The incredible gift of mentors

When Gov. Ige was first recruiting ideas for Hawaii’s Every Student Succeeds Act, I thought that it would be wonderful if there could be a pool of mentors on the islands that would be able to help the students with their “self-directed learning projects” and working out conflicts respectfully as they spontaneously arose on playgrounds or elsewhere.

I have many retired friends with incredible skills and talents that I’d like to inspire to give maybe just a few hours a week to help someone get ahead. Young people also can mentor as in Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Also, as a student I benefited from having a peer tutor in math and being a peer tutor in writing. This article is meant to get folks acquainted with the concept of mentoring and learning some skills we can all use when helping others.

My favorite definition of mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser,” because it it implies a satisfactory relationship with universal applications. Mentors can also be experienced people in companies or schools who train and counsel new employees or students.

Research shows that people fare better in companies and schools when they have a mentor, who could be part of a formal mentoring program, or just someone who decided to help the new guy get off to a good start. A very natural form of it is when a new kid moves into the neighborhood and makes a friend, and when school starts that friend gives them the “What you really need to know about this school,” that isn’t in the school manual.

Of course, one hopes that the opinions of this dear friend are accurate. The Hawaii DOE has a mentoring program for new teachers, and I’ve been in some classes where students are given peer mentors to help them orient to their new school.

Diane Hamilton in “Tips for Being a Great Mentor” at a website states, “Mentoring is the act of helping another learn something that would have otherwise been learned less well, more slowly, or not at all. Growth is the primary outcome. Mentors are facilitators and catalysts in a process of discovery and insight; the mentor both teaches and learns. Mentors often report learning as much as the mentee with whom they are providing direction, support, and feedback.”

Although she is writing for mentors of businesses, she offers the following tips for mentors that can be applied to most situations. I’ve edited or expanded them when appropriate, and added information from

• Establish a trusting, friendly relationship; Learn and care about each other. People learn better when they can relate new information to what they already know. You can give examples in the mentee’s strong areas. And later, if you find out that your mentee has great technical skills, you can introduce him/her to others who also have those skills.

• Walk the talk — remember that what you do will make a greater impression on your mentee than what you say. If you act differently from what you teach, your information will be doubted.

• Resist the temptation to solve the mentee’s problems. In my classrooms I sometimes use peer helpers. They are told not to give their friends the answers because it won’t help them learn. Instead they are guided to ask questions that will lead the student to the right answer.

• Suggest that the mentee develop a plan for success. In a school setting this could include what the person wants to learn while they are there. It helps direct the mentor as well, because they can focus their examples and possible worktime according to the plan.

w Share knowledge about the culture and politics of the organization. In a school situation this is very important, especially for a student who has come from another culture, and who doesn’t play the politics game. After my first semester at college I always asked the upper classmen for their opinions on different teachers when I registered for my classes. When my niece moved to a design company in Manhattan, she learned that working 40 hours a week 9-5 was just an idea. Folks worked on their projects into the night to finish. When I first started working professionally, I was told to wear what the boss wore. Let your mentee know what is cool and what isn’t to wear, so that they don’t get talked about. Provide general information about the organization. Let them come with some problems, and bounce their solutions off of you. Offer insight about written and unwritten rules of the organization.

• Champion the mentee by showcasing the mentee’s talents through introductions to key people, and offering opportunities to carry out assignments and “be seen.”

• Do what you say you will do; be responsive — take responsibility for your part of the relationship.

• Guide by offering suggestions and options, and allowing the mentee to make the best choices. When you give advice and feedback, make it kind, specific and doable.

• Communicate candidly and openly, making sure that the mentee understands what you are saying. Positively acknowledge the mentee’s suggestions, and help them fine tune them if necessary.

• Agree to have regular contact at predefined intervals, and also be available within reason. Clarify what you expect from each other.

• Actively listen without judgment. Offer guidance only when asked to. Begin your suggestions by saying, “Would you like to hear my thoughts about …” This includes offering your feedback. Then be respectful. Direct the thinking back to the mentee if you disagree with something. You might say, “and how do you think _____ would react to that?” Be the mirror for them to see possible outcomes and consequences. Ask open questions so the mentee can clarify values.

• Instill confidence in your mentee—do not let the mentee become dependent on you.

• Don’t assume that you know best. Be open minded.

• Encourage strength and interdependence, then independence as the ultimate goal versus dependency on the mentor.

• Acknowledge their achievements and celebrate their successes. Positive reinforcement is most effective in anchoring in new learning and self-confidence.

• Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes, and what you learned from them. We’re all afraid of making mistakes, but they are just part of the learning process. It makes you more relatable.

I truly urge you to consider mentoring. I mentor what I most love to do, and that is conflict resolution. I love being a part of people discovering workable solutions when before them was just conflict, pain and stress. What do you love to do? What in your cache of wisdom would you most like to see in this world? There is probably a place where your gift would be highly appreciated. Become a mentor!

If this whets your appetite, you might want to go to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the Lihue Neighborhood Center on Jan. 16. During lunch there will be five different chat groups, and mentoring is one of them. Or contact me at the address below. Next week I’ll come back with information that was shared, ideas and organizations where you might offer your gift.


Hale ‘Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kauai, please go to


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