Supporting student success through joint decision-making in schools

Lyons, M. D., Edwards, K. D., & Fallavollita, W. L. (2021). Promoting mentoring relationships through joint decisions: Evidence from a national mentoring program. School Psychology, 36(4), 214–223.

Summarized by Maggie Bayly

Notes of Interest:

  • A strong mentor-mentee relationship is established through a personal and emotional connection with a nonfamilial adult.
  • The quality of the relationship is dependent on positive or negative perceptions of the match.
    • High-quality relationships between a mentor and mentee can lead to academic success, improved behavior and are associated with longer match lengths.
  • There have been conflicts over what constitutes a “strong” mentor relationship because the mentees view it as the absence of negative thoughts and feelings while the mentor views the relationship through its relationship closeness.
  • This study aims to explore perceptions of mentor-mentee relationships and reflect on how different program approaches affected mentor-mentee activity implementations.
  • Mentors and mentees who report a positive relationship from the beginning are likely to continue to report a positive relationship as time goes on.
    • In addition, a mentor’s positive perception may influence the mentee, but this does not follow if the roles were reversed.
  • When activities were chosen by both the mentor and mentee, the quality of their relationship increased. This does not apply to decisions made by one party more than the other (e.g., if a mentor or program chooses).
  • Further research needs to explore the relationship between specific mentoring activities, mentor-mentee relationships, and youth-related outcomes.
  • Schools and programs should look to apply decision-making strategies as well as support and train mentors.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

School-based mentoring programs are one of the most popular types of prevention programs offered to support students’ social–emotional and academic success. Because a high-quality mentoring relationship is thought to be a mechanism for improving youth outcomes, we investigated how mentor- and mentee- relationship quality develops over time. In addition, we examined how relationship development varied as a function of three approaches to selecting mentoring activities (i.e., mentor-directed, program-directed, or jointly determined). We used a random-intercepts crossed-lagged panel model to test how mentor and mentee reports of relationship quality developed over three time points across one school year. Data were gathered from 2014 to 2018 and included 47,699 youth (56% female; 51% Black or Hispanic) who participated in Big Brothers Big Sisters—which provides school-based mentoring services to youth across the U.S. Results indicated that mentors’ positive appraisals of the mentoring relationships led to positive appraisals from the mentee at the subsequent time point. In addition, when mentors and mentees jointly determined activities, we found evidence that mentors’ and mentees’ positive appraisals at one time point led to positive appraisals at the following time point. These results suggest that school-based mentoring programs should consider ways to support joint decision-making among mentors and mentees participating in school-based mentoring programs.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study examined the relations between mentor and mentee reported relationship quality to understand how perceptions of the mentoring relationship unfold over time. Specifically, we tested both autoregressive (i.e., mentor and mentee reports of relationship quality over time) as well as cross-lagged (i.e., mentor reports of relationship quality as predictors of mentee relationship quality over time, as well as mentee reports of relationship quality as predictors of mentor reports over time) relations. In addition, we examined how these relations differed when mentoring activities were pri- marily set by (a) mentors, (b) mentors and mentees, and (c) programs.

Results of this study were consistent with prior school-based mentoring literature suggesting that mutually defined mentoring activities tend to lead to more positive mentoring relationships (Karcher et al., 2010). Somewhat surprising, however, was our finding that program-defined activities were largely associated with null cross-lagged associations on mentor and mentee-reported relationship quality. One explanation, consistent with prior men- toring research (Karcher & Nakkula, 2010), is that program- defined activities may be less related to mentoring relationship development as compared to jointly determined activities. How- ever, it is also important to note that program-defined mentoring protocols often integrate research-based activities directly associ- ated with significant moderate-to-large effects on a range of academic, behavioral, and social–emotional youth outcomes (Christensen et al., 2020). Thus, for schools implementing men- toring programs, this means that care must be taken to address both relational dynamics within a mentoring relationship as well as program-defined goals.

Our findings that jointly determined activities were associated with positive, reciprocal relationship quality and that program determined activities were associated with null effects must be evaluated in the context of the specific mentoring activities that mentors and mentees are doing. In some cases, the activities mentors and mentees do during their time together may promoting collabo- rative decision-making and improve school-related outcomes. In other cases, activities may be collaborative but have limited support for promoting positive school-related outcomes. Increasingly, empirical evidence suggests that positive, collaborative relation- ships may be a necessary, but not sufficient condition, for supporting positive outcomes among youth participating in youth mentoring programs (Lyons et al., 2019). Therefore, schools and school psychologists interested in implementing mentoring programs as a way to promote student development should take care to ensure that mentoring services are not only collaborative but also integrate research-based practices that target school outcomes (for examples of such programs see Elledge et al., 2010; Karcher, 2008; McQuillin & Lyons, 2016).

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