Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit

This Girls Group Mentoring Toolkit provides the tools, resources and support to create, implement, deliver and evaluate a quality group mentoring program for girls, ages 9-13, in your community. The Toolkit is intended to be used in a range of communities, and can be adapted to the unique values, needs, strengths and challenges that each community encompasses.

Training

Mentor Training: First Steps

Training prepares mentors by providing a foundation of knowledge so that they have a clear understanding of the roles, responsibilities and characteristics of a successful mentor. Mentor training provides useful skills and frameworks, helps mentors gain confidence in relationship building and supports them to understand the dynamics of mentoring girls in a group setting.

Training should be used as a part of the screening process; some mentors are better suited for one-to-one mentoring and the training process should reveal this. In-person training allows staff to observe how mentors communicate and interact. It also allows for the opportunity to observe a mentor’s understanding of content in order to determine whether potential mentors have the qualities and interests that make them suitable for girls group mentoring programs. Training also helps potential mentors to determine if the program and commitment is right for them.

Training will look different from one organization to the next based on the goals of your program and the girls and mentors you are engaging. There are five key steps to consider when developing your training program:

  1. Determine how much training to offer
  2. Create a positive space
  3. Develop your initial training content
  4. Devise a plan for ongoing training
  5. Create a community among mentors

1. Determine how much training to offer

What we learned about training in girls group mentoring programs:
Girls group mentoring programs funded by Canadian Women’s Foundation took part in an evaluation process. Mentors were asked to measure their feelings of preparedness and satisfaction of the training provided. Based on their responses, 100% of mentors with 10−20 hours indicated they were ‘completely’ or ‘very’ satisfied with the training provided. Those who received between 5−10 hours also had positive feedback, whereas those with less than 4 hours reported mixed feedback on how prepared or satisfied they felt.

- Canadian Women's Foundation (2011)

Research indicates that more training is better. Mentors who attended less than two hours of training reported the lowest levels of relationship quality while those who attended six or more hours reported the strongest relationships with youth (Herrera, Sipe & McClanahan, 2000). Much of the available research for training mentors is based on one-on-one mentoring programs, however, and group mentoring requires additional skills and training for successful relationships such as facilitation and group management skills. As such, one could infer that the amount of training required for mentors in a group mentoring program may actually be more than that of a one-to-one program. In the 2013−2014 evaluation of Canadian Women’s Foundation’s funded girls group mentoring programs, organizations with 10−20 hours of training (including ongoing training) reported the strongest feedback from their mentors in terms of feeling prepared and satisfied with the training provided.

It is important to consider the various degrees and types of training as well. While much of the training captured in the Canadian Women’s Foundation evaluation focused on formal, structured learning sessions, it also included informal learning and training that can be equally valuable when preparing a mentor for their mentoring role. This can take the form of shadowing a seasoned mentor or learning from staff through informal discussion.

When determining the number of hours for mentor training in your program, space, staff time and supplies will all need to be factored into both your logistics plan and your budget. See the Program Logistics section for more considerations when planning your training practices. You should also consider constraints related to scheduling and availability of mentors. When developing your training program, check in with the community to ensure you are requiring a commitment that is realistic. Be ready to adapt when some mentors cannot attend every session. Having a ‘buddy system’ or a comprehensive training manual can be helpful in bringing those mentors up to speed.

2. Create a positive space

The mentor training sessions will be best received in an environment where the mentors feel comfortable to ask questions and engage freely with the material while feeling supported by staff and one another. Mentors will be more receptive to training in a physically and psychologically safe space. Reflect on how you can create a space that will be conducive for a positive learning experience for mentors.

Start with a platform of transparency and trust. Be sure that the materials are clear and easy to follow. Mentors will enter the program with varied levels of learning, so ensure materials are simplified, accessible and connected to real practice. It can also be helpful to incorporate a variety of learning approaches to accommodate the different kinds of learners within the group. Reflecting on the material in the Planning Activities section can be helpful when determining your approach.

The Girls’ Fund Evaluation revealed that mentors place a great amount of value on training that:  

  • Incorporates a personal and social element where they could meet and interact with other mentors
  • Is interactive and engaging
  • Involves hands-on participation and open discussion
  • Teaches useful ways to deal with different situations with girls in the mentoring groups

- Canadian Women's Foundation (2014)

The use of icebreakers, opening activities and fun ‘get to know you’ exercises are valuable in creating a positive space for mentor training. This not only helps to foster the personal and social aspects mentors are seeking, as well as keeping the process interactive and engaging, but also serves to create a community among the mentors where they are learning together and from one another. Breaking out of a structured, school-like format will encourage mentors to feel more excited about the training. These opening activities can take many forms and there are a wide variety of resources available to help you generate ideas.

You can also incorporate an opening ‘check-in’ and ‘debrief’ where each member of the circle shares their hopes for the training from the outset and reflects on the training at the end.

The physical meeting room itself is an important consideration when developing a positive space for mentor training. Source out a training space that is open enough to allow for interactive activities and small group discussions if this is a part of your training program. Consider having groups meet in a large open circle rather than meeting across tables. Incorporating the opinions, views and learning needs of mentors can help them feel ownership over the space and process, which in turn can support mentors to feel comfortable to ask questions and feel in control of the learning they are experiencing.

3. Develop your initial training content:

While the content of initial mentor training will vary depending on the particular program and community, in girls group mentoring programs two key elements should exist:

General mentor training may be conducted online, in person or a combination of both approaches. This piece of the training should equip your mentors to be effective (e.g. how to build strong relationships with mentees), as well as provide them with important information about the program and your organization. The majority of these topics are typically addressed in the pre-match phase of mentor training, though they can be revisited in greater depth at later sessions. 

