Equipping A Community of Mentoring Practitioners
As part of its strategic drive and vision, Mentoring Alliance Singapore (MASg) aims to build the aspects of both community and capability in mentoring, and a mentoring culture in Singapore. The Community of Practice or CoP sessions thus form an integral part of MASg’s annual calendar of activities.
Since MASg’s inception in 2018, it has hosted several CoP sessions, focussing on the foundations of positive youth development in mentoring practice. For 2020 the Community of Practice series was initiated shortly after MASg launched the Asian Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring or ACEBM at the National Mentoring Summit 2020.
The 2020 CoP series, held bi-monthly, was designed to provide mentors in Singapore with practical guidelines on mentoring that they could implement in different contexts of mentoring as well as evaluate the effectiveness of their practice. The sessions, conducted via Zoom, explored and delved into the principles promoted by the book, The Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, 4th Edition, produced by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership in collaboration with Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
The Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM, 4th Edition, combines both research-informed and practitioner-recommended practices for conducting a youth mentoring program. It was the outcome of the collaborative work of an alliance of youth serving organizations that came together to discuss the implementation of youth mentoring practices. They held a common objective which was “How to ensure that mentoring programs offered their services in a “responsible” way, one that met the needs of both youth and volunteers while also ensuring participant safety and positive outcomes for young people and communities.”
MASg Community of Practice 2020 Series
The Community of Practice 2020 series was launched on March 11, 2020 with an online virtual session hosted by Dr John Tan, Joe Chan and Glenn Lim, and broadcast live via the Facebook page of Mentoring Alliance Singapore. In this significant initial session, the trio painted the context, focus and direction of CoP sessions for 2020. John explained that The Elements for Effective Practice for Mentoring was chosen because it is evidence-based. This was the foundation for validity and reliability of mentoring practice that MASg sought to impart.
There was a clear caveat though – the Element’s practices, implemented for over 30 years since 1990, are solely American-based. Further study needs to be done to determine whether they are totally applicable in Asian contexts. Nonetheless, the guidelines’ longevity does warrant attention and focus. We should at least try them out with a clear view to improve our practices. For each of the benchmarks being recommended, we should ask how they can be implemented in the Singapore context, while keeping an open mind.
Audiences for each CoP session are furnished with a soft-copy of The Elements as well as the benchmarks and recommendations for practice for each of the six particular Standards being discussed during the session. The six Standards are, namely, recruitment; screening; training; matching; monitoring and closure. Each Standard, in turn, outlines Benchmarks to ensure the safety and effectiveness of mentoring relationships, as well as optional Enhancements that are promising, innovative and useful for mentoring programs.
Each CoP session centred around the presentation of the Standard being studied, followed by break-out group huddles to discuss pre-set questions and also to gather participants’ pressing questions. The session then ends with some time set aside to address the queries raised in groups.
Focus on the Standard of Recruitment
The introductory CoP session of March 2020 expounded on the first Standard, namely, Recruitment. The first stage of recruitment focuses on recruiting appropriate mentors and mentees, by realistically describing the program’s objectives and expected outcomes. The recruitment strategies applied should build positive attitudes and emotions about mentoring, and target mentors and mentees whose skills, backgrounds and motivations best match the goals and structure of the program. It also seeks the support of both mentors and mentees to assist in the recruitment. It is also crucial that the program provides a public written statement that outlines the eligibility criteria for mentors and the benefits of volunteering to both mentees and their parents or guardians. In this initial benchmark of Recruitment, it is also recommended that a variety of channels be employed to recruit mentors such as direct ask, social media, traditional media, presentations and referrals, on a continual basis.
John explained that getting the stage of recruitment right is so vital because unmet, and unclarified, expectations often lead to a premature end of the mentor-mentee relationship. Consequently, it is important to make explicit the criteria, compensations and challenges of the mentoring program right at the very start of the recruitment process. Doing so sets realistic expectations about the results of the mentoring relationship and how this can be achieved. The criteria requirements should also be provided to mentors in writing.
Some of the discussion questions posed in this initial session on Recruitment included:
What are some of the successful recruitment methods or strategies that your mentoring program has carried out?
What are the common pitfalls or main challenges you encounter when carrying out recruitment of mentors? Are these challenges associated more with your program design? Or clarity of purpose?
Does your mentoring program intentionally carry out recruitment for mentees?
