Friday, 30 April 2010

What is mentoring?

It has occurred to me that some people might be interesting in becoming involved in the SYP Mentoring Scheme, as mentor or student, but perhaps don't fully understand what it would involve in terms of their time commitment or indeed the nature of mentoring itself.

In terms of time commitment we are recommending mentors 'meet' with their students (this could be face-to-face over a coffee, via email, over the phone or Skype, etc) for a minimum of [up to] 2 hours on 3 separate occasions over a 6 month timeframe. So, beginning in June, the arrangement would formally finish at the end of this year. These are not fixed rules, and some mentors and students from last year met up more frequently, and indeed are still in contact with each other.

What is Mentoring?
Like many business phrases, there is no one definition for mentoring that all academics and practitioners agree on. However, part of a definition from the book Everyone Needs a Mentor (D. Clutterbuck, 2004), provides a good pointer:

'Mentoring helps mentees and mentors progress their personal and professional growth. The aim is to build the capability of mentees to the point of self-reliance... Mentoring is a positive developmental activity. Mentors can discuss current issues relating to the mentee’s work, offering insights... into how the informal networks operate and how they think about the challenges and opportunities they encounter. Mentors can advise on development and how to manage a career plan; they can challenge assumptions; and where relevant, they can share their own experience.'

Through a series of regular, confidential one-to-one meetings, a mentor helps their student to work out their own answers to things that are important to them: from immediate job application plans, to the right area of publishing for them to be in, to long-term career goals. This might mean helping the student stand back and see the broader picture, or just providing a listening ear when they want to get something off their chest or just need someone to act as a sounding board. The long-term aim is for the student to become self-reliant in acquiring new knowledge, skills and abilities. Mentoring draws upon a range of development methods including coaching, counselling, facilitating and sharing expertise.

What to expect in mentoring meetings
There is no 'right' format for mentoring meetings; students and mentors will agree an approach that works best for them. I have created some groundrules that all students must adhere to, but the following guidelines are based on good practice:

First Meeting:
The first meeting has three main goals:
· to establish rapport
· to establish an understanding of what each should expect of the other
· to agree the student’s initial development objectives and immediate issue

This initial meeting is very useful in facilitating successful mentoring relationships by outlining and managing mutual expectations and clarifying roles.

A typical mentoring agreement might include:
· The mentee’s primary development objectives
· What the student is obliged to do in the mentoring relationship
· What the mentor is obliged to do in the mentoring relationship
· Decide on what project/issue/career aspect to work on together.
· How often you want to meet and by what channel.

Early on in the mentoring relationship, ideally at the first meeting, mentees and mentors should discuss boundaries for the relationship in terms of what each party can and will do within the relationship. There are a small number of general boundaries that I would suggest are useful in all mentoring relationships. These are:

· The relationship is student driven and it is the mentee’s responsibility to determine the agenda for mentoring meetings
· It is not the mentor’s role to sort out the student’s problems but to help the student solve their own problems
· Whilst mentors should be able to help students with a wide range of development opportunities or any problems, the mentor is not expected to be a trained counsellor.

Subsequent Meetings: Mentoring
The agendas for these meetings will be driven by the student’s mentoring goal and therefore may change and evolve over the course of the mentoring relationship. The meetings will typically last between one and two hours. During these meetings the mentor may provide coaching, counselling, advice, encouragement, challenge and feedback depending on the student’s needs.

Confidentiality is a fundamental principle of a mentoring relationship in order to build trust and encourage openness. This applies to both mentors and students. Both parties commit not to talk about what has been discussed at mentoring meetings unless they have the agreement of the other party to do so.

Finally, it is entirely voluntary! Either party can agree to end the mentoring arrangement (if both parties agree that the mentoring situation has developed as far as it can and has come to a natural conclusion). Similarly, if both parties wish to continue to be in touch after the formal ending of the SYP mentoring scheme, that is also perfectly acceptable.

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