Covid-19 has taken a toll on everyone, especially students. Mentees are now facing unique problems such as a loss of academic support or structure leading to increased uncertainty and a lack of motivation. It is important for mentors to recognise the impact of Covid-19 on performance and mental health and learn to tackle the new challenges mentees are facing. Your role is more important now than ever! Your guidance and reassurance are essential forms of support, ensuring that they have access to key information.
- You may have had to shift your mentoring sessions to online, however this can still be as engaging as in-person conversations.
- Using online visual tools such as short powerpoint presentations, videos and animations, can be more stimulating and help your mentee remember key points during your mentoring session.
- Keep sessions short and sweet. As it is more tiring to spend a long time staring at a screen, we recommend keeping your sessions shorter than a normal in-person one. Reducing the time of the session also maximises the focus of your mentee and you, the mentor, and therefore allowing for a more productive discussion.
Coping with uncertainty
Your mentee may be feeling overwhelmed, but you can help them by teaching coping and mastery skills.
First of all, you must accept that you may not be able to rescue or fix everything instantly. As these are uncertain times, you might not have all the answers! However be empathic, use your own experience as a student, without oversharing, to help your mentee deal with this uncertain time.
Mentees will be struggling with a variety of issues. Less contact time with teachers and the normal school structure means mentees may be struggling more academically as well as with mental health problems and the uncertainty of changing conditions, a lack of motivation and a loss of usual coping mechanisms, including less time with friends.
You can help your mentee by making obvious the support around them. If your mentee is struggling, point them towards services such as counselling and welfare teams in their school or NHS services such as therapy. Furthermore, encourage mentees to talk with the people they trust about what’s on their mind. For example, suggest talking with family, friends or trusted teachers about what’s bothering them. Being honest about how they are feeling and building support networks can help them to feel connected and ease loneliness as well as gain the perspective and solutions they might not see on their own. Although many of their usual coping mechanisms may not be possible, encourage your mentee to take care of their wellbeing in other ways such as getting enough sleep, getting involved with sports and exercise and setting realistic schedules for workload.
In order to boost motivation, focus on what your mentee can do rather than what he/she cannot know yet. Especially during COVID19, it has become harder to set long term goals as everything seems uncertain. Breaking down those daunting goals into short-term, achievable ones with your mentee, can help mitigate workload pressures and improve their productivity and sense of achievement. That being said, it is important that you – as the mentor – don’t lose sight of the long-term goals. Therefore, design your sessions so they flow well from one to the next and have continuity. Similarly, focusing on their strength, what they are good at, enjoy doing, their achievement can help foster a positive outlook and empower your mentee too. Mentoring is a useful space to discuss how to maintain strengths given the current situation, how to update them, share them and utilise them, now and in the future.
Make sure to practise active listening. Your attention should be focused on your mentee to really understand what they’re saying, so put aside your other thoughts and avoid getting distracted by your environment. Show that you are listening – for example by nodding or smiling, this encourages mentees to elaborate and open up more. While you listen, defer your judgement by allowing them to finish their points before forming an opinion, no interrupting to ask questions or presenting counter-arguments. On the contrary, empathise and try to understand their perspective. Mentees may waffle or be unclear as they speak due to nerves, but continue to listen closely to take out the key ideas, don’t put words in their mouth.
Active listening helps you to understand the issues your mentee is facing, but this skill is also invaluable in building the mentee-mentor relationship, encouraging your mentee to trust you and making it clear that you are there for them.
Use different types of questioning to build positive constructive conversations with your mentee. Types of questions include:
Open questions: these are questions without a yes or no answer to encourage mentees to elaborate further.
- How do you feel about …?
- Can you tell me more about …?
Closed questions: these are questions with a yes or no answer that are good at clarifying and checking your understanding to confirm where your mentee stands.
- Are you saying (rephrase what she/he said), Is that right ?
- Do you enjoy this subject?
Probing questions: help to explore an issue further. These are follow-up questions that steer the conversation in a particular direction.
- What happened next?
- What do you think of this university?
Re-framing questions shift conversations from a problem to a solution focused approach. This has an empowering effect and makes the conversation productive and geared towards solutions.
- What part of maths are you best at? Why do you think that is?
Future placing questions: create a timeline of where things are headed. This is especially important during the pandemic where it is difficult to imagine what the future looks like. These questions can help you and your mentee to clarify where they are headed and make the future seem realistic rather than uncertain.
- What do you plan to achieve this week?
You can use these questions in a question funnel structure. For example, engage in active listening and start with an open question, using probing questions to clarify and a closed question at the end to check that you’ve understood.
For instance; you may ask a student what they would like to study at university (open question). If the student discusses the subjects they dislike, try to use a reframing question. For example if a student is talking about what they dislike about maths, ask them about what they do like and what they’re good at. Your mentee replies that they enjoy statistics. Throw in probing questions – you could ask them why they enjoy certain aspects and what kind of courses they have looked at which are related to that. Then finish off with a round of closed questions to help them determine the courses that would suit them best (would you enjoy taking maths at university? Have you considered economics?).
Using different types of questioning will build positive constructive dialogue with your mentee. This technique helps you to guide the conversation towards solutions, re-framing it to focus on what can be done.
These few tips are just a start to help adjust your mentoring sessions to this changing time and your mentee’s new needs. Combining your knowledge with active listening and effective questioning will create the conversations needed to help mentees continue to achieve their goals throughout the pandemic.
If you are already a mentor, congratulations! You are making such an important impact ! Even if it’s only one individual at a time, your role is key in alleviating inequalities in the education system by helping students currently struggling. If you want to become a mentor, you are needed now more than ever! There are so many fantastic and rewarding organizations you can get involved in such as Project Access International, Slipstream education, CoachBright, ReachOut and many more.
Want to learn more on how you can help? Join LSESU Equality in Education, we aim to fight inequality in the access to higher education.
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