What predicts mentor self-efficacy? Hint: it starts with “E”

summarized by Stella Kanchewa, Ph.D.

Larose, S. (2014). Trajectories of mentors’ perceived self-efficacy during an academic mentoring experience: What they look like and what are their personal and experimental correlates? Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 21(2), 150-174, doi:10.1080/13611267.2013.813728.

Problem: Previous studies have shown that mentor’s perceived self-efficacy (MPSE), defined as the “mentor’s level of confidence with respect to establishing a positive relationship with youth,” influences the quality and duration of the mentoring relationship. Few studies, however, have considered MPSE as dynamic, with the potential to shift and fluctuate in response to interactions between mentors and their mentees within the mentoring relationship (e.g., successes and challenges with the mentee). This study explores:

  • Trajectories of MPSE over the course of mentoring relationships.
  • Mentor and mentee characteristics that relate to these trajectories.

Method: The study included 252 university students who were pursuing a range of degrees in science (e.g., bachelors, masters, and doctorate) and served as mentors to first-year college students also pursuing science degrees. Mentors and mentees were part of the MIRES program, which was developed to ease mentee’s college transition and reduce dropout rates. Mentors with an interest (i.e., passion) in science are selected and matched with mentees based on academic interests. Mentors participate in two day training, commit to 16 meetings (one hour every two weeks), and are provided with a small financial compensation.

Mentors and mentees completed the following measures focusing on personal characteristics and experiences within the mentoring relationship:

  • Mentors: perceived self-efficacy, measured at nine different time points; social support competencies including sensitivity to the distress of others; previous mentoring, teaching and supervision experiences.
  • Mentees: academic readiness (specifically math and science); help-seeking behaviors/competencies; parental support (specifically around academic goals) and socioeconomic status.

Results: While all mentors reported relatively high perceived self-efficacy at the beginning of the year, three distinct mentor trajectories related to MPSE emerged, indicating variability in self-efficacy, or mentor’s sense of effectiveness, over the course of the mentoring relationship.

  • 60.6% of mentors were moderate stable, their self-efficacy remained at the moderate level throughout the course of the mentoring relationship.
  • 30.2% of mentors were increasing, their self-efficacy was moderate at the beginning of the relationship and increased as the relationship endured.
    • Relative to the moderate group, the likelihood of mentors being in the increasing group was strongly predicted by mentor’s sensitivity to others’ distress and initial training. Other significant mentor characteristics included being female, previous teaching experience and participation in group supervision.
    • In contrast, strongest mentee characteristic was parental autonomy/academic goals support. Other significant mentee characteristics included high help-seeking behavior, good study habits and “modest” socioeconomic status.
    • 9.2% of mentors were high unstable, their self-efficacy was high at the beginning of the relationship but fluctuated at various time points.
      • Relative to the moderate group, the likelihood of mentors being in the high unstable group was strongly predicted by mentor’s previous experience with mentoring and sensitivity to others’ distress. Other significant mentor characteristics included being male.
      • Among mentee characteristics the strongest predictors was parental autonomy/academic goals support. Other significant mentee characteristics included high academic motivation and low help-seeking behavior towards peers.

Conclusions and Implications: In this study, mentors in a college-based program were found to have varying trajectories of perceived self-efficacy, which was influenced by several mentor and mentee characteristics. These findings highlight the dynamic nature of MPSE largely shaped by interactions within the mentoring relationship. The authors note that despite varying trajectories, few mentors experienced consistent decline in self-efficacy. Of particular note, the study’s findings also suggest that mentor’s sensitivity to the distress of others, or empathetic and perspective-taking capacities, is a particularly strong predictor of greater perceived efficacy within the mentoring relationship. Despite these findings, some caveats should be noted including the specific program within which these relationships developed, which differs in structure from typical youth mentoring programs (i.e., college-based, mentors are compensated). For instance, in other settings, there might be even greater variation as well as decline in self-efficacy as a function of challenges specific to these settings.

With these caveats in mind, the findings from this study, if replicated across different contexts, have implications for youth mentoring, specifically changes in self-efficacy that mentors experience throughout the course of a relationship with their mentees. Mentors who can maintain a relatively high sense of self-efficacy in the face of both challenges and successes may be better equipped to persist in their efforts to establish quality relationships with youth. Mentor screening and training focusing on enhancing mentors’ social competencies (e.g., perspective-taking, empathy building), as well as continued self-efficacy boosters (e.g., discussion of challenges and successes) has the potential to shift trajectories and foster quality relationships.