New study highlights the ups and downs of mentoring

Spiekermann, L., Lyons, M., & Lawrence, E. (2020). The Ups and Downs of Mentoring Relationship Formation: What to Expect. Children and Youth Services Review, 188(105413).

Summarized by Selen Amado

Notes of Interest:

  • This study aimed to understand the timing and sequencing of the development of mentoring relationships in a school-based mentoring program to better support mentors and mentees.
  • Mentor reported relationship satisfaction was generally high and grew slightly over the course of the relationships.
  • Mentor perception of relationship quality was not associated with mentee outcomes (e.g., mentee relationship satisfaction or peer self-esteem).
  • There were small dips in mentor relationship quality over time even in many of the relationships that showed positive growth overall.
  • Mentors might benefit from being primed to expect “bumps” in their relationships over time and coached to focus more on overall trends.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract):

The current study examines the development of formal youth mentoring relationships over time in a sample of female mentors. While benefits of youth mentoring have been shown across a variety of domains, research suggests that qualities of the mentoring relationship, including duration and satisfaction, are instrumental in determining mentee outcomes. Despite the central role of the relationship in mentoring, there is a paucity of research examining how mentoring relationships develop over time. Mentors were participants in a school-based mentoring program that is curriculum driven and includes both a group and a one-on-one component. Weekly reports of relationship satisfaction were collected from mentors. Multilevel modelling was used to analyze relationship quality over time. Relationship development was best modeled by a random-effects, random-slopes model. Satisfaction generally started high and grew slightly over the academic year. The intercept, slope and their interaction was not associated with mentee outcomes (e.g., mentee relationship satisfaction or peer self-esteem). This study is a first step towards understanding the developmental pattern of mentoring relationships as measured by mentor reports of relationship strength. Results from this study provide important information to aid in mentor training and to advance the mentoring field. Limitations of the research design include inability to make causal claims, small sample size, and lack of generalizability.

Implications (Reprinted from Discussion):

Findings suggest that on average, relationship quality was relatively high and stable in this sample of mentors. On average, quality increased from about 4–4.42 over the academic year. However, further analysis showed a great deal of variability in relationship quality over time between individual mentors. Mentors’ reports of relationship quality varied significantly in starting points and slopes across the study and were best described using a random-intercepts and random-slopes model. This model returned modest but statistically significant growth in relationship quality over time. This implies that there is a great deal of heterogeneity in mentor–mentee relationship growth as measured by mentor relationship satisfaction. The observed variability in trajectories of individual development motivates further investigation into qualities associated with patterns of relationship growth.

No statistically significant correlations between mentor reports of relationship satisfaction, in terms of the slope, intercept, or the interaction of slope and intercept, and mentee outcomes (mentee relationship quality and peer self-esteem) were observed. Further, associations between these variables were small. This suggests that mentor perceptions of relationship quality may not be important in determining mentee outcomes. While initially unexpected, these findings further underscore the need for mentoring programmers to train mentors to expect “bumps” in their relationships and that these need not be harmful to the relationship overall or to youth outcomes. Further, findings indicated no significant correlation between mentee reports of relationship quality at the end of the relationship and the average relationship satisfaction reported by mentors across the year. This supports research pushing back on the notion that relationship quality is the key driver in predicting youth outcomes (Lyons et al., 2018). It motivates expanding what is measured in monitoring mentoring relationships to increase effectiveness – for example, monitoring the use of instrumental activities in addition to relationship quality. Interestingly, in this sample mentees with the lowest relationship quality scores at the end of the relationship had mentors with mid- to high average levels of relationship satisfaction. This underscores the need for mentor trainers to educate mentors about the possibility that their own perceptions of relationships may not reflect youth perceptions. Further, this study is limited to mentor perspectives, mentee reports of relationship satisfaction may show a different relationship to outcomes.

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