Tips for Mentors on How to Engage Students with School and Learning

With high school dropout rates alarmingly high, our teaching and learning research shows student engagement is a critical element to high school dropout prevention. Last week I shared how the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) is helping reduce high school dropout rates and improving lives through Check & Connect. Check & Connect is designed specifically to enhance student engagement at school and with learning through mentorship.

Building a positive, long-term mentor-mentee relationship is a powerful way to change students’ behavior and attitude towards school and learning, which is why Check & Connect requires a mentor commitment of a minimum of two years. Since many students who are referred to Check & Connect don’t have adults that stay in their lives for long, they haven’t learned to count on their relationships with adults. The two-year minimum requirement provides the time necessary for mentors to build trust with students and demonstrate to them that they are not going anywhere – they are the consistent caring adult in a student’s life.

Mentors play a significant role in engaging students in school and preventing dropout. Engaging students academically, behaviorally, cognitively and affectively is essential to improving progress in school. Here are some research-based strategies for mentors that promote student engagement on four levels (adapted from Christenson et al., 2008):

1. Academic

  • Take advantage of available after-school programs such as tutoring and homework help
  • Ensure that there’s both academic press (high expectations, well-structured learning environments) and support for learning (caring environment)
  • Provide regular positive reinforcement based on the amount of work completed
  • Increase home support for learning such as home-school notes, assignment notebooks and academic enrichment activities
  • Have students check-in with the teacher each hour to make sure they have pens, notebooks, assignments, etc.

2. Behavior

  • Get the student’s input about classroom rules, school climate and evaluation of assignments and use their feedback to make changes
  • Don’t rely on negative consequences as a way to manage student behavior
  • Involve students in hands-on learning that’s directly related to future career goals or interests
  • Create an individualized approach to attendance or participation issues at school
  • Develop specific behavior plans or contracts to address individual needs

3. Cognitive

  • Focus on specific, necessary steps to reaching a student’s personal goals and career aspirations
  • Teach effective note-taking and study skills like mnemonic devices, flashcards, etc.
  • Illustrate the link between the student’s effort and the outcome achieved to increase the student’s perceived self-control, self-efficacy and self-determination
  • Encourage parents to provide motivational support for learning at home by talking to students about school and schoolwork, setting high expectations and delivering positive reinforcements
  • Set learning goals over performance goals that align with classroom and school culture

4. Affective

  • Build a personal relationship with the student
  • Intervene early and persistently with issues involving peers, adults, home and community environments to help change the student’s developmental course
  • Help students with personal problems
  • Encourage participation in extracurricular activities
  • Create a caring and supportive environment

Most importantly mentors need to be persistent in reaching out to students, as it often takes time to make a connection and establish trust. Find more tips on what to do when the mentor-mentee relationship is challenging on Check & Connect’s Attend, Engage, Invest blog.

Learn more about incorporating Check & Connect into your school programs and to find mentoring materials like webinars and training manuals.

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Angie Pohl

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Angie Pohl

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