The playoffs to determine the British Columbia Little League team and the eventual team to represent Canada in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania took place in Victoria, BC a few weeks ago. This kind of organized and structured sport was quite different from the typical games I played as a kid, and I was eager to watch these youngsters play in such high stakes games.
When I arrived at the ballpark, I was flooded with feelings and memories from long ago. I had played baseball from the beginning of elementary school through university graduation. At one time I planned on being a professional baseball player. My reverie reconnected me with the role that peers played during these early years. I remembered that from dawn to dusk my friends and I spent virtually all our free time playing a variety of sports, but mostly baseball. We organized our own teams; we were responsible for our own equipment and for transporting ourselves to the parks where we would be the visiting team. On a daily basis we “chose up sides.” Everyone knew who the best players were, but the role of “chooser” rotated on a regular basis so that eventually everyone had an opportunity to be the chooser and chosen. Nobody told us to do this, it seemed like the natural thing to do.
We also adjusted the rules to maintain equity and compensate for our own growing physical abilities. For example, I remember the 20-foot high cyclone fence 210 feet from home plate in right field. When we were little kids, if you could hit it over that fence, it was a home run, and nobody minded the time it took to get the ball and bring it back. As a matter of fact, sometimes we would all search for the ball and maybe stop off at the store for candy or baseball cards. As we got older and stronger, we changed the rule so that hitting the ball over the fence was an out. Everybody wanted to keep the rhythm of the game going, and not spend time chasing the ball down the street. Nobody told us to do this, it seemed like the natural thing to do.
I remember the thrill of victory, our cheering each other, and deciding where or what we would do to celebrate. I remember the despair of defeat and the temporary nature of our gloom, the silent walks or public bus ride home, or the desire to blame somebody else for the loss. Yet the next day, everyone emerged ready to practice, chose up sides, and figure out what we learned from our previous game. Nobody told us to do this, it seemed like the natural thing to do.
I lived in a dense urban area: a mixture of black, white, Latino and Asian families. A lot of kids went to private or parochial schools, I walked 15 blocks to my public elementary school. From time to time new kids would move into the neighbourhood. They would drift down to the park, maybe even carrying a bat or a baseball glove. Somebody would always ask them if they wanted to join in the game or wait for the next choose-up. Nobody told us to do this, it seemed like the natural thing to do.
Although the park had adult directors (physical education students from a local university), and they would sometimes coach us and help us arrange to play other teams, we were pretty much left unsupervised by adults. We often played pranks and practical jokes on each other, destroyed or defaced property, or got into fights, and now and then said some mean or hurtful things to one another. But apologies, shaking hands, repairing damage and resolving disputes were equally as common. Nobody told us to do this, it seemed like the natural thing to do.
Kids today are growing up in the most highly organized society imaginable. Opportunities for youth to impact their environment or determine things for themselves are shrinking. Safe play areas are important, but these areas are not designed to be changed by kids; instead, they are designed to resist change. Adult organized activities tend to limit opportunities for kids to learn how to make their own assessments of equity, mutuality, and the true purpose of rules.
Times have changed. When I was a kid, there were only two things my parents were concerned about: things that would “poke my eye out,” and things I might do to “break my neck.” Opportunities for spontaneous play and peer interaction, the kind where kids can develop their own guiding principles, are on the decline. Increasing concern for the necessary physical safety of kids limits the time kids have to be on their own, travel freely into other neighbourhoods or receive spontaneous mentoring from a variety of adults.
Kids have fewer occasions where they can develop care and concern skills and behaviours. Social programs organized by adults have emerged to provide these skills, yet the programs are typically “deficiency” oriented. Rather than trying to bring out the “dormant wisdom,” which helps young people reconnect with their inherent needs for fairness, belonging, friendship, and fun, social skill oriented programs assume that kids are uneducated or ignorant and in need of adult-driven instruction.
Peer group interaction, a naturally occurring and powerful phenomenon, has been organized by adults through the use of peer helpers. Paradoxically, some of these organized programs may reduce the natural support peers provide. I worry that the introduction of the counselling skill and theory approaches as a basis for peer helping may lead peer helpers to learn accepted techniques, rather than build on their inherent wisdom and desire to help others. I worry that the increased acceptance of peer helping by professional helpers will be accompanied by a more rigid peer training curriculum dictated by professional interests. I worry that the success of peer helping in its present form may decrease the involvement of future volunteer peer helpers in making a variety of peer program decisions.
