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.
Choosing the appropriate model for your program will depend on your program population, your vision for your program and the resources at your disposal. These models reflect different approaches to mentor and staff involvement, as well as the appropriate mix of mentors and mentees. There are several key steps that an organization should take in conceptualizing and developing the foundation of your program. Here are five early steps that will help you proceed to planning the logistics and detailed components of your meetings:
The type of mentor you wish to engage for the mentoring relationships will help you frame out the logistics of your program and your strategies around recruiting, training and retaining mentors. There are several models that you can choose from that are outlined below. It is important to also note that these ‘models’ can be blended and are often used in combination with one another. Though this list is not exhaustive, it provides four key mentor types you could consider for your girls group mentoring program:
ADULT MENTORS: Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc., in Winnipeg, Manitoba, engages adult women from the community to mentor girls. The women often come with lived experience and cultural teachings that benefit the girls. The women in mentor roles are passionate about community work as it provides opportunities to give back.
Adult mentors provide youth with concentrated adult attention and build confidence as youth are support by the adult world (Community Toolbox, 2013). Some programs have highlighted the particular value of adult mentors when working with girls from single parent families or girls in care. This can be particularly valuable when girls could benefit from more adult support. This should also be considered when the girls you are working with have multiple or extreme barriers to relationship building. Adult mentors could be college and university students, adults working in professions of interest to the girls, active interested citizens or senior “grandparents” in the community. Many Aboriginal communities incorporate Elders into their program to share history and cultural learning.
TEEN MENTORS: Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association in Alberta operates a mentoring program in which older girls, usually in high school, mentor younger girls. The mentoring program is centred around the relationships developed between girls and their older peer role models in community housing within vulnerable neighbourhoods. They relate to one another not just in terms of their age but also their experience in their community and often share their immigrant experience.
Teen mentoring brings together mentors and mentees who are relatively close in age, such as utilizing high-school students as mentors to younger girls. This is also known as Peer Mentoring and Cross-Age Peer Mentoring. Mentees are able to look up to girls in high school while still relating to them. This has been particularly valuable in programs where newcomer and immigrant girls are exploring their Canadian identity. This relationship has helped newcomer girls that have difficulty navigating conflicting identities (Canadian identity with traditional views of girls at home). Teen mentors could include older girls in the community, high-school girls or other youth leaders.
CO-MENTORS: The Boys & Girls Club of Hamilton in Ontario engages co-mentors in their program, Senior and Junior Athletes. This allows for joint leadership and consistent meetings (given schedules of the athletes). It promotes leadership among mentors and succession planning, with two different mentors for the girls to learn from.
This type of mentoring occurs when more than one mentor work jointly to provide mentorship to a group. They typically share the mentorship role equally and work as partners to provide support for the girls they work with. They can work collaboratively and actively mentor alongside one another or they may divide up the role or assign themselves separate core pieces. Co-mentoring can be particularly strategic for establishing sustainability within your programs. By having two mentors matched with a group, there is coverage and continuity if one mentor can no longer fulfill their commitment. Additionally, by using co-mentors, mentors themselves have an opportunity to develop a close relationship with their peer and to learn from and feel supported by the other mentor they are matched with. It is important to note, however, that by using co-mentors you are introducing another layer of ‘matching’ within your program and those matches will need the same level of support, supervision and potential conflict management as needed with the mentees. Sometimes a more ‘senior’ mentor will be matched with a more ‘junior’ mentor to support their development. See tri-mentoring below for information on matching mentors with different levels of experience.
TRI-MENTORS: YWCA Toronto in Ontario employs a tri-mentoring approach with high-school and university-aged mentors. This allows university students to mentor the teen mentors and bridges gaps of peer understanding between staff and mentors. The program provides the opportunity for older youth to be mentors and has a more profound community impact by creating a stronger network of female leadership.