Reflect too on the suggestions and recommended strategies for carrying out recruitment in mentoring. Are there any that you may consider implementing?
Incidentally, on the topic of recruitment, Professor Jean Rhodes (2020b) in her latest book, emphasizes the importance of building of strong adult-mentee bonds. She cites Karver’s (2018) study which is based on the meta-analysis of 28 studies which advocates building multiple relationships, not just with the mentee but with the parent or caregiver. It is found that the relationship between the mentor and parent is as critical as the mentor’s relationship with the mentee.
Other studies conducted also found that effective communication and agreement among parents and other stakeholders is important. In fact, close collaboration is needed among four key people, namely, the mentee, the mentor, the mentoring program staff member, and the parent. Any one of these people can build or destroy the bond that exists among this group of people. Therefore, it is important that, in addition to supporting the mentors and mentees, effective programs must provide ongoing training, supervision, and support to mentors.
Rhodes (2020b) also cites a study of over 3,200 matches which demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between the success of match retention with continual mentor supervision and staff-to-mentor ratios. In addition, Rhodes (2020) recommends a new wave of youth initiated mentoring models which have emerged in recent years that teach young people how to recruit and sustain thriving networks of caring adults who can serve as important bridges to school and work.
Focus on the Standard of Screening
The second CoP session for 2020 took place on May 13, 2020 and covered the Standard of Screening in mentoring. This Standard states to screen prospective mentors to ensure that they have the time, commitment and qualities to be safe and effective mentors. Similarly, we need to screen prospective mentees to ensure they have the time, commitment and desire to be mentored.
The following best practices for screening mentors are recommended:
Established criteria for accepting mentors (eg. 1-year time commitment)
Written application with questions to assess mentors’ safety and suitability for mentoring a youth
At least one face-to-face interview with each prospective mentor
Background and reference checks
Determine the target population of mentors, for example, do mentors need to have a certain background/experience? (e.g. sports-based mentoring programme)
Ensure that all parties (youth, parents, school) are committed to seeing the relationship through its intended duration with an emphasis on committing to the minimum length, frequency, total hours of the mentoring relationship that are required by the mentoring program.
The foundational principles underlying screening are firstly, to emphasize and ensure safety and secondly, to assess suitability and extract commitment. Mentoring programs must have an established criteria for accepting as well as disqualifying mentor applicants. Prospective mentors must complete a written application form that includes questions assessing their suitability. The third recommendation is to conduct face-to-face interviews with prospective mentors. The rest of the recommendations are to carry out background and reference checks on prospective mentors; to determine their target population of mentors; to ensure all participants, including youths and their parents or guardians, are committed to seeing the relationship through its intended duration,
During the breakout discussions, participants talked about their experience and insights on two questions: Firstly, what are the main challenges you face when carrying out screening?; and secondly, how would screening practices be different in the post-Covid period?
When screening for mentors, it is essential to select mentors who are sensitive to young people’s needs. The importance of adapting to youth’s needs has been highlighted by Dr. Carla Herrera, an independent consultant at Public/Private Ventures who has published numerous reports and articles on school-based, community-based and group mentoring over the past 20 years.
Dr Herrera believes that both programs and mentors need to adapt their services around the unique needs and goals of individual youth, and that training programs should also cater to these differences. Mentoring programs should not be apprehensive to ask more of volunteers. She argues that mentors may be prepared and willing to devote the time to do more. If they are not, they may not be the right choice for working with youths in a relationship-based intervention. She cites the successful example of Great Life Mentoring, that matches youths in a mental health care program with community-based mentors who were required to go through 20 hours of training. It is important to take time to create strong matches even if it may mean serving fewer youths better.
Focus on the Standard of Training
The third CoP zoom session held on 8 July, 2020, expounded on the Standard of Training in mentoring. It highlighted the need to train prospective mentors, mentees, and even mentees’ parents (or legal guardians or responsible adults) in the basic knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to build an effective and safe mentoring relationship.
The benchmarks in this Standard require that the program provide pre-match information of the program requirements; mentors’ goals and expectations for the mentee, parent or guardian, and the relationship; mentors’ obligations and appropriate roles; ethical and safety issues that may arise related to the mentoring relationship. Risk management policies, protocols and procedures must also be covered during pre-match training or orientation.