I know that my worries have been reduced by the many exceptional peer program leaders I have met over the years and by my own observations of a multitude of exemplary peer programs. Yet as peer mentor programs expand to community organizations, the workplace, and other age groups, variations are bound to occur which lose the connection with the foundations of peer work. Nobody told us to do this, it’s just the natural thing to do.
And, if you were wondering, a Little League team from White Rock, British Columbia became Team Canada. They represented Canada in the International side of the Little League World Series. As of this writing, they have a good chance to play an American team in the World Series championship game.
The recent youth suicides within Indigenous communities in northern Ontario are tragic and heartbreaking. As often happens when these dramatic events occur, community leaders, parents, teachers, and mental health agencies are often stunned, shocked and puzzled about what to do.
A typical reaction is to provide additional funding for existing mental health services and to fund other resources that are often associated with youth suicide such as poverty, hopelessness, physical and sexual abuse, overcrowding and low levels of education.
Less likely to rise to the top of the priority list are peer programs where trained and supervised youth take an active role in helping other youth to deal with despair, hopelessness, fear, and trauma.
Peer-led interventions are more likely to positively influence the youth culture, speed-up the help and connection youth might need to professional services, connect troubled youth to safe, caring and compassionate peers, and provide the empowerment youth experience from being listened to, understood, acknowledged and supported.
The Province of Ontario is no strangerto evidence-based peer programs. For many years in the past, peer program leaders and consultants like Rey Carr, Diane Taub, Michael Peirce, Wayne Townsend, and Ron Jorgenson trained student peer mentors and facilitated train-the-trainer peer workshops for community leaders in that province (as well as every province and territory in Canada).
In addition, from 1990–1993, our group of trainers plus a dozen others created a national, Canada-wide program, known as “The National Stay-in-School Initiative,” that resulted in more than 30,000 peer mentors being connected to 100,000 students across the country.
Despite the hundreds of trained adult personnel and the thousands of students trained as peer helpers (many of whom have gone on to universities and colleges where they continued to participate in peer-led services) in Ontario, there are many rural communities that have yet to implement a peer-based service for youth.
I’d like to encourage readers of this SpiritMentor blog, particularly the Canadian readers, to write letters-to-the-editor or contact your MP and let them know that peer-led programs are not just add-ons, but are necessary elements to change peer culture to one of healthy, positive support and encouragement so that allyouth can live out their dreams rather than have their dreams thwarted by negative peer pressure and conditions over which they have little control.
Intelligent Leaders — Finding the Best Mentors
When I was ‘on-the-road’ as a professional musician at the age of 18. I found it difficult to continue with formal percussion lessons with the best drummers because I was traveling too much to sustain a teacher. So, wherever I was located for the next gig, I would set up two sets of drums and invite drummers to play with me. (They were easy to find at each city’s music stores.) It is interesting that each drummer who played with me, learned many of my patterns (percussion vocabulary); yet, I learned many new techniques from each of them. Each mentor interaction provided me with more information about drums and percussion. This is “informal mentoring” at its best and it cost me nothing but my rehearsal time—smart investment. It helped me to stay on top of a very competitive market. The more versatile I became as a drummer and percussionist, the more work came my way. “Intelligent Leaders need breadth and depth.”
Although I was not aware of it at the time, I was continuously looking for role models. My father passed away when I was twelve and I kept looking for good people doing good things. I found many role models—some good and some struggling with life. I was quite deliberate in looking for behavioural responses that made sense—what to do and what not to do. All of this time, I was gradually developing the character of “me.” Informal mentoring can be powerful as long as you are open to it.
After university and three honours degrees, I entered professional life from a business perspective and learned about “formal mentoring.” I have been involved in Formal Mentor Training since 1985. However, I have been the recipient of informal mentoring my whole life. I continued to seek out people who were doing things that impressed me and I would ask them if I could speak with them about their work. Mentor questions came out quite naturally because I was interested in people and their work.
In 1989, I was introduced to one of the best Student Retention Programs in the Province of Ontario by Tom Connolly with the Waterloo Board of Education. I was completely hooked. There was no turning back. Tom continues to be an informal mentor to me and he introduced me to Dr. Rey Carr, Peer Resources in Victoria, B.C. who developed the strongest “International Mentor Programs.” I trained in all of Dr. Carr’s programs: Peer Mentor Training, Mentor Training (Levels 1-3), Coach Training and Executive Coach Training. Then I followed with Cy Charney’s Mentor Management Training and ICF (International Coach Federation) training. Each of these connections added “breadth and depth” to mentor/coach training skills.