Training mentors on facilitation skills is another critical area that should be delivered before the mentors start meeting with their groups. This will ensure that mentors are prepared and positioned to steer the healthy development and progression of their matched mentoring groups. While some facilitation training should be raised in the initial mentor training, it is often more of a focus in the ongoing training plan. This allows mentors to continue building these skills within the context of their programs and can support them to collaboratively address and work through any issues that arise in the relationship development stages.

4. Plan for ongoing mentor training:

The Boys & Girls Club of Hamilton trains university athletes to be mentors in their program. Mentors participate in at least 6 hours of pre-match training in the form of workshops and discussions that cover topics related to mentoring and relationship building, but also specifically for working with girls. Such topics include gender- positive language, female empowerment and diversity—particularly for understanding the income- related challenges in the surrounding neighbour-hood. The training also has a strong focus on team building through fun events and activities, such as participating in circus school. This helps to build the sense of camaraderie among mentors and increases their feelings of support and engagement before diving in to the mentoring relationship.

In addition to the training that mentors receive at the outset, ongoing training opportunities are beneficial and, in most cases, essential. Ongoing training allows mentors the opportunity to continue to develop and share their skills, and helps them to remain connected to the organization. This kind of supplementary training can present opportunities for mentors to hear guest speakers on topics relevant to their mentees (e.g. young girls and bullying), discuss challenges and successes in the mentoring experience, receive support from staff and other mentors, brainstorm new activities and share other learning. These opportunities can take a less structured form and serve more as informal, ‘on-the-go’ training. This might include shadowing a more seasoned mentor or sitting in on a staff meeting. Ultimately, investing in ongoing training opportunities will make for more engaged and knowledgeable mentors who are better positioned to effectively perform in their role. The designated staff person responsible for the mentoring program should have time built into their role to develop and maintain this ongoing training component.

A major focus of ongoing training should be incorporating a mentor-directed element that encourages input and leadership. Often programs deliver quite structured training in the initial sessions, but programs should create flexible space for mentor input. Some tips include:  

  • Ask the mentors what they want to learn about.
  • Train on emerging topics while mentoring relationships develop. Make it relevant to what’s happening in the relationship and with the girls.
  • Consider what expertise your mentors have that could be shared. Allow them to be involved in leading activities based on their own interests, knowledge and skills.
  • Facilitate conversations to stay abreast of what is taking place within the community and whether there are any emerging opportunities, challenges or barriers that should be discussed and explored.

Training new mentors partway through the program:

At times you may have to add a new mentor partway through the program as a result of another mentor having to leave their commitment early. When bringing on a new mentor partway through the program, it is important that they have the opportunity to be trained on all of the topics covered in the initial mentor training sessions. For this reason, it is recommended that learning or information materials are created from the outset of the program and available if you face this situation. You may offer the new mentor ‘shadow training’ by matching them with a seasoned mentor they can observe. This can offer them a sense of the role and ways to facilitate positive group development. Be sure to create space for new mentors to meet and feel connected to other mentors. A welcome meeting or welcome celebration can be helpful in achieving this.

It is recommended that you take the time to reflect upon and evaluate your training program. Groups should leverage the feedback of mentors to ensure that future training is meeting the needs of those involved. Some programs have found it helpful to conduct an evaluation survey to generate feedback on specific topics in an anonymous format. This can be conducted after the initial mentor training to help inform the plans and topics for the ongoing mentor training plan or it can be conducted halfway through the overall program to determine the actual utility and retention of the training information

5. Create a community among mentors

Training mentors in a group format presents the valuable opportunity for mentors to connect with one another. There are significant gains from facilitating camaraderie between mentors. Some of these include:

Facilitating peer support among mentors has benefits for mentees too!

Marshalla, Lawrence & Peugha’s study (2013) of peer support in the Young Women’s Leadership Program explored the value of facilitating support and training between college-aged women matched in girls mentoring groups. Among their findings, they noted that mentor peer support can be linked to group cohesion, which can increase mentee engagement. Furthermore, this type of peer support can also increase mentors’ confidence in their abilities in the relationship development process. Mentors were more comfortable setting limits in their relationships and taking risks associated with intimacy and closeness when supported by their peers.

- Marshalla, Lawrence & Peugha (2013)

  • Increased support system: Connecting mentors provides them with more people to bounce ideas off of, seek advice from and gain new perspective or feedback.
  • Increased rewards: Mentors are not only forging relationships with mentees but also with their peers.
  • Increased retention: When mentors feel more connected with one another, they can gain a greater sense of belonging, a stronger network and greater satisfaction.
  • Increased time: Running large trainings as opposed to many individual sessions will save time in the long run.

Peer-directed mentor training should always be guided by program staff to eliminate misinformation. Be sure to set clear instruction and policy for when mentors should come to staff for training and clarification. Topics related to safety, program design and organizational policy should always be reinforced and directed by staff. 
Developing a strategy to intentionally create a community among mentors will require an added dimension of planning but will be well worth the effort. Consider these tips when organizing your group mentor training:

  • Schedule the training dates well in advance. It is ideal to offer two options—an evening session during the week and a day session during the weekend. This will accommodate most schedules.
  • Provide ongoing training opportunities!
  • Create a space for continued conversation. While you may have weekly debriefing sessions and ongoing training, it can also be helpful to have a Facebook page or similar online platform for further communication.
  • Provide fun opportunities beyond training where they can celebrate their progress and forge stronger connections with one another. This could include outings, dinners, events and movie nights, among other ideas.
  • Consider a buddy system. If you aren’t using co-mentors, consider pairing mentors to fill each other in on missed information and cover one another as needed. If you are using co-mentors, be sure to intentionally facilitate conversations between them early on so they can discuss their shared role and develop plans of how they will collaborate.

Contact: mentoringgirls(at)canadianwomen.org