So what exactly is mentoring? This week we spoke to one of our mentors, Francesca Mack, to hear more about what being a ReachOut! mentor in a primary school is like. Here’s what she had to say:
What is the process involved in becoming a mentor?
The mentors all have a few training sessions at the ReachOut! offices which helps to prepare us a bit. We discuss ways to approach activities with mentees and discuss any potentially tricky situations we may encounter. This is helpful to ease us in a bit but ultimately it is a learning procedure the whole way through as each week I am learning and hopefully improving.
And when you arrive at the school what happens then? Do you meet your mentee straight away?
No we aren’t actually assigned a mentee for the first few weeks. We (all the mentors and mentees) work together in one group and we are then matched up depending on our interactions.
Can you tell us a bit about your mentee?
Daisy is 8, really lovely and very keen to be involved in the programme. It’s quite sweet, last week she said she had been looking forward to it all week. One of the main things we are working on is self-confidence. We get information from the teachers about any issues that a mentee might have and areas to work on.
And what is the school like?
The school is so bright! You forget how many colours are everywhere at primary schools. There is a real sense of community as well which is really nice to see. The only thing is in classes of 30 or so quieter children like my mentee can’t really be given that extra attention, which is where I come in!
What do you do on a typical visit?
All the mentors meet at ReachOut! before going together in the minibus to the school. We meet the students in the playground which is great as we see them interact with their friends and can socialise a bit in a more relaxed atmosphere. We then go to the library or a room where we work individually with our mentee. We are here until the end of the day, so for about three hours. We split our session into three parts: Literature, Maths and then a creative project.
What kind of creative projects?
It just depends from week to week. One week we both really enjoyed we read some of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the literature section and then designed our own wacky sweets in the creative time. That was really fun. Around Christmas we all made Christmas trees and cards.
ReachOut! has some arts and craft resources to help us with this bit too. I love it, it’s such a great excuse to do things we can’t do at our age!
So ReachOut! still provide you with support throughout your mentoring?
Yes it’s really lovely, I get texts each week confirming it is on, or saying it’s half term. And we all go to the school together each week which makes it a group effort which is reassuring. We also fill in a form at the end of each session saying what we did and how well it went, I guess so they can keep an eye on what we are doing. They’ve also made an effort to do things outside of our sessions, whether mentors curry or just a couple of drinks after we finish, it makes the whole experience much friendlier.
And are you all following the same programme for what you do with your mentees?
No we decide that ourselves which can be quite challenging, especially at the beginning as it’s hard to know what level the work should be. I was worried about making it too hard which would make her nervous and not make the sessions enjoyable. It’s a learning curve, it just means we have to be able to adapt to what is appropriate.
I also discuss with my mentee our plans for next week. This way I make sure we are doing something that is interesting for her and makes her involved in the whole process.
What else have you found challenging as a mentor?
It is been hard to make sure she is writing down what she thinks, not what I think. When we were writing down some words if I mention something she will write it down. So I have to hold back sometimes and keep asking what she thinks. It’s great though as I have started to see her be more willing to put forward her own ideas as a result of this.
You’ve started to see changes in her behaviour? That must feel so rewarding.
To a certain extent, yes. It’s the small things like putting forward those ideas and being a bit more confident generally. She plays the violin in a group of four and I have started to see her be more confident amongst her peers in that situation, where she used to be very reserved. It is hard to see progress sometimes though. We only meet for three hours a week so obviously we can’t make changes overnight. We keep a booklet to help us document any progress.
Do you feel like mentors make a difference for the mentees?
Without a doubt. The children really seem to look forward to our sessions. We are all uni students as well so hopefully we act as a positive role model for them. I think it is more important for behavioural issues rather than academic, but it’s still early days so who knows! It is a mutually beneficial process though. Many of the other mentors want to work in teaching or study psychology so for them it’s really great experience.
Do you think you will carry on with mentoring?
I am thinking about working with secondary school pupils next year, depending on University commitments. It would be an entirely different experience. I think it would be much more challenging to break down barriers with the students but I think progress would be more noticeable.
What would you say to anyone thinking of becoming a mentor?
I would recommend it to anybody considering it – there are moments in each session that make you think that it’s all worth it. Whether it’s their enthusiasm for getting something right or telling you how much they enjoy the sessions or tell you they’ve improved in their class scores or whatever. It makes you proud of them and making even a small difference to the way they approach work makes it all worth it.