With all of this training and experience over a lifetime of mentor and coach training, I still believe that Dr. Carr’s Mentor Training is the strongest program internationally [www.mentors.ca]. The foundational principles of his training programs are well researched, sound in practice and transferable to any setting. In addition, I have been using Carr’s closure procedure for years in many counselling and social settings. These mentor principles provide a process for strong, empowering and facilitative processes that move groups and individuals forward.
For Canada Day, Dr. Carr published a free ebook about Canadian Mentors and match-ups that reflect his lifetime of work on mentoring in Canada. He is an incredible mentor and role model.
Finding The Best Mentors
What I have learned about mentoring and coaching is that mentors/coaches are simply a phone call or email away. It is about getting to yes. You simply have to ask the question: “Would you be willing to meet with me for an hour so that I can learn about…?”
It is that simple at setting up an informal mentor. If you do this often enough, your learnings will happen. From those meetings, you might ask one of those informal mentors to be a more formal mentor. If by chance they say ‘no’ or they don’t have time right now, then your next question is: “Do you know of someone who may be able to help me with this area of learning?”
It is all about getting to yes and your personal professional development.
(Thanks for my friend and mentoring partner, Wayne Townsend for allowing me to share his post here. I treasure our relationship and it is a great example of how a true mentoring relationship shifts to where the mentor learns as much from the person he or she has mentored.)
I’ve created a new e-book on Mentors and Mentoring in Canada. The book coincides with the celebration Canada’s 150th Anniversary. It includes more than 150 examples of mentoring relationships from all walks of life in Canada including sports, history, leadership, the arts, politics, entertainment, music, and business. I’ve also included ideas about the key principles associated with mentoring; how mentoring and coaching are the same and different; illustrations of mentoring relationships from my own life and what I learned from them; and examples of mentoring relationships experienced by well-known and lesser-known Canadians. To make it easier to find particular people and who mentored whom, I’ve included a name index. The e-book can be downloaded at no cost from http://goo.gl/IsJvWr
Feedback is welcomed and testimonials will be treasured.
Latest Entries to the Mentor Hall of Fame.
Virtually anyone can benefit from having a mentor. And most well-known, accomplished and successful people can identify people in their lives who acted as mentors.
The list of mentor pairs in the Mentor Hall of Fame was compiled by Rey Carr from a variety of sources including autobiographies, biographies, newspaper articles, personal interviews, and diligent historical research. Mentor pairs portrayed in fiction or movies are also included.
Pairings are divided into ten general categories. In most cases, mentors and their partners could be included in the same category. However, where a mentor and partner are from different career or life areas, the pairing has been placed in the partner’s category. (A few historical facts or humorous references to the term mentor are included at various places in the listings.)
The categories include
- Actors, Comedians, Producers and Directors (Stage, Screen, and TV)
- Mentoring relationships depicted in motion pictures and television
- Musicians, Songwriters, and Singers
- Classical and Broadway Musicians, Composers, Conductors, Ballet, and Modern Dancers
- Fashion, Media, and Celebrities
- Artists, Writers, Photographers, Publishers, Novelists, Poets
- Mentoring relationships depicted in print (novels stories, fiction)
- Sports Figures, Athletes, and Coaches
- Historical, Political, Spiritual, and Civic Leaders
- Business, Industry, Education, Science, and Medical Leaders
Here are some of the latest entries to the Mentor Hall of Fame:
Once a week for the past eight years a group of us meet for breakfast and discuss a variety of topics. What started as a one-time breakfast meeting with former workplace colleagues to catch up on retirement progress, has evolved into a continuing peer mentoring activity that relies on an unusual structure to manage engagement.
In her article, Group Mentoring: Strategies for Success, Lois Zachary (2011) identified peer group mentoring as one of the three most commonly employed models for achieving learning goals. Our group meets all of the criteria that she identified as associated with peer mentoring, including (1) having similar interests or needs; (2) setting our own agenda; (3) engaging in self-management and self-direction; (4) managing the focus of the discussion to make sure all members’ needs are met; and (5) ensuring that each group member benefits from the knowledge, expertise, and experience of the other group members.
What’s surprising or unusual, however, about our peer mentoring group is that we have yet to discuss, consciously review, or deliberately implement any of the five criteria Dr. Zachary identified. In other words, we didn’t review options and select one that we preferred. Instead, our structure and process have evolved over time. They may continue to change, but both seem to have been achieved by what can best be called a ‘happy accident.’
