By: Michael Lyons
- Mentoring programs have long valued academic-related goals for their services, where many target academic enrichment or emphasize college access and educational attainment as outcomes.
- To understand this connection better, I co-authored a report that examines research addressing the potential influence of mentoring for youth on their educational attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors (or EABBs).
- In this blog, I highlight some of the conclusions from this report and share practice recommendations that focus on actions that mentors or program staff could take to support development of positive EABBs, including supporting growth mindsets, persistence skills, and more.
Can volunteer mentors really help improve students’ engagement, attitudes, and behavior about school? To help mentoring programs and mentors understand the answer to this question, I recently co-authored a review, called Mentoring for Enhancing Educational Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behaviors (see the full report for additional findings and recommendations) for the National Mentoring Resource Center. I am revisiting this review for National Mentoring Month.
School-based mentoring programs match adult volunteers with K-12 students so that students have access to another supportive adult in their life. The rationale is that positive youth-adult relationships (e.g., relationships students develop with teachers, coaches etc.) are important for helping youth be successful in school. So, mentoring programs that match students with volunteer will have the same effect, right?
In this review, we found that mentoring programs that use volunteers and match them with students tended to help students feel more connected in school, increased their engagement, and promoted positive attitudes about school.
However, we also found that, on average, these positive effects tended to be small and variable (some students had better outcomes with a mentor compared to others).
Although we do not know all the reasons that explain the variability, we did find that some studies suggested that the school and community environment might influence the effectiveness of mentors. For example, historically marginalized youth who experience racism and discrimination in school might benefit from mentors who acknowledge the reality of their experience in school.
Implications for Practice
My colleague Michael Garringer, Director of Research and Evaluation for MENTOR, provided implications for mentors and mentoring programs to promote positive EABBs in mentees. Based on the review, he concluded that programs should consider the following principles:
- Make sure you understand the root causes of negative EABBs – There are lots of reasons why youth might have difficulty engaging in school and mentors may be able to address only some of these. In some cases, mentors and mentoring programs may need to address systemic factors contributing to negative EABBs.
- Recruit (or train) the right mentors to address EABBs – Training is needed to teach mentors how to best respond to, and address, the various reasons youth might be more or less engaged in school.
- Consider mentoring models that emphasize youth voice and engagement – Youth participating in mentoring often know more than we (adults) give them credit. Asking youth directly may be one successful approach.
- Draw from evidence-based intervention when possible – There are some formal mentoring curricula shown to promote student success in school. Some mentoring programs may wish to integrate these into their current services.
- Train mentors on goal-setting strategies and the art of giving back – Mentors and mentees who jointly set goals and track progress toward those goals is one specific skill that tends to be associated with greater improvement in student engagement; mentoring programs may wish to emphasize these skills in program-provided training.
- Reinforce positive EABBs through parental engagement – Parent and families are another important support mentors can use to understand and facilitate student engagement in school.
For links to relevant resources and training for these take-home points, please visit the full report available online.
Author Bio: Dr. Michael Lyons is an Assistant Professor of Education and faculty affiliate at Youth-Nex. He is interested in the social-emotional development of middle and high school students in a positive psychological and traditional mental health framework. Specifically, his research reflects an interest in understanding the mechanisms and practices in a school setting that promote student well-being and school-relevant outcomes (e.g., grades and behavior) through an ecological model. Dr. Lyons is especially interested in school-based mentoring programs as one approach for promoting student well-being and enhancing academic outcomes. He also co-directs the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health which aims to support the provision of school mental health services in Virginia.