E-mentoring: Setting a High Bar for Safety & Support
APRIL 15, 2016
BY: DELIA GORMAN, PROGRAM MANAGER, MENTOR: THE NATIONAL MENTORING PARTNERSHIP
An Interview with Camille Stone, Program Director of the Remote Tutoring and Mentoring Program at We Teach Science
What if the right technology could make mentoring programs safer? What if it could help us better support our mentors, while preparing young people for a brighter future?
As a part of our monthly Collaborative Mentoring Webinar Series, MENTOR facilitated a webinar this February called “Mentoring in the Age of Technology”, which explored the impacts of technology on youth mentoring, and featured seasoned mentoring practitioners who use technology as a mentoring tool.
One of these practitioners is Camille Stone, Program Director of the Remote Tutoring and Mentoring (RTM) Program at We Teach Science. The RTM E-mentoring program pairs Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) professionals with youth in schools to provide tutoring and mentoring remotely via a web-based, interactive whiteboard platform. Stone spoke with me after the webinar and shared her insights about the value of technology in building safe, effective mentoring relationships for youth.
Stone acknowledges that mentoring practitioners often have a lot of questions about the use of technology in mentoring – specifically, if we use the internet to connect youth and mentors, how can we be sure that these interactions are safe, especially when the internet is known for being so…well, free of boundaries?
In her work connecting mentors and mentees over the internet, Camille knows that the right program model and platform not only allow for safety, but can provide additional measures of supervision that may not be possible for traditional community-based models. We Teach Science, for example, utilizes an online mentoring model that connects youth and their mentors in a supervised virtual mentoring space. Stone has informally dubbed this the “structured sandbox approach,” noting that it allows mentors and mentees to build relationships within the clear boundaries of a designated online arena. The program is structured to eliminate unmonitored mentor-mentee contact, as there are no emails, calls or visits exchanged outside of the program’s supervision. Additionally, program coordinators are physically present in classrooms as youth interact with their remote mentors through this platform, monitoring mentees’ reactions to their contact with mentors and ensuring smooth use of technology.
Furthermore, mentors’ interactions with mentees in this virtual space are automatically recorded by the platform, and recordings are periodically reviewed by experienced teachers serving as support specialists, who then provide feedback to mentors. Mentors are scored using a rubric evaluating their effectiveness in such areas as: asking their mentees questions, helping their mentees build mathematical understanding and critical thinking, and their ability to mentor and engage the young person.
Recording and evaluating a session in this way is not unlike a match support specialist following a mentor and mentee on an outing in the community, but in this case you are observing the pair without any influence of your presence. It’s essentially like being a “fly on the wall” of their session. According to Stone, this not only ensures that mentor-mentee interactions are safe and supportive, but it makes the feedback provided to volunteers that much more accurate and tailored. For example, a volunteer might receive feedback like “you asked really thoughtful questions to your mentee, but I noticed that you didn’t give her much time to respond – maybe pausing more would help engage your mentee.” Coaching mentors with these specific, objective, and individualized suggestions offers a more intensive layer of support, in addition to the more traditional form of match support they receive through emails and calls with their program coordinator.
Stone believes that this type of volunteer supervision and support is critical to mentors’ growth. We Teach Science recently underwent a program evaluation study that showed that mentors receiving scored feedback improved in subsequent scores to a statistically significant degree. “Mentors really crave feedback on their efforts just in the same way our youth do,” says Stone, who believes that coaching volunteers well makes them want to stay involved with the program. And she has reason to, citing the organization’s growing rate of volunteer retention from year to year, which has reached 60-70%. “I’m really proud of that,” says Stone.
So online mentoring can make mentors better at mentoring, which has obvious benefits for the youth they serve. But how does an online mentoring platform impact youth? Do youth benefit from online interactions with mentors just as they would from in-person mentoring?
According to Stone, an online mentoring model can serve young people in very real and very different ways than in-person mentoring can. First, “we can pair youth with mentors from all over the country, so we can find the best mentor for each child,” says Stone. Second, the academic and professional world that our young people are entering is becoming increasingly digital, and mentoring interventions that allow young people to practice interacting appropriately online are incredibly valuable in preparing them for this. “The 21st century learning skills they are developing will really give them a step up in their future careers, or when they are in college and taking an online class,” says Stone. And because We Teach Science provides online mentoring in schools, it promotes access to these tools for children who may not have digital resources at home. Third, online mentoring can also be a really safe space for children to open up in ways that might feel uncomfortable with face to face contact.
Stone believes that connecting mentors and mentees remotely online has incredible value, but notes that for programs interested in this type of model, it’s essential to think through their choice of platform. We Teach Science’s safe and structured online mentoring model is comprised of several key pillars, including the online platform it uses, the training and supervision it provides to volunteers, and the support it builds in for students. “Choose a system of support that has the right kind of tools for your program,” Stone advises. And be sure that the platform you choose is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which mandates measures that protect youth from targeting or exploitation online.
If you’re interested in learning more about We Teach Science, or Camille Stone’s work with their Remote Tutoring and Mentoring (RTM) Program, check out their website: www.weteachscience.org. If you’re interested in other webinars about innovative topics in the field of mentoring, join us on every third Thursday for the Collaborative Mentoring Webinar Series, a free webinar series brought to you by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.