Using the happy accident approach for developing a peer group meeting structure may not be suitable for everyone. It can severely test the patience of those who prefer a certain degree of structure, a set agenda, or an urge to ‘get things done.’
As an experienced group leader in other contexts, I’m (happily) surprised that this peer mentoring group has been so successful, despite violating some of the standard principles associated with effective group management. For example, a lower level of structure in most groups typically leads to low levels of participation or inconsistent engagement by various members of the group. In our group, participation is equally distributed. Each member introduces topics; some members bring materials or resources to the group to share with the others, and everyone in the group contributes to every discussion (whether they know anything about it or not).
A low structure can also make it easier for some group members to dominate discussion or process in a way the meets their needs only. While the specific interests of a particular group member may serve as a topic discussion starter, the person who initiated the topic typically asks each of the other group members for their reactions or ideas about that topic. Group members also respond with their own viewpoint, whether they are specifically asked or not. Responsibility for leadership is distributed evenly among all group members.
Another problem that can lead to difficulties in groups is the degree to which the group has established a verbalized consensus on the group’s purpose. Many groups have no way of determining the degree to which they are achieving their purpose or desired results without an overall objective. This lack of clarity typically leads to low engagement, inconsistent attendance, or dropping out completely.
Although we’ve never spoken directly about our purpose, the fact that we have been meeting consistently for eight years (with time out during certain months for holidays), indicates that the model we have developed is satisfying, effective, and successful.
The Mindfulness Process
Our current way of interacting with each other has been repeated enough times that it is possible to describe some of the elements that have contributed to the success of our peer mentoring group. If I had to come up with one term or phrase that would characterize our meetings, I would use the term ‘mindfulness.’ Our interactions seem to (1) show conscious awareness or willingness to explore our current thoughts, feelings, and opinions; (2) seek alternative views or be open and curious about the views of others; and (3) resist any tendency toward judgment and instead focus on acceptance; and (4) be willing to include a sense of presence and authenticity.
Jon Kabat-Zinn (2009) has written extensively about mindfulness and the impact it has on stress reduction, and Peer Resources Network member Doug Silsbee (2010) has centered mindfulness as a key to successful coaching interactions. While we did not purposely establish a mindfulness perspective or process in our group, it has evolved in a way to be our most consistent way of interacting with each other.
“Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone.”
~ Jimmy Carter ~
Bring it Up
While variations occur in any meeting, here are the most consistent mindfulness elements of our peer group dialogue.
Many of our discussions have to do with the circumstances associated with aging, health, exercise, mood, and medical or alternative treatments. These topics probably have more to do with the fact that all the group members are over 65. But many discussions are initiated around ideas that come from books we’re reading, current events, things we’ve discovered online, or past experiences.
Regardless of the topic, the initiator typically takes some time to share, explain or expand on the topic, and, if appropriate, bring up any inner dialogue and feelings about it. Sometimes this can lead to catastrophizing, making it seem like disaster is imminent or immense. Typically when this happens it is also followed by what might be considered a creative awareness, where the current topic seems related to some past experience, fear or action.
Whatever path the initiator takes the topic, there is a pause where that person asks the other group members for their reaction, assessment, or comment.
Catch and Release
At this point, various group members express their understanding of or experience with the topic. This may include seeking clarity, sharing a similar experience, or drawing upon their own wisdom or learning.
The intention is to acknowledge the content, feelings, and perspective of the initiator, while at the same time releasing the initiator from having to hold on to negative or stressful feelings, particularly those that facilitate catastrophizing or feeling alone.
Not all topics feature emotional content. Some are more idea- or intellectually- centered. These are often discussed with the intention of focusing on meaning-making questions or comments such as ‘What do you make of that?’ or ‘This is what I gained from it when it happened to me.’
Sometimes group members share what action they have taken when faced with a similar circumstance. However, we are not what I would consider a ‘result/ action’ oriented group. That is, there doesn’t appear to be a drive on any group member’s part to figure out what to do about something. This doesn’t prevent members from asking for advice or ideas, and this often becomes a way to draw upon the wisdom and experience of group members.
Bring it In
More than 60 years ago I had a high school coach who at the end of each practice would say, “Okay fellas, bring it in.” That was the signal that the physical practice was over and we were to gather in a group around the coach. The coach would then provide feedback or comments to the players on what he observed that day, and he would encourage us to express our gratitude to other players for what we were experiencing that day.
