JANUARY 18, 2016
BY: VIDA SANFORD, DISTRICT COORDINATOR, MENTORING FOR SUCCESS: PROJECT ARRIVE, SAN FRANCISCO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Editor’s note: This week we are excited to be releasing the first in our series of publications exploring the research evidence on mentoring in certain program models or for certain populations. Dr. Gabe Kuperminc of our Research Board has authored a summary of what we know, and where we need more research, on group mentoring models. To supplement his evidence review, we’ve asked an experienced practitioner, Vida Sanford of Project Arrive/Mentoring for Success, to share her thoughts about what makes group mentoring effective and how practitioners can help their groups thrive.
I was recently at a meeting of mentoring program professionals where everyone in attendance was involved in running traditional one-to-one mentoring programs, except for me. During lunch, someone asked me about the program I work with. I explained that I manage a school-based group mentoring program in San Francisco called Mentoring For Success: Project Arrive, designed to support 9th grade students who had struggled academically and socially in middle school. The colleague replied "I tried to run a group once or twice. I couldn't get them to do anything. They wouldn't stay on topic, they did whatever they wanted, talked over each other and didn't listen to anything I said. I had no idea what I was in for."
I knew exactly what she meant. It's hard to run a good group! When San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) received funding from OJJDP in 2010 to pilot a group mentoring program for students with truancy issues, we struggled to find viable research and resources to guide us on how to train and coach group mentors to lead effective groups. Nevertheless, we remained confident that a successful group mentoring experience could bring many unique benefits to students that SFUSD’s established one-to-one model could not.
Project Arrive forged ahead and we have learned a lot along the way, especially around the importance of group formation when developing a group mentoring program, one in which participants feel a sense of belonging, connection, and trust. Creating cohesive, connected and purposeful groups, especially for high-energy adolescents, doesn't happen without time and effort. Group mentors need to be trained on the same principles and practices that apply to 1:1 mentoring, but they also require additional awareness and understanding of the process of group formation and dynamics to better understand and address what is happening within their group at a given point in time.
In attempting to develop meaningful training content for our mentors, psychologist Bruce Tuckman's simple and memorable phrase "forming, storming, norming, and performing" is both useful and accessible to mentors, especially those who don't have a clinical or social work background. He described the 4-stage path that most teams follow on their way to high performance, and later added a fifth stage, "adjourning". We have found these to be highly applicable to the context of school-based group mentoring and offer some suggestions here about how mentors can support their groups in moving successfully through each stage.