An overview of a way that mentoring can be introduced into a school's educational provisions

MENTORING ALLOWS the educational needs of talented students to be met even when these fall outside the school curriculum and outside the expertise of the students' teachers. This is achieved by linking the student with an experienced person from the appropriate field of endeavour. Relating to experts outside the school environment also requires the students to become more responsible for their own learning, with students establishing goals with their mentor, and generally learning by doing.

Selecting students for mentoring

Mentoring best suits students who have already shown some dedication and commitment to the area of interest, such as in already working independently on "real problems or projects" in the area. Self-motivation (at least in the subject area) and organisation are also key attributes if the student is to gain from the less structured mentor arrangement.

Selection can, particularly in high schools, lean heavily on self-selection with confirmation sought from parents and teaching staff. One school's selection process is as follows:

  • a general invitation is made at assembly for expressions of interest;
  • interviews are held with students coming forward, outlining the process and the self-motivation and organisation required;
  • comments and confirmations are sought from the student's teachers and parents;
  • endeavours are made to find a suitable mentor in the student's area of interest; and
  • the first mentor/student meeting discusses and refines the student's goals, with both parties able to terminate the relationship should either wish.

Mentors - characteristics

Mentors are not tutors or substitute teachers but rather are professionals interacting with "junior colleagues". Mentors act as advisers, consultants, and role models, and sometimes as critics where this facilitates the student's achievement of their own goals and objectives. Mentors ideally should have:

  • an enthusiasm for the subject area;
  • considerable experience and overall perspective in the subject area;
  • an interest in assisting young persons in developing their skills and awareness;
  • some ready communications skills to foster interaction in an informal setting; and
  • an awareness of any moral issues that pertain to the field of endeavour.

Finding Mentors

Although not normally paid, mentors can benefit from being involved in a mentoring relationship in terms of freshness and perspective. Mentors can be found from a wide range of sources, including:

  • from a school's parent body;
  • from other teaching staff;
  • from older students (including from secondary or tertiary institutions);
  • from local businesses and community arts bodies;
  • via professional bodies and associations in the area of interest; and
  • from ex-students of the school.

Some schools rely extensively on ex-students. This means that most of the mentors are well-known to members of the teaching staff. In some school districts there are centralised mentor schemes that schools can use (eg Mentor Links in the Sydney metropolitan regions).

Risk management

Clearly there are risks involved in linking students with mentors, especially when mentors may not be personally known to members of the teaching staff and the meetings take place other than at school premises. On the other hand it would be a pity if these risks preclude appropriate learning experiences for students.

These risks can be managed by:

  • seeking, where possible, mentors that are known to members of staff;
  • advising students and parents of the nature of the mentor program including that it may take place away from school;
  • asking parents to complete a release and indemnity document in regard to the mentor program;
  • asking parents to attend the first meeting between student and mentor and then to agree to the program proceeding;
  • providing mentors with simple guideline notes;
  • asking both the student and mentor to complete evaluations at the conclusion of the arrangement; and
  • allowing either the student or mentor to withdraw from the arrangement at any time.

Apart from common sense the essential principles are to ensure that all parties are fully informed and to ask that the parents or guardians make the decision to proceed and thereby take on the risk. From a parental viewpoint this is hardly unusual - parents frequently take risks in regard to activities as part of their children's broader education.


© Farmer 31 January 1996 - This piece was adapted from text I wrote for an educational video/booklet package Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom