Relationships and projects: Next steps

Ways your role as a program manager can help mentors and youth balance building a relationship and creating cool things.

At Michigan State University Extension, we are exploring the balance between strong mentoring relationships and making cool stuff in the Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards program, which focuses small group mentoring on exploring STEAM projects. “Relationships and projects: Developing recommended practices” discussed some recommendations for maintaining this balance. 4-H program coordinator Jodi Wrzesinski collaborated in identifying three aspects of a program manager’s role that can help with staying relationship-focused in a project-based world in project-based mentoring:

  1. Mentor training. Find ways to model your mentor training around experiential learning practices. The “Ready to Go: Mentor Training Toolkit” formats all training activities on a do-reflect-apply model. By training in mentors in this format, it makes debriefing discussions easier for them to start with youth because you modeled it during training. Use mentor training as a time to emphasize the focus of programming on the relationship over the project and to get a read on what coaching and support individuals might need going forward.
  2. Matching. In a project-focused mentoring program, it might seem like a good idea to match on shared interest in projects. Although this might help, remember your participants will do multiple projects during their time together. Instead, consider the importance of matching similar or compatible personalities, these will be more consistent than the projects explored.
  3. Case management. There are a few ways your regular support of mentees and mentors can emphasize the relationship. Be sure to build good habits with your mentors from the start by encouraging them to take progress notes and talk with each other about how things are going. Make sure your match meeting structure leaves time for informal group discussion, has matches sitting in their small groups and has time at the end for reflection. Finally, in the moment, assist mentors by reinforcing program rules with the mentees, floating between matches and observing, and being willing to mediate if a mentor needs assistance.

By taking the time to consider how your role as a program manager can help balance cool projects with important relationship-based outcomes, you are ensuring youth in your program are getting numerous benefits from a mentoring relationship that also builds 21st century skills!

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