Article: Some Notes on Mentoring
School-to-Career: Some Notes on Mentoring
This is the fifth in a series of articles exploring ideas and practical applications in "school-to-career."
Mentoring is perhaps the most intensive way to participate in the school-to-career system; it is also the most rewarding. Among the challenges of mentoring are the time commitment, the need for a consistent focus on the development of the mentee, and the need to be persistent when things aren't going well. Above all, mentoring is a form of role-modeling based on the ability of the mentor to guide the mentee through setting and achieving concrete goals. Students who are fortunate enough to participate in a robust mentoring relationship learn about the ideals, expectations, and real-life contingencies of a professional community.
One of the nice features of the mentoring relationship is that the mentor can learn about the mentee's interests that are most directly connected to the mentee's identity. Helping a young person take concrete steps toward answering the question, "What do I have to do to become a ____ ?" is among the more powerful activities that are possible in a mentoring relationship, and one that can help the mentee gain a positive future orientation. An interest in something points to a desire to learn. By helping the mentee to interact with people and to gather, reflect, and act on information, the mentor helps the mentee to participate in his or her own desire to learn -- to be pro-active about becoming the person they want to be.
Learning about a professional community and finding one's place in it evokes the idea of guilds and the more positive aspects of the relationship between a master craftsperson and apprentice. The master teaches about the nature of the work, using examples of the work to show the apprentice what is possible. Eventually, the master confounds the apprentice with the instruction, "Do what works for you," and provides support and guidance, watches and listens, and learns alongside the apprentice. This dynamic is possible in the modern mentoring relationship, and in fact may be necessary to maintain the integrity of the professional community while also fostering individuality and innovation. The mentor cannot do the mentee's work for them, but can guide the mentee to optimal decisions and help the mentee make sense of the consequences.
One distinction between the guild system of old and the current version of "job" or "career" is that today's career is a relatively fluid thing. For people to have multiple careers in a lifetime is becoming more common. For students, many of whom tend to change their minds about careers several times before completing school, it is crucial to learn a way to cope with the abstract question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This is where a well-structured mentoring relationship can have the biggest pay-off. David Neils, director of the International Telementor Center, says that mentors help students gain perspective on school and its relation to their future goals. According to David, if students see that school is only a limited part of their overall education, they will begin to find ways to "max out" on the resources that school has to offer. This shift in perspective-becoming pro-active about school rather than reactive or passive-can impact not only the student's school experience, but also have a profound influence on a lifelong approach to learning.
One of the biggest problems in creating mentorships is that too few people become mentors, possibly because it seems like it would take too much time. However, a well-structured mentorship does two things to address this concern. First, the relationship is organized by concrete activities that have a beginning and an end. Second, limits are placed on the amount of time the activities are expected to take. What is surprising is that structured activities with time constraints contribute to rather than detract from the richness of the mentoring relationship. To get involved in a structured mentoring program, contact your local School-to-Career Partnership (contacts below). Other mentoring programs, including virtual or telementoring, are also available:
Be A Mentor serves the East Bay, and is designed to help students develop their full potential, both in and outside of the classroom. Be A Mentor provides mentor training and support, limits the role of the mentor to specific activities, and limits the time commitment to four to six hours per month for a year.
The International Telementor Center combines effective mentoring practices with the efficiency of email. While the focus of the project is on math and science education, the ITC supports project-based learning in general. Project examples are available on the ITC Web site (URL below), where you'll also find an extensive guide for mentors. The time commitment is 30-45 minutes per week communicating via email on a project basis (typically 12 weeks).
ReelRap.com is a Web-based community that connects people to jobs, education, and guidance in the film industry. Bringing the benefits of a guild to the Internet, ReelRap.com was founded to increase the diversity throughout the motion picture industry-from behind the camera to the executive suites. In February, ReelRap.com initiated the Junior Rap Youth Mentoring Program, an online program that matches urban youth with professionals from the film and high-tech industries. Through weekly online meetings with guest speakers and virtual penpals, youth will receive timely career guidance and encouragement.
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It takes employers, students, and teachers working together to build an effective STC system. The local STC partnerships have the tools to help employers get started; please contact them for more information. If you have your own ideas for getting involved, please contact Ralph Manak at the Bay Area School-to-Career Action Network (BaySCAN).
Helen Ramstad, Sonoma County STC Partnership
Ralph Manak, BaySCAN Multimedia Network