The Hands-Off Mentoring Approach
The role of a mentor in Quest Forward Learning can make or break a student’s learning progression. As a mentor, you bring to the table a unique combination of expertise and experience that is unlike any other mentor in your program, building, or community. Even more, as a Quest Forward mentor, you take on the role of a learning facilitator and master of active, personalized educational experiences (Learn more about our Vision for Mentors ).
When we speak of mentoring, we are often referring to a hands-off mentoring approach to teaching and learning—meaning that Quest Forward mentors should encourage students to step out of their traditional education lenses, while giving them the space and framework for discovering their own passions and curiosities. Although mentors may still need to step in for interventions or remediation, ultimately, they value their students enough to let them individualize their own learning paths.
There are many advantages to a hands-off mentoring approach.
It gives students a sense of discovery and fulfillment.
When students are given the platform to ask questions, step out of their comfort zone, and engage in their learning, the path feels just as valuable as the result itself. A hands-off mentoring approach enables students to establish their own learning goals and employ their own strategies to reach those goals. Additionally, students are encouraged to develop proactive, independent learning styles, which lead to a greater ownership and engagement of their own learning. This sense of discovery comes not only in the introduction of new material or building of prototypes, but also in the end product formed with personal agency and choice.
It fosters creativity and problem solving, allowing students to come up with solutions rather than being told what to do.
Mentors can often feel pressured to give advice or instructions as soon as a student is frustrated or confused, but what would a student learn from reactionary advice? A great mentor knows how to determine if a situation can be resolved with off-the-cuff feedback or if it requires thoughtful, constructed guidance. Mentors can instead use this opportunity to give advice, rather than explicitly instructing and prescribing a pathway. Examples of this could include: providing open-ended artifacts, presenting multiple strategies for building products, or instilling a peer and self-evaluation system that prompts students to drive their own learning.
It promotes a growth mindset.
A growth mindset—a foundational pillar of Quest Forward Learning—is defined as the development of one’s most basic abilities through dedication and hard work. This mindset creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for creating value in one’s community. With a hands-off mentoring approach, students foster that perseverance and resilience by driving their own education, which in turn empowers them to thrive in the face of any challenge. A growth mindset enables students to focus on the learning and the effort instead of on content acquisition. Students may say things such as “I haven’t mastered this yet; I need to work harder or try a new approach.” or “that strategy didn’t work, I’ll try another.” Mentors are essential to supporting students as they develop these positive outcomes and mindsets.
It is important for mentors to understand that a hands-off mentoring approach does include some boundaries and guidance for students, while also using students’ experience and expertise to individualize their learning paths. This approach to mentoring leads to a more student-focused learning environment by placing responsibility on the students to enhance their own development. It does not involve explicit instruction in the foundation of learning, but instead provides a ‘toolbox’ of skills and resources that students can use to generate their own ideas and strategies. We understand that mentoring in this way is a practice, as adapting to this unique method requires time. We will explain in a later post how we orient and support mentors as they use this hands-off mentoring approach.
Kelsey Cain is the former Director of Professional Learning at Opportunity Education. She worked closely with schools and OE teams to develop and implement a comprehensive professional learning program for all school-based groups that align with organizational goals and strengthen instructional practices. Prior to OE, she was a classroom teacher and district leader across both urban and rural school districts in the U.S, and taught in Ghana and Costa Rica.