of the Adult In-School Mentoring Test Labs
Mentoring is not magic. The positive outcomes often associated with mentoring relationships are produced only when a suitable mentor is matched with the right mentee engaging in the right activities with adequate and appropriate support.
Although it would be a simpler process to identify an effective program and replicate, nationally, the elements that contribute to that effectiveness, the great program variation and the lack of an outcomes tool used consistently across agencies, does not help us objectively identify strong programs.
Proposal Context and Rationale:
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada’s In-School Mentoring Program (ISM) provides mentors to over 12,000 students in Canadian schools. Screened and trained volunteer mentors meet with, primarily, elementary school students for one hour each week for a school year. Activities are selected collaboratively by the mentor and mentee and foster confidence and an improved attitude towards school, peers and other adults. Activities could include reading, playing games, recreational activities in the gym or the school grounds or simply talking.
The In-School Mentoring Program is offered in almost every one of our agencies in Canada, with variations in program delivery.
We are at a stage in our lengthy history where our collective practice wisdom and the academic research are strongly suggesting that we modify this core mentoring program. We want these changes to be well-considered as the impact of even one change has wide-reaching ramifications.
The major activities that we undertook to produce the desired results included:
- Selection of four modifications and of 11 agencies to test the various enhancements. A researcher was assigned to evaluate the impact of each enhancement.
- Program enhancements were tested over the course of two school years, concluding June 2015.
- Data analysis and outcomes were discussed (November 2015) to assess which modifications have the greatest impact on quality.
The recommendations are as follows:
- Structured activities: Structured activities were found to be of significant value in specific circumstances (new relationships, young mentors, shy mentees) and an impediment in other circumstances (older mentees, returning matches, active mentees). For that reason, the activity guide and process will be formalized and provided as a tool for Mentoring Coordinators to use with new match relationships experiencing difficulty or uncertainty around how to begin their relationship.
- Enhanced match support: Enhanced match support was found to be both beneficial to the quality of the relationship and feasible; Mentoring Coordinators found that the minimal extra work resulted in great value. The Task Force is still working to determine what the final contact schedule should look like. As well, the Match Support Framework, that is, the specific questions asked of mentors and mentees, will be standardized for mandatory use by all agencies. A motion for a revised Standard will be forwarded at AGM 2016.
- Network engagement: Like structured activities, network engagement was found to be of benefit in some circumstances (mild problems with teachers). However, Mentoring Coordinators felt there was a great potential to cause harm, especially where the child presented complex needs that were beyond the capacity of the mentor to manage. Interestingly, the Task Force felt that Mentoring Coordinators (staff at the agencies) should be encouraged to engage more actively with the mentees’ network in an effort to advocate on behalf of the child. The Task Force will continue to discuss this and to monitor other Big Brothers Big Sisters’ work around the use of advocacy in mentoring relationships.
- Mandatory match wrap up: Given the initial positive results, mandatory match wrap up was adopted as a Standard in June 2015.
This project was an enormous success as is evidenced, in part, from the comments of two of the researchers involved:
“I am impressed and heartened anew every time I have the opportunity to engage with the incredibly caring and talented folks at BBBSC. And I am so pleased that there are real, actionable outcomes from this process!”
“I really enjoyed the meeting. It felt good to be able to see the fruits of everyone’s labor—modification and survey planning, data collection and analyses, and reporting survey results but balancing or contextualizing those informative (but not “true”) findings within a broader conversation based on evidence-based, real world, boots on the ground staff experience. It was a truer collaboration of researchers and program staff that I have EVER seen—each truly appreciating what the other contributes and trying to use what each “knows to be truthy” to aid in helping the other think more deeply about what they saw, felt, heard (whether in data and staff responses, or through interactions with Bigs, Littles, Teachers, etc.).
It was an honor to be a part of that experience. It sets a high bar, in my mind, for what can come from true collaboration of this kind.”
We entered into this project with a plan to strengthen and standardize, where possible, the Adult In-School Mentoring Program. With the addition of Standards related to mandatory match wrap-up and mentee referral and more coming in 2016, we have accomplished the standardization necessary to address risk, to improve quality and to conduct a large outcomes evaluation of the program.
Thank you to the following agencies for their commitment to this initiative: Fraser Valley, Langley, Saskatoon, Brandon, Ottawa, St. Catharines, London, Peel, Lanark County, Colchester and Halifax.