Mentoring is a vital component of the P-TECH 9-14 model. Through mentoring, P-TECH partnerships invite the professional community into their schools, providing students with meaningful academic, workplace learning and emotional support.
Mentoring can happen in many different ways. Regardless of the specific approach, effective mentoring is skills-based, consistent, and embedded within the larger school programming.
Managing a mentoring program requires time and planning from all partners; it’s never too early to start to put the structure around this core component. The following are some considerations as you plan mentoring for your initiative.
In-Person or Online? For mentoring to be meaningful, mentors and students need to meet on a regular basis, working on together on projects, coursework or homework. Partnerships should develop clear schedules that enable mentors to be a regular part of student life whether on a weekly or biweekly basis.
Industry professionals are busy – often too busy to take time to volunteer. Online tools can provide a meaningful and convenient way for professionals to contribute their time and talents in schools by circumventing time and distance barriers to volunteerism. Even if a program is online, in-person opportunities help build powerful relationships between mentors and students. For those partnerships focusing on online mentoring, they might want to host two mandatory, face-to-face opportunities for mentors and students: one at the beginning and one at the end of the school year. Speaking opportunities, worksite visits, and project days give mentors other opportunities to meet their students in person.
Mentoring should be embedded within your school and thus must be school-based and run the course of the school year. Perhaps mentoring is built into workplace learning course and students participate on a regular day and time every week or biweekly.
Online Mentoring Technology (www.icouldbe.net). P-TECH uses an online mentoring tool from icouldbe.org, a nonprofit committed to providing at-risk youth with a community of professional mentors. The tool enables asynchronous communication, has safety and security features, and includes a career curriculum developed by icouldbe (though partnerships can choose to create their own curriculum as well).
Mentors. Mentors for your program do not necessarily have to be IT, healthcare or advanced manufacturing professionals. Their role is to provide insight into the world of work and to engage the students in workplace learning, not necessarily to provide technical education. They do need to be committed to the program (communicating with their student every week, for example) and understand the kinds of skills that students need to succeed in the 21st Century workplace. Partnerships should select a diverse group of mentors and consider making gender-based matches if possible. To allow for in-person opportunities, mentors should be in proximity to the school.
If possible, mentors can continue to work with their student-mentees beyond the ninth grade. Partnerships may want to consider inviting other corporations to provide mentors, especially as new incoming classes are added, to serve all students and provide students with exposure to a diversity of companies.
Activities. Industry liaisons should work with teachers to develop activities that align with the school’s programming. A great place to start is the workplace learning curriculum; mentors can help students understand key workplace competencies, such as leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, communication and ethics. Mentors can also have a role in project-based learning in academic subjects that focus on an industry issue or question. Traditional mentoring conversations also take place alongside academic projects to give mentors and students an opportunity to get to know one another in supportive relationships. It is helpful if mentoring assignments are required for course credit or even receive a grade so that they are being held accountable for the discussions that they have with their mentors.
Training. All participants – including program managers, teachers, mentors and students – should receive training before they can participate in the program. Training includes roles and responsibilities, program rules, helpful hints for participation, and if applicable, training on how to use the online technology.
Security. Many school districts require mentors to undergo comprehensive background checks before they can participate in a mentoring program. Students may also require a signed parent permission form in order to participate. Security checks take time and often cost money, so it is important for partnerships to plan for this aspect of the program. Also, it is essential that any online mentoring have adequate security and protect individual student data.
Evaluation. Partnerships may want to consider administering surveys for students, mentors and teachers/staff. The results can help the partnerships make mid- and end-of-program course corrections.
Staff Requirements. Because mentoring is primarily an industry partner responsibility, the industry should designate one staff person to implement the program. This person is responsible for the overall success of the program, including recruiting and interfacing with mentors, communicating with teachers about activities and participation, and coordinating any events. Likewise, there should be a single point of contact at the school to communicate with and manage the successful implementation of the program.
Timeline and Planning. It’s never too early to start planning. Begin to think about how the partnership will run the program now, what the focus of mentor-student activities will be, who will be responsible, and a timeline that enables mentoring to launch soon after school starts.