The Mentor Effect on School Engagement

"Throughout the year, Mass Mentoring Partnership has had the pleasure to work with Michael Delman and Kelly Robinson from Beyond BookSmart, an executive functioning coaching service operating in Boston, Rhode Island, Chicago and New York City. Michael and Kelly have donated their time and expertise by providing free workshops to over 60 program staff and mentors from MMP’s partner program network. Nate Baum, Manager of Training and Technical Assistance, highlights some of the important information covered during Beyond BookSmart trainings!

There are cycles of learning that promote motivation, but also cycles that can decrease motivation .Negative results (i.e. a bad grade) can cause young people to lose confidence or be angry at the system, which can then cause them to feel less motivated to complete a certain academic task later. Their results will then be even worse, and this "vicious cycle" continues downward.  By contrast, positive results help young people to gain confidence in themselves and those helping them, leading them to invest more effort and continuing a "cycle of growth" that yields even better results. They come to understand that growth and change require effective effort. This understanding will help refine their efforts, and thus yield better results and generate further motivation. Mentors can play an incredible role in working with mentee's to help them experience even small successes, which are vital to promoting this cycle of positive growth.

Mentees advance through specific mindsets or stages of change as they decide to do things differently. Understanding the stage a person is functioning at is integral to nurturing a positive attitude towards school. A wonderful framework that Michael and Kelly use is called the Trans theoretical Model of Change developed by   Dr. James Prochaska. This model shows six stages of where someone might be in regards to initiating a task or change in behavior:

  • Pre-contemplation: I won’t / “I can't do algebra and you can't make me.”
  • Contemplation: I may / “Maybe I could do algebra and maybe I will at some point.”
  • Preparation: I will / “I will learn how to do algebra soon.  I can name the date when I'll start.”
  • Action: I am / “I am doing my algebra and following good habits to do it well!”
  • Maintenance: I will continue to/ “I still am doing my algebra and know how to deal with setbacks.”
  • Generalization: I have learned / “From doing my algebra, I have learned how to deal with unpleasant challenges and can apply this learning elsewhere.”​

It is important to recognize, through observation of verbal language and body language of young people, where they might be in their readiness to change or move forward with a task. How you approach someone who is in the preparation stage to engage in a task will be very different from how you work with someone in pre-contemplation  If you use the wrong approach, you won’t get very far with a mentee, and might even cause them a further decrease in motivation!

In the first training module, Kelly and Michael shared a number of strategies to help move mentees from pre-contemplation (No Way!) to Contemplation (I may!). Here are some key takeaways:

  • Instead of giving orders or “should-ing”, try to announce what you’ll do. (i.e. “Let me show you one way to solve an algebra problem)
  • Create a sense of curiosity by making the activity a game or wager. (i.e. “I will bet you a dollar that you can do the first step in solving the algebra problem.”)
  • Share news or information related to the domain (i.e. “Hey check out this cool on-line algebra tool”).
  • Empathize and relate. (i.e. "I bet algebra does feel super frustrating.")
  • Normalize their experience with the event but also challenge them. (i.e. “A lot of folks struggle with algebra. It can be very challenging”).

In the second training module, Michael and Kelly discussed strategies to help move mentees from contemplation (I may) to Preparation (Soon)Participants actively work through a Decisional Balance sheet that can be helpful for anyone thinking through why they might initiative a change or initiate activity. Participants also go through an Immunity to Change (ITC) map. These steps can help a young person contemplating change or action to think through the pros and cons of engaging in a behavior to start preparing to initiate it. The decisional balance sheet can be an especially accessible tool for mentors to use with mentees who might be in this stage of contemplation while the Immunity to Change map really requires professional training but provides mentors a framework for understanding how resistance to change has layers to it that include various fears.

Michael and Kelly also included tools for improved academic engagement:

  • Fast Break - A process to help young people plan out their homework and independent projects that includes breaks, builds in time estimates, and teaches skills of prioritizing.
  • DKDK - A first-step study strategy in which a young person highlights materials according to whether they know it very well (green highlighter), kind of know it (yellow highlighter), or don’t know it at all (red highlighted) to help them plan out how they will best implement their studying. This tools also helps relieve anxiety because the student sees that they do know something and then knows where to invest the most time.
  • Quizlet –  A free online flashcards program where a student can find or easily develop flash cards. It also provides games and quizzes on a range of topics.
  • ShmoopEssay Lab – Shmoop has an awesome amount of learning guides to books, literature, and test prep and has some great tools to support writing and essays, including a guided program for writing a persuasive essay about literature.
  • Calm.com - A tool that teaches mindfulness and provides relaxing 2 minute to 10 minute meditation.

Overall, in the first two modules, Beyond Book smart provided participants with great insights into how young people grow so that mentors can understand change as a process, not an event.  In doing so, our mentors can be patient not only with mentees but with themselves, meeting mentees where they are and knowing how to recognize when change is happening, even when a problem has not been fully solved. We look forward to Module III.