5 Tools Every Mentor Needs
Rob McNerney sets out 5 key exercises any school mentor needs to be doing.
Let’s be real. Life as a schools worker is not always easy. Sometimes we plan, pray and do everything right only to find ourselves dealing with the total unexpected. Here’s a true story from a colleague. She had just finished preparing to run an anger group for bunch of year 7s and was optimistically looking forward to the first session, when suddenly they decided it was time to fight. As the shouts and screams got louder and arms and legs went flying through the air, she paused and thought to herself “Wow! They really are angry.”
Through the best and the worst, there is truly never a dull moment in this profession we’ve chosen. I applaud all of you who have chosen to be a schools worker. At the core of it all, is your massive heart for the transformation of young peoples lives. It is a privilege to be able to be a positive voice that cares for young people and to help them reach their fullest potential.
The context that I work in for schools is around SMSC projects, group work, and 1-1 mentoring. Yesterday was one of those special days that breathes reinvigorating life into the very purpose we do what we do. I heard feedback such as “this group is really helpful because I always thought I was alone feeling this way, but now I know there are others just like me”. And “last week I almost got into a fight but then I stopped to think about what we just learnt and I decided it wasn’t worth it”. And my personal favorite “even my mom is saying my behavior is improving” he said with a wide smile beaming through.
I left high-fiving the Lord saying “this is why we’re here”.
Everyone has their own unique way of doing things when it comes to mentoring and I’m a big believer in assessing each situation to respond appropriately to it’s specific needs. Every individual young person has a unique story and is on their own personal growth path.
However, today I’d like to share 5 key exercises that have worked well for me with the hopes that you can take something helpful away that could be practically implemented into your work.
Setting the foundation
Addressing their questions straight up and honest: Why am I here? What is this? Why are you here?
In a group setting, it is crucial to the success of the group to establish boundaries together and hold to them. You want it to be clear to everyone that you are in charge and promote a safe space.
For 1-1 mentoring I suggest to spend more time in the initial session to ask intentional questions and listen, listen, listen so that you can understand their reality.
It builds trust to take time out the first session focusing on these things. This trust will be the launching platform to reach the deeper depths in the sessions to come.
1. What's your why?
When I ask this question I usually receive puzzled looks and the occasional “huh” in return. The short and simple is I want to know what motivates them. In the moments when life hits hard, in the moments when their back is up against the wall, what is something bigger and able to motivate them through? If I’m going to be offering a new alternative vision, I’m going to need their willpower to be able to implement it.
2. Calling the adult out of the child
Linking what you are teaching them to becoming an adult has worked very well in my experience. This is an excellent way to brave the difficult topics and it also overlaps into a behavior management technique. An example would be just before going into a lesson around something tough that they need to work on you could explain to them that “Facing our own issues can be scary but it is a character trait of an adult”. It may be more appropriate in certain contexts to say words like “Maturity” or “Growth” rather than “Adult”.
3. Think Differently
Helping young people to realise that they are in control and have power over their thoughts and feelings is fundamental to witnessing transformation. This is often the session that results in the greatest breakthrough and ends up on the final feedback form as the tool that is helping them the most. As Christians, we believe in the renewal of the mind as we take our thoughts captive to the Lord. In psychology, there is a practice called the cognitive behavioral therapy which addresses negative automatic thoughts. Two starters that often come up are “Today will be rubbish” and “This teacher hates me and is against me, ergo this class will be bad”.
For more on this, read this brilliant blog post http://www.resilient-mindset.c...
4. Communication Styles
We live in a globally interconnected world with perpetual communication across multiple platforms. The generation of young people that we work with are immersed in a culture of instant informal interactions. Exploring how to communicate in a respectful, healthy, and assertive approach across these many platforms has bore excellent fruit with these young people and their relationships with teachers, parents, and peers.
5. Living in the moment - building resilience
As Christians we have all heard the saying “the present is a gift, that’s why it is called the present”. We believe that our past is forgiven by Jesus’s sacrifice for us and we trust our future in the hands of a heavenly Father who unconditionally loves us. Being enabled by God to live in the moment empowers us to learn, build, grow, and resist temptation one day at a time. Temptation is well-known to everyone. I have seen young people overwhelmed with the idea of them changing because they are looking at the future but if I ask them “well what about for one day, could you do this or not do that for one day?” They will confidently respond “Yes!” If you can do something for just one day, staying focused in the moment, you can do it for a lifetime.
Rob McNerney, Youth Development Worker, Youthscape and St John's Methodist.