optimize your after school mentoring for success

Do you work one-on-one or small group with many different types of students whom you try get to know individually? If so, perhaps you find it difficult to maintain the focus and direction needed to get the most progress out of each student, especially when they're coming into your after school program full of the stress of the day..

It’s easy to get sidetracked when you’re trying to be attentive to who your students are. Unfortunately, this can really diminish the structured and goal-oriented direction that students need for learning.

A thoughtful, structured plan is essential. I found this to be really challenging for years, so after more than 25 years of working with many types of alternative learners in after school programsI would like to offer some of the effective ways I have used to build a kind of structure or architecture that will optimize your learning time with students as you get to know them better and better.

Although the scenario I’m presenting here works well for a one-on-one mentoring situation, you can certainly take elements of it into a group situation as well. Of course the nature of one-on-one mentoring allows you to spend more in-depth time with students; in future articles I’ll write more about group situations.

Developing a plan

Think you might want to develop a one-plan-fits-all approach to getting to know your students, one you can pull out to use for each student? Consider instead that the first step to developing a plan is getting to know each new student. Spending time with them individually will automatically orient you to being more sensitive and open to who they are.

The intake process

It helps to think of this getting-to-know-you meeting in terms of an intake process. When you speak with your student to set up your first physical meeting, encourage him to bring some of his work to show you – in the discipline he will be learning with you or any that is of interest to him. If you teach the arts, for example, you might suggest he bring his videos, audios, or writing samples, or see if he would like to do a short performance.

Engaging the student - sincerely

I’ve rarely seen a student who didn’t like the opportunity to share his work. This shows you are interested in him and his strengths first off, and this initial experience can’t be overstated for making the student feel valued.

Making a student feel valued is probably the most important asset you have as a teacher for empowering a student to learn.

It also goes miles as you begin to engage with him, because it’s one of the ways in which you can pave the way for him to feel safe with you. Be careful not to be at all intimidating, such as displaying your expertise unnecessarily. The idea here is to empathize with him and be as sincere as you can be – who you are, and real.

Starting this way you’ll set the stage for a shared learning experience that is highly effective, rewarding for both, and fun. That shared learning experience is what I built my teaching approach around, as described in my strengths-based educational mentoring guide.

Getting to know your student

Remembering that this is an intake, here’s what you want to find out:

  • What does he know?
  • What does he like?
  • What is he looking to do?
  • What are his goals, his view of his future?
  • What are his leisure and school interests?
  • Why he is coming to you?

Once you’ve learned the answers to these questions and begun to know each other, schedule a trial session to see if you both agree you want to continue on. Making this a shared experience – a venturing together in which you are partners – sets up a dynamic of respect and equality, so this needs to be a mutual decision.

The first session

In your first session or lesson you can start to assess him to get a baseline on how he learns. A great resource for this is found within the learning principles in our program evaluation and management software.

Try out different things to see what he responds to most strongly and what you can do most honestly yourself – what you own yourself as an artist or teacher and can do well. Have a willingness to look into some of his interests with which you’re unfamiliar. You should also take note at this time of some learning challenges that are evident so you can consider how you might approach these at future sessions.

Make sure you provide space with the right amount of time for the new student to educate you – it’s important to say again that the student should feel valued for what they can do and who they are, you should be constantly reinforcing their value – constantly.

To this end, you need to provide plenty of room for the student to express himself.

Listening – a prime asset

Are you a good listener? Listening is a prime asset for a good teacher to have, and one you should be constantly developing. The student can “hear” you listening!

A great example

Just a few years ago, I was conducting an intake interview with a 14 year old boy. He was shy and withdrawn, and his grandparents had to do most of the talking. It wasn’t long before I saw that we needed a new tact, so I asked him if he would like to play something on the guitar he had brought. That’s when I saw the first small spark of light.

He played one tune – a song to which he had written both music and lyrics – and I really enjoyed it, so asked him to play another. By the time he finished the second tune, he was like a changed person – talkative, engaged, and happy. We talked about his tunes, then about what he wanted to do in his life, and then what he wanted to learn in his music lessons. He and I worked together to set some achievable goals for him, and there was no looking back.

Goal setting

Goal setting is a good next step and one that should be mutually explored. This can really ground the after school activity for both of you. Reach two mutual goals: one that concerns the student’s competence/skill building and one personal behavioral goal. Goals should be set to be achieved in a relatively short span of time, and then new goals should be written on a periodic basis. This might be monthly or quarterly – whatever is most conducive to your teaching style, the student’s learning style, and the program you’re running. The goals should be short term and very specific to help maintain teaching focus and ensure successive building block successes for the student.

There’s much more to say about writing and setting good goals so I will devote future articles to writing concise goals, with examples of different types of goals.

Bill Rossi, Merge Creative Director