Researchers have discovered that group mentoring can have a positive impact on youth when mentees can relate to their mentors and develop a sense of group identity. But, making decisions about who to include in a mentoring group can be a complex undertaking. Will you structure your groups around gender, ethnic, or social identity? Academic performance? Behavioral issues? Common interests? And, how many mentees will be in each group? Similar questions can be posed regarding selecting mentors. What mentor characteristics are important to identify when pairing up co-mentors? Do experience, age, gender, or personality matter?
Unfortunately, there are no clear right or wrong answers for many of these questions. There is little research on structuring mentoring groups, but here is what we do know…
- Mentoring groups vary widely, with most consisting of 3-15 mentees, and 1-4 mentors to facilitate the groups. One major benefit of group mentoring is the ability to reach more youth with fewer adults; however, high youth to adult ratios can put an extra burden on mentors and hinder opportunities for youth to connect with mentors. It’s important for each program to find a balance between efficient resource allocation and properly supervised groups.
- 30-40% of mentoring groups include mentees and mentors of diverse race and gender. Though many mentoring groups match mentors and mentees based on gender and other demographic characteristics, cross-identity matches are common. While these more diverse matches may make initial compatibility more challenging, mentees may benefit long-term from connections with adults and peers with whom they may not normally interact.
- Most groups include mentees with various strengths and weaknesses. In a national survey of over 250 mentoring groups, nearly all groups included at least “a few” youth who faced various risk factors such as poverty, single-parent households, behavioral problems, and academic failure. But, very few groups focused on one risk factor exclusively. In addition, many groups included mentees who were socially skilled and held positive values and attitudes. Research shows that structuring groups to include individuals with positive characteristics can provide a “positive peer group” for others struggling with specific risk factors.
- Pairing mentors with diverse skills and experience can be helpful to provide mentees with a wider breadth of knowledge. Project Arrive groups reported that pairing mentors from different departments within the school, such as wellness and counseling, provided a helpful balance of social, emotional and academic support during group meetings. Further, pairing experienced mentors with those who are just beginning can provide a boost to the mentor learning curve.
In summary, successful mentoring groups can be structured in several ways as long as mentees are able to positively relate to their mentors and develop a sense of group identity and cohesion.
DuBois, D. L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J. E., Silverthorn, N., & Valentine, J. C. (2011). How effective are mentoring programs for youth? A systematic assessment of the evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 12, 57–91. http://doi.org/10.1177/1529100611414806
Herrera, C., Vang, Z., Gale, L. Y., & Public/Private Ventures, P., PA. (2002). Group Mentoring: A Study of Mentoring Groups in Three Programs.
Kuperminc, G. (2016, January). Group Mentoring. Retrieved August 15, 2016, from http://www.nationalmentoringresourcecenter.org/index.php/what-works-in-mentoring/model-and-population-reviews.html?id=121
Sánchez, B., Pinkston K. D., Cooper A. C., Luna C. & Wyatt, S.T. (2016). One falls, we all fall: How boys of color develop close peer mentoring relationships. Applied Developmental Science. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10888691.2016.1208092
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