Mentoring program coordinators should view pre-match training interactions as an opportunity to learn more about prospective mentors. They are to look out for red flags or patterns of behaviour that may indicate potential or budding problems with mentor candidates.
On the part of the prospective mentors attending pre-match training, it should give them windows to consider, and even re-evaluate, their motives for being a mentor. Such awareness helps sustain mentors’ commitment as well as satisfaction in volunteering. This will mean helping mentors identify their goals and, or, modify any unrealistic expectations.
In general, mentor training content should provide prospective mentors with knowledge of the mentees’ environments, cultural contexts, developmental needs, and other special needs. Skills practice should also be included in the areas of communication, cultural competency, relationship-enhancements and empathy.
Additionally, the program should also provide training to mentees, their parents or guardians to equip them with understanding of the purpose of mentoring; program requirements; mentees’ own goals for mentoring; and their mentors’ obligations and appropriate roles. Prospective mentees need to understand their obligations and appropriate roles; ethics and safety in mentoring relationships; and be briefed about effective closure of the mentoring relationship.
In keeping with the format of the CoP, this session ended with participants’ discussion in breakout rooms. The questions for this discussion were:
1. What are the main challenges or pain-points you face when carrying out training?
2. How can we enhance effectiveness of mentor training, bearing in mind Covid-safe considerations?
Regarding the importance of training, Rhodes (2020b), in her research paper, cites meta-analysis conducted on mentoring programs which reveals that targeted programs which focus on therapy on specific issues showed above average effectiveness compared to mentoring programs which are more general and less targeted in approach. Rhodes (2020) gives the example of a mentoring program that trained mentors skills in perspective taking and social skills, as well as cognitive-behavioral techniques and STEM academic skills, all within the context of building friendships. “The relationship-building helps to cultivate rapport, increases youth engagement, and serves as a catalyst to strengthen the intervention.” (Rhodes, 2020b, p. 28).
Focus on the Standard of Matching
The fourth 2020 CoP session was held on 9th September 2020 and featured the Standard of Matching in mentoring. The recommendations offered in this session were to increase the chances of mentoring relationships enduring and becoming effective.
Firstly, matching based on common interests should take precedence over matching based on race. Mentoring programs should be informed and consider their respective theory of change and program mission.
Secondly, there should be a sufficient difference in age between mentors and mentees for the mentor to be truly considered "older".
Mentoring programs should host a group event for prospective mentors and mentees to interact and indicate preferences for matching. This "voice and choice" process leads to greater engagement.
Thereafter, initial formal meetings should be documented and attended by program staff, and when relevant, a parent or guardian of the mentee. Lastly, background information for those involved should be provided, and a commitment agreement should be signed to establish clear expectations for the mentoring relationship.
When taken as a whole, these best practices enhance, but don’t necessarily guarantee, the chances for match success and relationship longevity. Mentoring program coordinators need to closely monitor and provide support for the matches – for both mentor and mentee.
At the end of this session, the participants discussed two questions in their respective breakout groups:
What are the main challenges or pain-points you face when carrying out matching?
How can we incorporate the element of ”voice and choice” of mentors and mentees, before matching is made?
The topic of matching appeared to be a challenging one for participants. Several posed insightful questions that added flavour to the CoP session:
Is it better to match mentee to a mentor that are different from them (expand learning opportunities) or the same (similarity and familiarity)?
What are the important questions to list down in the matching forms for both mentor and mentees to help create that effective match?
Changes are a stagnant thing in everyday life. As matching is usually done in the beginning of a mentor-mentee relationship, how can it be reorganized or adaptable to changes in mentee interests midway through the relationship?
How should one arrange mentor mentee grouping when there's hardly any information of the mentee and they have yet to meet each other.
Regarding training and matching of mentors, Rhodes (2020a) emphasized that a mix of ongoing training, matching of experienced mentors with mentees as well as targeted interventions are the ingredients of success of a mentoring program. She explained that experience was crucial as research has shown that the effectiveness of experienced mentors is comparable with that of professionals. Her meta-analysis of research studies showed the successful outcomes of engaging well-trained and supervised mentors who are able to conduct evidence-based care.
Focus on the Standards of Monitoring, Support and Closure
The final and final 2020 CoP session, held on 11 November 2020, covered the remaining Standards of The Elements - that of Monitoring and Support, and Closure in mentoring.