Training and Retaining Mentors

The keys to retaining mentors are pre-service training and ongoing support throughout the experience. The training component ensures that mentors come to the experience fully aware of what to expect. They need to understand the program’s goals and how vital their participation is to meeting those goals. Ideally, you will infuse the training workshop with the same sense of fun that you hope mentors will bring to their sessions with students. Make it as interactive as possible and include snacks.

Your initial mentor training workshop should cover:

Mentors’ Roles and Responsibilities

An important part of the workshop is for the mentor and mentee to understand the expectations that come with the role. As a mentor, you have entered into an agreement to serve as a mentor for a student. While you may have children or younger brothers or sisters of a similar age, refrain from thinking of this person in that context. Instead, consider her or him as a future faculty member or business professional with whom you may work. Below are some guidelines for the mentoring relationship.

Dos and Don’ts of Mentoring

Effective mentors:

During your training sessions, consider alternating the delivery of dry information with learning activities that encourage mentors to practice skills they will need when working with students and to share their ideas and experiences with one another. Some possibilities:

Role-Playing Activity to Use for Training

During the training, you may want to practice reacting to situations that might arise. At your first mentor-mentee meeting, you might divide them into two separate groups and discuss potential challenges that may arise and how to deal with them. The groups may even come up with a few ideas of their own.

Situations for Mentors

  1. Your mentee confides in you about some personal problems. At first you are flattered and offer some suggestions, but then the personal problems seem to become the only focus of your conversations. How do you steer the student into other academic and professional development areas of conversation?
  2. Your mentee spends too much time gossiping about others. What might be a strategy for guiding this student?
  3. Your mentee is not returning your calls or replying to your e-mails. What should you do?
  4. Your mentee is struggling academically and is considering changing majors or perhaps dropping out of school and getting a job. How would you handle this?

Situations for Mentees

  1. Your mentor is not returning your calls or replying to your e-mails. What should you do?
  2. Your mentor seems to be offering a lot of advice but not really listening to your concerns. What do you do?
  3. Your mentor seems distracted when you are talking and you’re not sure she heard everything you said. What do you do?
  4. Your mentor has invited you to lunch, and you accepted. But now a major report is looming and it is going to take all your time to get an A. What do you do?3

One question that comes up often during training is “What do I talk about?” This is especially true if the mentor and participating student are new to formal mentoring. Here are a few suggestions that will provide conversation openers for both of them:

The initial workshop should not be the last time you offer training for your mentors. Instead, offer professional development in the form of short enrichment sessions a few times a year on topics of interest (e.g., technical careers in regional industry) or led by guest speakers whose expertise is relevant to the project. (If your mentors are faculty members, investigate offering CEUs for their participation in these sessions.) Communicate upcoming learning opportunities each month in an electronic newsletter that is distributed via email. Include a 1-2 question survey seeking mentors’ feedback on past enrichment sessions and input on topics and speakers for future programs. Incorporating mentors’ ideas into the program is one way to demonstrate respect for them—personally and professionally. A more exciting way to honor them is through recognition events in which all program participants—mentors, students, staff, community leaders, local reporters, partner organizations and agencies that support your mentoring program—gather to reflect on the hard work that goes into making the program a success. But again, don’t let this be the only time during the year that you show your appreciation. Mentors need positive feedback to sustain them along the way.

A nice little mnemonic for remembering the elements that contribute to mentor retention: CARE.

1. CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit. Center for Women & Information Technology, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2004.

2. CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit.

3. CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit, p. 13.

4. CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit, p. 14.

5. Adapted from the Texas Governor’s Mentoring Initiative. Quoted in How to Build A Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, 2005.