As winter approaches mentors are getting back into the mentoring routine. Occasionally even the most experienced mentors may find themselves at a loss on how to engage their mentee. It’s natural given the social isolation many of us have experienced as a result of the pandemic. Here are some tips to help when you’re feeling stuck.
Ask open ended questions.
When you ask closed (i.e., yes or no) questions, your mentee may not realize you’re trying to open a larger conversation. Set the stage for more in-depth conversations by asking open-ended questions like “How does it feel to be in [blank] grade?” or “What’s your favorite part about school this year?” If it seems like they’re open to discuss, follow up with more prompts like “Please tell me more about that!” Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not familiar with a subject — displaying genuine interest and engaging in active listening shows your mentee you care about what’s important to them.
Meet them where they are.
Maybe you have a mentee with a lot of energy who finds it hard to focus on conversions or activities. Start your visits with a quick 30 second “shake out” — maybe jumping up and down as fast as they can or (if you’re in an appropriate area) a silly dance to get the wiggles out. Follow their lead and don’t feel you have to force conversation or activities if they’re not engaged. Ask them how they’d like to spend your time together.
Include fun and games.
Find out what interests your mentee and then find ways to explore those things together. Do they like drawing? Bring paper and colored pencils to your lunches for shared art time. Do they prefer sports? Ask your school contact if it’s ok for you to shoot hoops after the student finishes lunch. Are they voracious readers? Read together. Your Mentor Director and school contact can provide lots of activities for you to enjoy.
Silence is Ok.
You’ve probably noticed that schools can sometimes be very loud spaces, especially at lunch time. Some mentees might prefer quiet time. They might also be shy or introverted. Resist the urge to fill any blank space with conversation. Puzzles, tic-tac-toe, checkers, and coloring are just a few activities that you can engage in together without requiring conversation.