This wasn’t always easy as some of the conflicts between us led to some nasty, snarky or sarcastic ways of doing what the coach asked us to do. At the same time, when another player authentically expressed gratitude or appreciation, it had a powerful and lasting impact.
That early experience had such a profound impact on me that I’ve carried the experience through into my personal and professional life. Using it as part of the peer mentoring group seemed like a natural and useful thing to do. Fortunately, it’s contagious. I only tried it a few times before it became a fairly common aspect of the interactions for all of us within our group. We often nish our meetings or topic discussions with a type of ‘bring it in’ activity. It’s not so much a formal procedure as it is a way to help each other replace negative thoughts or feelings with things we appreciate or are grateful for. These more personal comments to each other also allow us to express our compassion and support for each other.
Not all our group meetings follow the pattern of mindfulness, nor does each meeting always include the three elements described above. Sometimes our focus is on recalling a past event or experience, sharing stories about family adventures, agreeing that our former workplace was a better organization when we worked there or telling jokes or humourous anecdotes. I’m convinced that the flexibility in both agenda-setting and how we manage the discussion as well as the personal meaning, knowledge, and support we gain from and give to each other is the glue that has attracted us to continue to meet with each other on a regular basis.
The size and consistency of our group also matter. For the most part, there are four of us, sometimes five; and from time-to-time one of the members brings a guest. While we might be able to accomplish mindfulness with more members, a larger group might lead to inconsistent attendance and less opportunity for follow- up, and less likelihood or willingness to tune-in to our way of being with each other.
Peer mentoring, particularly for small groups of older members of a society, go far back in history. The Knights of the Roundtable, Tribal Councils, Elder Chiefs, and other forms of ancient governing practices were all examples of peer mentoring.
Peer mentoring for seniors can be a powerful way to stimulate brain functioning and learning, meet social connection needs, and enable seniors to continue to grow and develop. Could others use our system? Possibly, but the key would be how to develop a mindfulness approach that would work for that particular group. From our experience, we stumbled into it by happy accident. There are many paths to a mindful or fulfillling way to participate in peer mentoring. We’re grateful we found ours.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Letting everything become your teacher: 100 lessons in mindfulness. New York: Dell Publishing.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2006). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.
Silsbee, D. (2010). The mindful coach. Seven roles for facilitating leader development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Zachary, L. (2011). Group mentoring: Strategies for success. Peer Bulletin, 205, 12-14.
“Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regard for the rule that, “thought comes before speech.”
~ Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939) ~
Ogala Sioux Chief
Quotes are a valuable way to create value in mentoring. They can serve as a source of inspiration, an acknowledgment of value gained, a tool for clarifying ideas and act as a catalyst for reflection and learning.
Over the years, I have collected a variety of quotes which I originally used in workshops, training, lectures and professional publications. Sometimes quotes lend credibility to ideas since many of the quotes come from well-known persons in history or contemporary society.
Quotes can also be used as a basis for discussion of ideas and meaning. I’ve also used the quotes as the basis for an experiential exercise with participants by asking a question about the quote such as ‘how might this relate to your experience?’ You may find that a quote reminds you of a story or anecdote. Maybe the quote has a special meaning for you.
I have created an e-book filled with some of my favourite quotes. In the e-book, I’ve provided an opportunity for users to make notes or add reflections about the quotes to make them more useful in discussing mentoring or conducting training sessions.
Some quotes specifically mention “mentoring” and others represent concepts or perspectives related to mentoring. The quotes are meant to generate ideas about what personal philosophy or perspective might be reflected in the quote.
Rather than just providing a quote in an attractive font with an interesting background— as is typically found on social media or within various books and magazines—I wanted to honour the person quoted by
- including a photo of the person,
- providing a link to learn more about the person, and, if available,
- adding that person’s mentor or whom that person mentored.
A note on the accuracy of attribution of the quotes in the e-book. The Internet can provide multiple sources for verifying the source of a quote, but sometimes false attribution can be so widespread that the person who actually created what was being quoted gets completely lost. We’ve done everything we can to verify the accuracy of these quotes and their source. If you find an alternative origin, please let us know. I’ve also included quotes about quotes that reflect humorous or satirical viewpoints on the accuracy of quotes.
