Training mentors

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Joanna Howard examines some of the areas mentors need to develop to perform effectively in their roles.

As mentoring becomes increasingly valued, we need to think about the essentials of training for mentors. The training on the whole needs to be designed for the specific setting and the desired outcomes of the mentoring process: corporate mentoring, volunteer mentoring of young people, peer mentoring and so on, even though the basic principles may be similar.

Why training?

In my experience, training programmes are provided for mentors for several reasons:

  • To develop a shared understanding of the specific context and purpose of the mentoring relationship
  • To make sure that all potential mentors are comfortable with the skills and behaviours needed fore successful mentoring
  • To clarify the desired outcomes in the particular setting: “Why are we doing this? What difference is it supposed to make?”
  • To establish success criteria, so that mentors can monitor their own effectiveness
  • As well as this, people who join in an interactive-style mentoring workshop often develop good contacts with each other that they can use for support and development later on. At the same time, it’s important to remember that mentoring is a natural human activity.

    Style of training

    There are several elements that contribute to effective mentor training. The ones I have found to be most important are:

  • Use principles of adult learning
  • Provide short clear focused input, the least the better.
  • Model a mentoring style to some extent
  • Use plenty of experiential skill-building exercises and activities, with feedback and reflection included
  • Encourage dialogue between participants
  • Build on participants’ own experience and ideas
  • Encourage the notion of self-development and action-planning
  • Provide relevant brief handouts for future reference (such as “review of mentoring meeting”, “useful behaviours for mentors”.)
  • Mentors are meant to help people think things through for themselves: be sure that you as the trainer do the same
  • Content of training

    1. You may need to provide discussion or input:

  • About desired outcomes of mentoring process
  • About life-stage and possible situation of potential mentees
  • On diversity - personality, learning style, cultural and national assumptions, including those of mentors - and how it may affect the relationship
  • On processes of change and learning as it affects mentors as well as mentees
  • About behaviours that help people take responsibility for their own development, think bigger and wider etc.
  • About developing an effective personal style
  • 2. Clear input and plenty of short practice activities on active listening, developmental questions, paraphrasing and reflecting, seeing the other person’s picture is essential. I generally find that working in threes for 15 minutes with mini-scenarios designed by the trainer is effective -

  • 5 minutes of mini-role-play (“A is the mentor, B is the mentee. C is the observer”)
  • 3 minutes feedback by the “mentee” on what their experience was like
  • 3 minutes of comments by the observer
  • collection of learning points to finish
  • 3. Opportunity to visualise themselves as a mentor, in a mentoring meeting.

    4. Space time and framework for mentors to plan their own development in the role, discussing their thoughts with one or two others.

    Joanna Howard works as a trainer and facilitator. Her particular interests are coaching and mentoring, team development and online learning. She is based in West Sussex.

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