in your classroom:

  1. Let your students lead. If you’re worried about your time/capacity to identify mentors in your local community, let your students lead the effort. Explain the role of a mentor and how they can support your students’ growth. Then, assign students to identify potential mentors in their community based on their interests and have them make the “ask” for you.
  2. Connect to classroom application. Mentors offer real-life understanding and relevance to your classroom. We’ve all been in a class where students grumble, “When am I going to use this in the real world?” This provides a perfect connection to mentorship by finding a “real-world” expert to share their experience using a specific learning concept in their work. Hint: Pick a topic you absolutely HATE teaching and find a real-world application of it to invite a mentor into your classroom. It’s a win-win for you and your students.
  3. Experiential learning through subject matter experts. It’s one thing to teach a topic, but it’s another entirely to experience it. Mentors from different expertise areas can often help teachers break down complex ideas into easier to understand steps for students because they do it daily. They also can provide immersive examples of the concept in action – we’ve seen many company volunteers bring engaging demos into the classroom to teach a concept, like our partners at EQT Foundation in our STEM Days programming. Identify a business in your community that has volunteer efforts and engage them with a specific learning unit or topic.
  4. Tap into the power of parents/caregivers. Based on our work with the West Virginia Family Engagement Center, parents and caregivers actively seek opportunities to engage with and support their child’s school but aren’t often asked. At the beginning of the school year, survey your students’ families to get an idea of their areas of interest, expertise, and willingness to serve as mentors. Then, as opportunities arise during the school year – make the ask!
  5. Start small. You don’t have to launch a comprehensive mentorship program to make a difference for your students. Start by inviting guest speakers into your classroom, asking community members to “coach” student groups during project-based learning opportunities, or to attend different classroom events. A little goes a long way to build momentum and connections in your community.

Contact our Program Manager, Amber Ravenscroft, to learn more here.

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