This e-book is free to SpiritMentor blog readers and can be downloaded here –>http://goo.gl/bhPX8k
When the first edition of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul was published in 1997, I was delighted that an excerpt from one of Peer Resources’ books (The Peer Helper’s Workbook) as well as contact details for our organization were included in this soon-to-be a best-selling book.
But the inclusion of our toll-free number as part of our contact details had unexpected consequences. Perhaps because Peer Resources had the only telephone number listed in that edition, we received many calls and letters from young people wanting to know how they could submit a story for the Chicken Soup series. Some of the callers and writers, however, just wanted someone to talk to about a life circumstance that was unbearable or troubling.
One of these calls, from a 14-year old youth, started out as a request for information about how to deal with peer pressure. Within a few minutes, the story shifted dramatically from a focus on peers to a deep sense of helplessness and depression about communicating his worries and anxieties to his parents. Both parents, according to the caller, believed he should be able to handle his peers in an effective way and he should be able to stand up for himself. To do any less meant that he was incompetent and worthless.
Whether his parents actually held these views is less important than his perception that they did. He believed his parents did not understand him. He had given up seeing them as a resource to help him, and he was lost as to what do about his situation.
What he had tried was getting him into trouble at school, reducing his attention to school work, and contributing to rage toward his peers. He felt angry, hurt, and abandoned.
How many young people can tell a similar story? Feeling cut-off with no one who understands. Not knowing who to turn to for help. Giving up and burying their feelings. Turning fears into rage.
How often has this experience led a young person to suicide or violence toward others? How many times in the aftermath of a tragedy do we hear phrases such as “he was just a quiet person,” or “I would have never thought he/she could do this,” or “we thought he/she was just weird.”
How many young people are torn between their secret inner life and what they show on the outside?
The teen who called us was developing a secret inner life. A life that would not only be hidden from his parents and his peers, but might eventually become hidden from his own awareness.
We all have an inner life. The danger is when we become cut off from our inner world and do not have the tools or support to restore this connection. This disconnection severely hampers our emotional intelligence and reduces our ability to learn from life experiences. The bad news is that adults who have experienced such disconnection when they were young not only have difficulty recognizing or accepting such circumstances in their children, but their own arrested development prevents them from knowing how to help their children overcome these circumstances.
The good news is these situations can be identified, remedied, and prevented. Unfortunately, society in general, and the media and professionals in particular, often contribute to this disconnection. When a tragedy happens, a common cycle is initiated. Virtually everyone will respond with horror, shock, disbelief, and anguish.
Then there will be a search for blame. This search will focus on the superficial: the Internet, social media, movies, television, guns, bad parents or bad kids. The private and personal grief of friends and family will be made public. An emphasis will be placed on photographs, videos, and outward appearances. Experts will talk about a violent society or trends occurring in society that precipitate or predict such violence.
When the perpetrators are identified or put on trial, the focus will shift toward demonizing their motives and at the same time rationalizing their actions as victims of some syndrome or category of disease. The legal system will emphasize determining guilt and punishment. The cycle will include additional public funding directed towards violence prevention in the form of a better connection between police and schools; more anti-violence lectures; games and curriculum for youth; longer prison sentences for offenders; restrictions on weapons; better monitoring of or restrictions on Internet use, movies, television, or music.
When tragic events occur, the search for blame seems like the correct thing to do.
After all, we don’t want those events to be repeated. But what if such a search actually contributes to the problem rather than reduces its future likelihood? What if the assignment of blame is a substitute for looking inside ourselves to determine how we have contributed to the situation? What if blame is just another way of passing judgment and not really listening and understanding? Does the assignment of blame increase or decrease that area within ourselves that is hidden from view?
The most important question to ask is whether young people in our communities will actually find others in their lives who are willing to listen and understand.
What can we do to help young people access their inner selves? What can we do to demonstrate respect to all young people regardless of their appearance, background, or circumstances?
Answers to these questions are readily available. Here are some samples. Be a mentor. Be a coach. Make sure your schools have peer support programs.
When talking to a young person, listen more than you talk. Don’t interrupt. Practice
patience. Suspend judgment. Show respect by summarizing what has been said. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Share your life story. Talk about what has meaning for you and how that came about. Ask about dreams, hopes, and goals. Be curious. Ask whether suggestions might help. Be clear about expectations. Know your own hot buttons. Leave the impression your door is open for further conversation. And again: listen more than you talk.
I wish I could share the outcome of my discussion with the 14-year old described above. After we had discussed possible options that were available in his community, he had to hang up the phone abruptly because one of his parents just came home.
