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5 Ways to be a Great Mentor

September 29, 2018

Girls' Education Staff

With International Day of the Girl Child approaching (Oct. 11th, mark those calendars!), it’s time to start thinking about ways to celebrate.

It’s no secret Room to Read is a proponent of empowering young women. Our Girls’ Education Program supports girls as they develop the tools to self-advocate  andchart a path they choose for themselves, rather than the one forced upon them by limiting societal norms around what’s possible for a girl. An essential part of making this a reality is our social mobilizers - local women who are hired as mentors and work with girls and their families to ensure that girls stay in school, receive information crucial for their adult lives, cultivate life skills and navigate challenges of adolescence.

Since the program’s founding in 2001, our staff has cultivated a wealth of knowledge on how to be a great mentor. So, it’s time we share that insight with you.



Tips to be a great mentor:


1. Cultivate Trust

The key ingredient to any successful mentor-mentee relationship is trust. 1,2,3 A mentor may be the only person in a girl’s life she can be open and honest with. So, it’s essential to build a deep sense of trust between mentor and mentee. This is the underlying framework for all other aspects of the mentoring relationship to follow.

“Effective mentoring can only happen when a level of trust is established—girls have to know that you genuinely care about them and have their best interests at heart. Only with this trust, will they open up, share their vulnerabilities, and seek out the guidance they need to thrive," says Linda Tran, Associate Director of Room to Read's Girls' Education Programs.

2. Be a Friend

Focus on Fun. First and foremost, the mentoring relationship should be fun! A mentor’s primary role is to act as a wise, caring friend and supporter for girls. This relationship is less formal than a teacher-student, or a coach-trainee relationship. 1,2Be a Role Model. A mentor is someone girls can look up to because of the positive choices they have made in life. Mentors can serve as an example for making positive personal decisions and developing healthy, supportive relationships. 2,4Show Empathy. Showing genuine interest and concern for mentee’s thoughts and feelings helps them feel safe enough to be honest about their lives.1,2Research shows that girls who may not have positive adult relationships in their lives benefit greatly from a mentoring relationship, because girls learn how to build trust with adults. This can help them to practice understanding as well as, regulating and expressing emotion, which leads to higher self-worth. [3],[4],[1]

3. Communicate Effectively

Be an active listener. Active listening shows the speaker that the listener truly cares about what is being said. This helps build trust between mentors and mentees and allow for a deeper, more honest relationship. 1,2,5,6Use reflective statements. Repeat back what the mentee has said to summarize her situation, thoughts, or feelings. Reflective statements give both people an opportunity to ensure they understand one another. 1,2Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions allow for clarification and a deeper exploration of a topic. Asking questions starting with who, what, where, how or why invites more of a response versus questions that only require a ‘yes’ or ‘no' answer. 1,2,6

"Participating is learning. Let girls participate in action plans that can help them improve their ways of learning, says Hai Nguyen, Regional Manager of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Programs in Southeast Asia-ended questions. 

4. Be Dependable

Mentees need consistency. Showing up not only shows reliability, but also builds trust. Host regular meetings and be on-time, every time. If you’re running late to a meeting, communicate beforehand. Mentees can’t form a strong bond with mentors if meetings are inconsistent.Be present long-term. Studies show that the most effective mentoring relationships last for at least six months to one year.Come prepared. Review the lesson or discussion plan before the meeting. Arriving with organized materials shows mentees. that their time and investment are valued, which encourages them to care about the mentoring sessions


5. Empower Girls

Validate feelings, goals and dreams. Mentors play an important role in encouraging girls to set goals and develop steps to achieve them. After all, they may not feel comfortable sharing this with anyone else. Encouraging goals also helps foster positive self-esteem and better mental health. 1,2,4

Support independent decision-making. Part of empowering girls is stepping back to let them make their own choices. Mentors shouldn’t judge or criticize girls for a “poor” decision. Instead, talk through the steps that led to the action and discuss ways to improve in the future. Allowing a girl to reach her own decisions helps her to feel respected and confident to take charge of her own life.1,2,4

"A good mentor should not solve mentees problem but should facilitate  and help mentee to solve their problem, says" Reema Shrestha, Regional Manager of Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in South Asia.

Encourage positive peer relationships. Social networks are an important part of adolescent life, especially if girls do not receive support or encouragement at home. Research indicates that adolescents’ ability to relate to others increases when they engage in a positive mentoring relationship, where mutual trust and respect are modeled. These relationships allow girls to feel socially supported, which increases their chances of staying in school.2,4,6


Want more insight from Room to Read’s education leaders? Sign up here.


Dig into the research:


[1] Girls' Success: Mentoring Guide for Life Skills. AED Center for Gender Equity, 2009.

[2] Ambassador Girls' Scholarship Program: Girls' Mentoring Resource Guide. USAID, 2008.

[3] Keller, T.E. (2005). A Model for the Influence of Mentoring Relationships on Youth Development. In D.L. DuBois & M.J.

Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (pp. 82–99). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.,%20spencer,%20keller,%20liang,%20noam%20-%20%20mentoring.pdf

[4] Rhodes, J.E. (2002). Mentoring Relationships and Programs for Youth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard

University Press.

[5] DuBois, D. L., Doolittle, F, Yates, B. T., Silverthorn, N., Tebes, J. K. (2006). Research methodology and youth

mentoring. Journal of Community Psychology, 34(6), 657-676.

[6] Wetherbee, Alicia, et al. “Accountable Talk in the Classroom: Educators Make Shifts to Encourage Instructional

Discourse – CARR: Connecticut Association for Reading Research.” CARR: Connecticut Association for Reading Research, CARR: Connecticut Association for Reading Research.

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