Guide for Mentoring Students

Frequently mentoring students is linked to students’ academic success. While grades are significant, we suggest that mentoring students is so much more than providing a focus on academics. In fact, we argue that supporting students holistically will foster relationships and environments for success in and out of the classroom. In this article, we provide tips, strategies, and practices we have found beneficial to faculty in aiding mentoring and supporting students. Additionally, if you are a student seeking a mentor, these best practices will be helpful to you as well.

Tips, Strategies, and Practices for Mentoring Students

Practice 1: Establishing The Relationship

Establishing a relationship is essential to creating a solid foundation for mentorships to grow and flourish. When you design the relationship with your mentee or student, you both should set expectations and goals for the mentorship. The first step to a successful mentorship is designing your relationship. This will ensure that both mentor and mentee or student know the rules of engagement and what to expect from the commitment.. Below, we provide examples of the different types of potential mentorships.

The Structured Relationship
We define this relationship as a pairing of two individuals based on a shared and mutually beneficial goal. An example of this is when an adjunct is paired with a tenured faculty member in the workplace. This provides a space for training and an opportunity for the adjunct to get acclimated to the institution. The tenured faculty member is developing their training , developing skills, and showing their competency in their role. This type of relationship creates a continuum of learning and development. With students, we sometimes see upper-level students establish similar relationships with first-year students, and the premise remains the same even though the setting has changed.

The Requested Relationship
This relationship occurs when receiving a direct request from someone asking for help. In this instance, people may look at how you complete a specific task, a skill you have, your overall energy, or various other factors. This scenario is a bit more relaxed because you do not have anything prepared in advance, and you plan as you go. In the structured mentoring relationship, someone else usually lays out learning outcomes and other assessment measures to monitor the success of the mentoring relationship, but in this situation, this structure is not always present unless you intentionally create it.

The Suggested Relationship
In this type of relationship, the mentor sees an individual with a lot of potential that may be struggling in a particular area or might need a little extra support. In this instance, you have to tread very lightly to ensure that you are not making any assumptions or exposing any implicit biases based on what you see and not based on what you know to be factual. So in these instances, it would be imperative to build a rapport and establish trust before formally introducing the idea of mentoring to the person because they may not be interested or may not know what it entails. Hearing it from someone they are not too familiar with might cause them to shy away from the thought, but if there is a relationship in the making, there is a chance they will be more invested.

Practice 2: Create Boundaries

As with any relationship, this is important because you need to make sure that you are comfortable and feel respected within the mentorship. Often people think that there is common courtesy and sense that everyone should be aware of, but from personal experience, we have determined that to be a rare commodity. So to avoid all of the unnecessary confusion, be clear and direct from the beginning. Ask those direct questions about communication and preferences and share yours as well so that you and your mentee or student are on the same page. This will also help to hold one another accountable. This practice not only creates a collective and agreeable space for you and your mentee or student, but it enables you both to model the behaviors in other aspects of your lives. It is important to model it in all aspects of your life because it brings you peace and helps to keep you whole.

Practice 3: Set Expectations

Setting expectations is something that is overlooked, as people tend to only talk about issues after a problem arises. However, things can be very chaotic if expectations are not set from the very beginning. Setting expectations helps eliminate issues as it gives a point of reference of where the violations occur and how to rectify them. This tip goes hand in hand with those boundaries because you want the mentorship to work, but it must have a solid foundation. The foundation of mentorship must be collectively built, and this is where the blueprint lies. A good way to think about setting expectations is to think about what you need in a relationship and to write those things down to include in your designed relationship. This does not have to be formal, rather a way to be sure that each person in the relationship has their needs met.

Practice 4: Challenge and Support

When in a mentorship, it is essential to continue nourishing and growing the relationship. One of the ways to do this is to make sure that accountability structures are in place. As faculty, you always want to be thinking of ways to grow your mentees or students both personally and professionally. The idea of challenge and support is that you push your student to engage in activities that will help them grow, and while it may be difficult, you support them through the learning experience. This requires us as mentors to know the growth areas for our mentees or students and intentionally provide opportunities for those areas to be further developed. Within the following sections, we will provide strategies for mentors to strengthen their mentoring muscle of challenging and supporting.

Check In
This tip sounds so simple, and it is one of the most important. As a mentor, we encourage you to schedule and set times to check-in with your mentees or students. These check-ins could be formal or informal. Once you get an idea of the best modes and communication methods with your student or mentee, you both can decide if formal or informal check-ins will benefit the relationship. You might even decide that a mix of formal and informal will serve you both well. These check-ins are an opportunity to learn more about your mentee, get to know their goals and get to know what they hope to learn from you. Checking in is the first step to helping your mentee achieve their goals. So, set regular times to meet and be the additional support your mentee or student needs.

Track/Monitor Progress
Accountability is vital when it comes to tracking and monitoring your mentee or student’s progress toward their goals. You and your mentee or student should come up with a plan for how progress should be monitored. Additionally, you both should have conversations around what should be implemented or discussed when goals feel like they are not met, or someone in the mentorship is not contributing 100% effort. Having a detailed plan and understanding of how to track and monitor progress toward goals will aid with providing additional advice and support when needed. Having a plan also creates more structure and support for the mentorship. Setting goals, assessing goals, and making changes based on what is learned will help the mentorship thrive. Remember, if you do not evaluate progress, you do not know what is working and what is not.   

Encourage Self-Advocacy
This tip is essential as it begins to shift your mentee or student’s mindset. As a mentor, teaching a mentee or student how to advocate for themselves and then encouraging them to do so starts to move them from being dependent to independent. As a mentor, one of your long-term goals within the mentorship should help the mentee or student become more independent. The mentee or student should learn that they have their best interest at heart, and who better to speak on their behalf than themselves? So, provide opportunities, learning moments and identify opportunities for students to practice speaking up and voicing their needs and concerns. This will help mentees or students become independent and gain transferable skills that will serve them greatly after your mentorship with them has concluded. 

Practice 5: Know Your Limits

As a mentor, you must know what you can and cannot commit yourself to. Self-care is essential, and if you over-commit or extend yourself, you will not be as effective for your mentees or students. So, we strongly encourage you as a mentor to know what your limits are so that you do not become burnt out. Being able to communicate what is and is not possible in your mentorship will preserve you and teach your mentees or students the same. They learned that they, too, get some control and autonomy over what they can commit and dedicate time, energy, and effort. As humans, we are naturally wired to want to help and accomplish many things. However, we must fight the urge to want to do everything. Checkin-in with yourself and identify limits will support not just your mentorships but other relationships you have too. 

Do you have additional practices to add to the list? Or have specific examples of what these practices look like in action? We would also like to hear what you have found helpful when mentoring students. Feel free to send your responses via Twitter (@TomlinAntione and @jennuwin_jay) so that we can continue this conversation!

Authors’ Bios:

Dr. Antione D. Tomlin earned his PhD in Language, Literacy, and Culture from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is an assistant professor of Academic Literacies and English at Anne Arundel Community College.

Professor Jenn C. Brad is currently working on her PhD in Higher Education Administration with a concentration in Student Affairs from Morgan State University. She also currently works as an Assistant Director at one of the residential facilities at the University of Maryland College Park and as an adjunct in the Human Services field at several community colleges in the DMV area. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.