Canfield, J., Hanson, M.V., Kirberger, K. & Claspy, M. (1997). Chicken soup for the teenage soul. Deerfield Beach, Florida: HCI Teens.
Roberts, G. (1994). The peer helper’s workbook. Victoria, BC: Peer Systems Consulting Group, Inc. (Available from Peer Resources)
We must teach our children to dream with their eyes open.
~ Harry Edwards (1893-1976) ~ British spiritual healer
By Jelle de Graaf and Vera van den Berg*
Michael Garringer is the Director of Knowledge Management for The National Mentoring Partnership, MENTOR. Michael has played a vital role in the development of youth mentoring program supports for many years. One of the crucial roles Michael has within this field is the translation of academic research to more understandable guidance for youth mentoring programs. This includes efforts aimed at addressing the gap between research and the practical application of that research, hands-on training, and technical assistance for youth mentoring programs across the country. In addition to working on these tasks, Michael is involved in many other events within the field of mentoring: organizing the research-focused sessions at the yearly National Mentoring Summit in Washington DC and supporting the Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring at Portland State University, as well as conducting nation-wide surveys on the state of mentoring in the United States.
- What inspired you to become Director of Knowledge Management at MENTOR?
What inspired me to do this work generally is what I’ve learned during different jobs in this field for a few decades now. I first got involved in mentoring through a library and information services angle where I had the opportunity to collect, organize, and read materials about educational subjects which eventually included mentoring when we received an OJJDP grant to support their funded programs in the mid-90s. This was at what is now Education Northwest in Portland, Oregon. At that time, nobody within the organization knew much about mentoring, but I was tasked with collecting information about mentoring that we could draw on in the new work. As I gathered all this research and program manuals and other information over time, I started to become known as the “they guy who knows things” about mentoring and it snowballed from there. At a certain point, mentoring programs started calling me and asking for advice and information. I enjoyed helping people in that way—it was like being a one man reference desk. I realized it can be hard for people that don’t have the academic mindset or background to understand what to take away from research. I felt that my role as translator of research was helpful to them and a niche that needed to be filled in our field. An organization like MENTOR is the perfect place to do that.
- What positive developments have you seen in youth mentoring during your involvement?
I would say the most positive development I’ve seen in our field is the diversification in the ways in which mentoring is thought of and how mentoring is applied to help young people. The past ten years, I’ve been impressed by the diversity in our field in terms of program models: Hybrids of one-to-one matches that meet in group settings, many varieties of group and team mentoring, mentors working in clinical settings, mentoring combined with other interventions, and so forth. The reason why I’m excited about these developments is that we’re getting closer to the best applications of mentoring. Some young people need one-on-one mentoring and a long-term friendship. In other cases, a mentor can be a guide to other services and make sure that young people take advantage of services that are available for them. Nowadays we see that mentoring is being applied to bigger social problems, like poverty and economic mobility, which have multiple causes. That’s quite a leap in terms of the impact of our work, but mentoring is certainly a piece of the puzzle on those fronts. I think when we connect mentors to other services or give them a role that is very well-defined in a particular context, it could maximize the help a mentor can provide and the overall impact on those large social issues.
One example of the integration of mentoring with other services is the use of mentors from the community within Youth Build U.S.A., which is a program for supporting young adults who have left school early and want to go back and complete their education. I provided some help to them when they were first considering mentoring. In addition to these educational goals, students in the program also learn job skills by studying several trades and get hands-on experience. Within this program, they realized that one of the missing pieces in the program was a community-based mentor. The staff could help young people get their high school diploma and other job-related skills, but their students needed support more broadly. They also needed someone to encourage them to stick with it, Thus, a mentor for them doesn’t function as an intervention exactly, but rather as “glue” that holds the intervention together, helping youth get the most out of everything YouthBuild offers.
It’s exciting seeing programs that give mentors this kind of “connective tissue” role. One-to-one mentoring programs where the mentor is the intervention are great, but the most important development I’ve seen over the years is to see mentoring thoughtfully and intelligently applied in many other contexts. And more than one mentor, too. Another trend I’m seeing is that it’s not about one person supporting a young person, but about a group of people taking on mentoring roles to help a young person.
- What developments do you hope to see in the near future?