This type of mentoring occurs when a mentor in one relationship becomes a mentee in another relationship. Tri-mentoring layers mentorship and provides leadership training across different levels. For example, a program may utilize high-school students as mentors to girls in elementary, middle or junior high school, and then engage a few adult mentors to support and mentor the high-school students. This format is often used to engage more experienced mentors to support less experienced mentors, but can also be utilized when a less experienced mentor is not quite ready for the commitment of being a full-time mentor. Tri-mentoring can also be very valuable for scheduling purposes, as tri-mentors can be engaged as support people to fill in when a mentor is not able to attend a meeting with their mentee. The tri-mentors are typically older than the main group of mentors or bring with them an elevated level of leadership to help guide the mentors.
How you format the program meetings will depend largely on the needs of the girls, the type of mentor(s) you’re providing and the space available for your program. There is no prescribed format or one-size-fits-all approach for developing your program. It is crucial to reflect on the uniqueness of your community and organization, and the following list captures some of the considerations you should have in the early development of your program:
Program content exists along a continuum: on one end, you have a completely structured, curriculum-based program; on the other end, you have no planned content but rather an open space for organically-developed learning. Determine how much pre-developed content you would like to include in your program. Many programs find that a balance is key, using some preplanned curriculum while leaving space for content to develop organically. This often includes preplanned topics for each week with predetermined opening activities, but leaves space for girls to discuss and apply the learning. In other programs they might choose a long-term goal or project to work toward, while also making space to organically develop the incremental steps and project pieces across each session.
Organizations might develop their curriculum in-house or purchase a resource from existing organizations. When purchasing pre-developed curriculum be sure to take the time to adapt the pieces to reflect the girls in your program. It is also helpful to consider whether the curriculum has been developed with a gender lens, which would reflect gender differences in experiences, needs and priorities.
If taking an ‘organic’ approach, this does not mean simply winging it. When it comes to letting content organically develop, a significant amount of planning and consideration is still necessary. Programs must ensure the proper mechanisms, prompts and facilitations are in place to guide the development of sessions. See Planning Your Content for more information on developing content.
By having debriefs or check-ins every session, girls know there will be a space at the end to share a concern or exciting piece of news with the group. Similarly, mentors need a designated time and space to address any issues.
Every program should include structured elements when it comes to establishing safety within the program and incorporating policies around screening and training. There should also be differentiation of stakeholder roles including which responsibilities fall onto the mentor and the staff. Clarity around these roles will allow mentors to participate more comfortably and promote a more positive and safe experience for the girls. Beyond this, your program can determine how much structure you want to have in other day-to-day processes.
Organizations should also consider how structured each session will be. Beyond the content itself, it can be helpful to have regular practices that introduce familiarity and prompt participation. This can include regular check-ins, debriefs, opening activities, journaling and time for reflection.
Most of the Canadian Women’s Foundation girls group mentoring grantees have found it helpful to plan the mentoring to take place on-site in their organization’s space. This helps address youth safety and is ideal when working with teen mentors. Having site-based mentoring allows for greater staff involvement and in many cases, provides easier access for parents. Other organizations have had meetings take place in the community, where they are centred around planned activities (such as bowling or going to the movies) or volunteering. This is more typical when working with adult women as mentors.
Some mentoring programs take place at schools. This is particularly common and valuable in rural communities as it eliminates travel and increases accessibility for many girls that would otherwise face transportation barriers. If opting to host your program at a school, you must establish a strong partnership with the school personnel and also ensure the school can provide a space for the group that is safe both physically and emotionally. See the Collaborations section and Safe Spaces segment for more information.
There are many programs that combine these approaches by having the program meetings start and operate out of a specific site or school, but incorporate outings and events at periodic times.
Inuvik Youth Centre always starts their girls mentoring program as a large group first. They typically take part in a group activity to introduce the theme of the week and then break off into their smaller matched groups to continue exploring the topic. These activities have included hands-on activities like cooking together or instruction-based discussions like breaking down gender stereotypes. Through building a pizza together, sharing stories of how they can overcome stereotypes, or numerous other activities, within the smaller groups the girls learn from each other and have a space for their voice.
Many programs have all of the mentoring groups meet in a large gathering to start off the session. By having all of the smaller, matched mentoring groups come together in the same space they can feel connected to a larger community. This is helpful when working with teen mentors or when building the mentoring off of an existing girls group program. They sometimes do a group icebreaker or activity and then break off into smaller mentoring groups to foster discussion and build relationships. This can also be a useful strategy from the staff perspective. By gathering all matched groups in one space they can easily take attendance, note any absences and shift mentors as needed to account for such absences.
