Mentoring

5 Strategies for Virtual Mentoring

Transitioning to Virtual Mentoring: considerations and strategies

By Jennifer Bourgoin, Mentor Program Manager

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our everyday programming and changed the way we interact with members for the past 2-3 months. Whereas we hope to resume in-person interactions between youth and mentors soon, Clubhouses have been finding creative and unique approaches to connect with youth through online engagement.

During this period of uncertainty, it’s especially important that young people have opportunities to maintain consistent relationships with caring adults.

Project IMPACTS sites (which are subgrantees of the Department of Justice’s Youth Mentoring grant) recently gathered to discuss their diverse approaches to virtually maintaining mentoring relationships. The following considerations are based upon those conversations, as well as recommendations from MENTOR’s E-Mentoring Supplement.

1. Determine a Virtual Mentoring Model

Virtual mentoring can take many forms. Staff, members, and mentors can connect in groups or one-to-one, and their interactions can center around STEM activities or interpersonal connections. There’s an abundance of e-mentoring platforms, including Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Discord. Whatever cadence and programming you choose, try to maintain a regular schedule so that youth have consistency during this uncertain time.

2. Use a Light Touch to Invite Participation

Members and mentors are all experiencing this crisis in different ways. Many are facing drastic shifts to their daily routines, with members transitioning to online learning and many mentors and guardians now balancing work with childcare. Invite members and mentors to participate in programming with a light touch, expressing your wishes to see them again while also acknowledging that everyone has different capacities to participate.

3. Update the Clubhouse’s Mentoring Documentation

Most Clubhouses require mentors to sign a Mentor Agreement when they begin volunteering, which states the Clubhouse’s expectations for the mentor. Consider updating the Mentor Agreement to align with your Clubhouse’s new Virtual Mentoring model and ask mentors to sign the revised form. The new Mentor Agreement should include expectations around frequency and duration of participation, which platform to use, and appropriate behavior. The National Mentoring Resource Center’s Generic Mentoring Program Policy and Procedure Manual offers great customizable forms to use as templates.

4. Consider Member Safety

Confirm that mentors have gone through a complete screening process – including a written application, interview, a comprehensive criminal background check, and reference checks – before virtually interacting with youth. Consider reaching out to members’ guardians to get permission for virtual interactions. Finally, Clubhouses can ask both mentors and members to write a short debrief of their experiences in group activities, so that Clubhouses can continue to monitor and support relationships (this can be done via email or Google Forms).

5. Empower Relationship-Building

Consider starting workshops and other STEM activities with time to connect and check in. Research shows that young people may actually feel safer communicating virtually rather than in-person, as technology can offer a protective “shield” to share emotions and provide more time to compose a response (MENTOR, 2019).

Reference: MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. (2019). E-Mentoring Supplement to the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring

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Jennifer Bourgoin manages the implementation of IMPACTS, an OJJDP-funded program designed to increase mentor participation and engagement. In this role, Jennifer develops training materials for Clubhouse staff and mentors, fosters a community of practice, and implements evaluation and assessment tools and techniques.

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