Well, I think we have some very interesting research findings on the way in the next few years. Our field desperately needs longitudinal studies on the long-term impacts of being mentored. There haven’t been many of those globally. David DuBois and Carla Herrera are currently working on a longitudinal study at the moment, following up with all the participants from the Big Brothers Big Sisters study conducted 30 years ago. These participants are all grown up and living their lives as adults. The study will hopefully tell us if mentoring made a long-term difference in their lives, which is a very big picture question that the mentoring field has been wrestling with for a long time. We certainly see examples of those very long-term, deeply transformational relationships, both in programs and natural mentoring relationships. There is evidence that mentoring can have that long-term benefit but the jury is still out as to the long-term effects of mentoring from a policy perspective. We don’t know if it is an effective way of addressing societal problems one individual at a time, over the long haul.
Next to the policy part, I would love to see research at the individual level aiming to understand what makes some people a really good mentor. A challenge in our field is that we want to believe that every adult can be a mentor to a child, but I don’t think that is true. It is important to find out what makes a mentor a great mentor. You see these people in every program that just “get it” and that young people flock to. Our “super mentors,” so to speak. I want to see us learn what makes those people special and to see if those qualities can be taught or if we, in fact, have a limited number of awesome mentors available to youth. If the latter is the case, that obviously changes what mentoring can achieve or how we perceive the idea of taking mentoring “to scale.”
- What message would you like to pass on to today’s youth that could help them successfully develop their school- and professional career?
The thought I had about this question is what I tell my own children as well: don’t obsess about school and career. The reason I say that is that a lot of mentoring here in the US is developed from the perspective of very successful people who make sure that every child is a success according to their definition of success. There is an expectation that every mentee has to go to a great college and pursue some professional career and has to “make it” in these kinds of upper middle-class ways. The way we define success for a young person is adult-oriented and oriented on a particular class perspective. So keeping that in mind, what I would say to young people is “if it is your dream to become a doctor or lawyer or whatever, then go pursue that dream, but there is more in life than your job and more to life than what kind of degree you end up getting”. Our goal as a nation can’t be that every mentee goes to Harvard. The notion that everybody needs to have a professional career to live a happy life sets some young people up for failure. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to care about school or a job, but it does mean that success should be defined by what that young person really wants and what will make them happy. I agree with the advice President Obama gave once (on Bear Grylls’ TV show, of all places): There are two keys to lead a successful life. The first key is to be useful to somebody or something. Make the world better in some way. The second key is to be kind,”. The first one could be serving as a mentor for someone or helping out a sick family member, for example. The second one, kindness, is something we often forget as a society. I feel like the last year has, unfortunately, proved that pretty starkly.
- Based on your previous answer, what message would you like to pass on to today’s youth mentors?
I would say the ability to truly listen to what a young person is saying and to hear them for who they are, being truly open to the experience. Especially in the US, we often have matches that are crossing a lot of social-economic, racial, or different lines. It is critical for a mentor to truly listen with an open mind in a judgement-free way, even if there are differences.
Also, it is important to share power in the relationship, the ability to have it be a mutual experience. I think sometimes mentors go into the relationship with a mindset of “I’m here to fix something” or “I’m here to get you out of these terrible circumstances in your life”. They don’t let their mentee take the reins in the relationship. We often forget that young people are capable of many great things if we just empower them. Share the power within the relationship in a way that empowers that young person rather than your own directing. Lastly, don’t forget to have fun. Voluntary relationships are mostly done because they are fun and satisfying. I think programs can sometimes be too purposeful and forget that younger children need some fun in their life.
At a youth mentoring conference I was recently at, someone said, “The best advice you can give to a mentor is to be patient,” which resonated with me. When we look at research into matches that end early, it’s often because mentors think that they have to have this massive instant impact on this young person’s life. When they don’t see that, they get discouraged and walk away from the opportunity. We have to teach mentors that the journey is the point, not to be obsessed with the end goals.
Also, applying mentoring in big social problems. If we really are going to use mentoring to tackle big social problems like poverty and so forth, we have to be more intentional about what causes influence these big social problems. One of my favorite quotes is from William Sloane Coffin, the former Chaplin at Yale: “To show compassion for an individual without also showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”
That means that if you care about a person’s needs without bothering to care about how they wound up with those needs, you’re doing it wrong. I love that mentors care for the mentees that enter their lives. But I’d love to see them turn around and be equally concerned about why their mentee’s life is rough in the first place and put some energy and effort into that. The power of mentoring can’t just reside in the individuals lucky enough to receive it, it has to then add up to meaningful change in the world.
(*This article originally appeared in The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring and is reproduced here with the gracious permission of the publisher.)