Large group gatherings can also take place throughout the program. Many programs incorporate special events or gatherings at different periods (monthly, quarterly, etc.) to create connections across the group and facilitate space for girls to move outside of their mentoring groups, develop other relationships and broaden their experience. These events can take place on-site or off-site and typically have budget implications and requires additional staff time.
The involvement of staff in girls group mentoring has a profound impact on the ongoing monitoring, supervision and retention of mentors. Organizations should take considerable time in defining this role and assign a staff person with the demonstrated ability to adapt and evolve this capacity as the program takes form. Since each group of girls and each cohort of mentors will come with different strengths, needs and dynamics, the staff role may require a different focus from group to group.
Consider the following questions when determining how the program will be managed by your team:
Canadian Women’s Foundation’s evaluation report (2014) found that both mentees and mentors involved in girls group mentoring programs expressed the value in having smaller groups since it allowed for more focused time with mentors. While these mentoring programs focus on the group dynamic and its many gains, they still voiced an added-value in having individualized access to their mentor.
Mentoring relationships can also involve more than one mentor. Co-mentoring typically involves two mentors matched with a group of girls. This can also be a valuable strategy for managing complicated schedules and for helping establish security and continuity with mentor attendance. If one of the ‘team’ mentors falls ill, cannot attend or withdraws from the program, girls will not experience as much disruption to the mentoring group if the other mentor they have been matched with is still present. Additionally this can be a valuable approach for facilitating leadership development among the mentors. Some programs choose to match ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ mentors together to create a succession of leadership development where the younger mentor can learn from their older peer.
Keep in mind that there are added considerations and potential setbacks when matching girls with co-mentors. For example, it introduces another layer of matching and another relationship that needs support and supervision. Mentors may also experience conflict, particularly if the matched mentors have different leadership styles. Programs must be strategic in matching their mentors since they must work collaboratively with one another. Personality, leadership style and skill level/experience should be considered.
The needs of the girls in each program will largely dictate an effective ratio. When working with girls with multiple barriers to relationship-building, a program may need to adjust to a smaller group. This might also be ideal for groups where there are behavioural issues and increased challenges affecting the group dynamic. It is also important to note the needs of the mentors, particularly when working with older girls as mentors.
When determining your mentor/mentee ratio, it can be helpful and constructive to approach this number with flexibility. Establishing a positive group dynamic and building relationships within the group should be prioritized over adhering to a predetermined ratio. Sometimes a group will fit better with one more or one less girl. Other times, it may benefit from a pair of mentors instead of just one. It is best to approach the ratio as a guiding principle but adapt as needed to the girls you are working with.
Note that these ratios do not include staff. Staff resources will be likely focused on program logistics and effectiveness, and they may not have the time or attention to give to the essential task of relationship-building.
Never underestimate the importance of food! Offering food is a great way of encouraging participation as well as addressing a need for many girls. Be mindful of budgeting enough food, offering options that reflect dietary restrictions and providing healthy sustenance. The time of day when you host your program will also affect how much food to budget. If you are holding your program over the dinner hour or right after school, for example, expect girls to arrive hungry!
Developing your program budget is a necessary step that should be completed early. In order to start planning the details around your program meetings and logistics, have a sense of the budget for each area of your program. As your planning comes along, you will likely tweak sections and specific budget lines but try to roughly allocate funds to each major area once the foundation of your program (steps 1−4) is established.
It is likely you already have a fixed amount or set grant that will be used for this program. Start working that amount into program components such as staffing, administration, facilities, transportation, program supplies, food, costs for screening or background checks, etc. Take time to reflect on each of these budget lines and build in a buffer for critical parts of the program. For example, staff time will increase if there is a crisis or if mentors leave and additional recruitment is needed. Transportation could include not only travel to and from the program for staff, but may also be required for mentors and girls. You should also consider whether group events will require additional costs outside of regular programming. It is important to build in costs to ensure the program is accessible to girls and does not present barriers or restrictions to their participation.