Mentor Education to Create Committed and Effective Volunteers

Posted by eporter on February 23, 2023

Mentor education should be ongoing and diverse. Learn about when and how to train your mentors, and encourage them to keep learning.

A question has long riddled the mentoring field — what will predict positive outcomes in mentoring relationships? One study found that high-quality mentor training and mentors’ confidence in their mentoring abilities positively impacted their perceived support from their mentoring program and their overall satisfaction with their relationship with their mentee. Another study reported that a mentor’s knowledge of communication strategies to use with mentees of various cultural backgrounds has a positive effect on mentors’ satisfaction with their mentoring relationship and their willingness to take on additional roles to give their mentee a positive experience. Furthermore, providing training to mentors about topics such as cultural competence and the varying needs of their mentees may improve outcomes of mentoring programs. Findings from both studies, and from research by Mentoring Central’s scientific experts, indicate that providing training to mentors before meeting their mentee is crucial for building impactful mentoring experiences. In addition, pre-match training must be partnered with continuing support throughout the mentoring relationship (which can and should include ongoing post-match training opportunities). While training is not the only factor that contributes to a positive match, providing mentor education is an important step in creating positive mentoring experiences.

Mentor programs aim to create relationships that are long-lasting and impactful. It is widely known that if matches end early, mentees are left with feelings of abandonment, fear, and confusion. Mentor education and training can reduce premature endings to mentoring relationships, and therefore, the negative impacts on mentees by providing guidance on building and maintaining these relationships. Additionally, pre-match training is important in helping mentors feel prepared — training, in turn, allows mentors to feel confident, comfortable, and efficacious in their volunteering. Mentoring Central is the first team to create interactive, evidence-based, online training for mentors.

Four Tips for Implementation

Understanding that mentoring programs must implement pre-match mentor training as a standard practice is one thing, but determining how to do it is another. You may find that integrating mentor education into your program’s ongoing workflow can be a challenge. Below are four easy steps your mentoring program can use to standardize and consistently deliver your training to mentors.

  1. Mentors need to be aware of your mentoring program’s expectations of them from the start. Mentors need to know information about how much training is required, where it will be held, how often they will need to attend or log in to training, by what date they will need to complete the training, what is included in the training process, why it is important to complete the training, and more. The more detailed the information you provide to your volunteers, the clearer the picture they will have of your program’s expectations. Your program should include information in interviews with mentors, ad copy/recruitment materials, and/or on your website and social media platforms about your expectations, training requirements, other program requirements, and goals.
  2. Your program should include an orientation meeting to educate mentors about your program’s policies and rules, as well as what happens when a rule is broken.
  3. Your volunteers should complete training before they meet their mentees. Ensuring that this step is completed is crucial before any “bad” habits are formed, as it can be hard for volunteers to backtrack once their relationship has begun has begun on the wrong foot. First impressions are important. Thus, both parties need to feel that their relationship is built on a strong positive foundation. Starting your mentors with training will start them off on the right foot.
  4. Your program needs to be steadfast in being sure that your prerequisites are actually completed. If training is required before mentors can meet their mentees, then make sure that none of your mentors meet their mentees until they have completed training. If pre-match training is a program requirement in your policies, you should implement it consistently across all mentors. In order to support consistency, you need to have a tracking method to record who has completed what training and when.

Timeline for Mentor Education

While having a mentor training program can increase the impact of your volunteers, developing and consistently implementing your plan can make the program, as a whole, stronger and more competent. Below is a list of steps with our suggestions for managing your mentor training protocol.

  1. Prep

Research has shown the number one reason why volunteers quit is their mentoring experience was not what they expected. Defining a volunteer’s part within a mentoring program helps them understand how their role is different from, say, a teacher or parent. They may approach relationships based on their experience (either professional or personal or both); however, mentoring is a unique relationship not defined by the mentor’s goals. Instead, the relationship is focused around the mentee’s goals. In basic training, mentors and volunteers first learn the building blocks of mentoring, such as vocabulary terms, definitions, and expectations around mentoring. Clear roles and responsibilities can help reduce anxieties around the relationship for everyone involved. For example, mentors and mentees alike can have anxiety when it comes to the first meeting. Getting prepped on what this experience should look like and how it will go can reduce the stress around beginning a relationship, as well as increase a mentor’s confidence to continue their role as a mentor. Building the Foundation, a Mentoring Central mentor training course, covers the fundamentals of mentoring — perfect for volunteers just getting started.

  1. Practice for Relationship Initiation

As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” Programs should provide mentors with opportunities to practice the skills they have learned in previous training that they need to establish an effective mentoring relationship with their mentees. This is why the EEPM requires two hours of in-person training. An instructor-led course builds upon the foundational knowledge gained in an online course. Staff can then share examples of real-world mentoring situations with volunteers that involve decisions that mentors may face. Staff and volunteers can think through these examples together, ultimately, learning the best mentoring methods. When mentors complete online training and then, attend an instructor-led workshop, it allows staff to delve deeper into mentoring — allowing for more advanced skills training.

  1. Prevent Harm

Programs should strive to protect mentees, mentors, and the program itself by requiring training on how to proactively minimize risks before they occur. An Ethics and Safety course can help volunteers broach complicated situations that can arise in everyday mentoring. With education on the ethical principles of mentoring, mentors can be taught ethical ways to approach sticky situations with guidelines, confidence, and morals. While some situations may have an obvious direction to choose, others may have a more complex answer. If mentors play out a few ethical dilemmas within a training workshop, they can have more tools in their toolbox when faced with challenging situations.

  1. Build Skills

While having a foundation for mentoring is critical, building upon those initial skills is imperative for the success of everyone involved in a mentoring program. No training program for mentors would be complete without education that goes beyond initiating the relationship to help mentors learn how to build and maintain it. Mentors must learn to establish trust, improve collaboration, and share decisions with their mentee at different stages in the mentoring relationship. Ultimately, most mentoring relationships end, and it is important to learn how to successfully close it. Providing adequate closure to the relationship can reduce mentees’ feelings of abandonment and vulnerability. A course on Building and Maintaining mentoring relationships reviews skills for maintaining and closing mentoring relationships to provide support for long-lasting matches that thrive.

  1. Advanced or Special Topics Training

Depending on the program’s goals and areas of focus, volunteers may need additional training on special topics, such as youth impacted by substance misuse or helping youth excel in school. Ongoing training and support are important for any business, especially when it comes to programs dealing with vulnerable youth. Volunteers should be briefed on a regular basis on the latest research findings and best practices related to their role. Courses such as Substance of Change and Promoting Enhanced Resilience & Learning (PERL) help teach mentors skills for guiding mentees with unique needs.

Mentoring Central researchers have proven the effectiveness of mentor education in a randomized controlled trial (RCT). Mentors who enrolled in the study and completed the Preparing for Mentoring program reported being more ready to begin mentoring, more self-efficacious to be a mentor, more knowledgeable about the roles that mentors should and should not play, and had less unrealistically positive expectations about mentoring, than mentors who didn’t receive this training program.

Mentoring Central’s mentor training courses are both research-based and practice-informed, with input from mentors, mentees, parents, and practitioners, and are interactive to increase user engagement. There are courses for many mentoring topics and issues. Browse Mentoring Central’s 2023 catalog for our various offerings to help your mentoring program grow and succeed.