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Beginning With The End In Mind

As we begin a new school year, some mentors are looking forward to reconnecting after a long summer apart. Others are looking forward to a new start, a new mentee, some mentoring for the first time, others being rematched. Whatever the case, new beginnings are a wonderful time to reflect and consider what exactly we’re about to do.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explains, “Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.” If we apply this to mentoring, we have to start a mentoring relationship with an idea of how we want it to end. Experts at the National Mentoring Resource Center who study attachment theory suggest that there is a link between positive relationship experiences and improvements in the mentee’s relationships with others. Conversely they warn that, “mentoring relationships that do not end well (for example, without adequate opportunity for the mentor and mentee to express and explore their feelings about the ending) may negatively influence not only how the mentee and mentor perceive the relationship, but also socio-emotional and possibly other outcomes for the mentee.” 

When a mentoring relationship ends without a clear explanation and time to process feelings, mentees are left confused, disappointed, and sometimes even angry. Mentors who act out of feelings of guilt and try to protect their mentee but are less straightforward send mixed messages and heighten feelings of loss on the part of the mentee. Mentoring expert Jean Rhodes remarks that “A mentor’s departure might evoke memories of other losses and ignite painful and confusing feelings.” For Seedling Mentees who have lost a parent to incarceration or deportation, this possibility is too great to risk.

The good news from the National Mentoring Resource Center is that when closure is handled well, with careful consideration of all parties involved, “it may provide beneficial opportunities for learning as well as for resolving feelings of loss or abandonment, particularly for the mentee.” So what does it look like to begin with the end in mind? First of all, managing expectations throughout the relationship, including expectations about how long the relationship will last, can positively impact mentees. Rhodes says that “Mentors who anticipate an impending termination should give their mentees ample warning.” As much notice as possible and an appropriately detailed explanation can provide mentees with a better understanding, reassurances, and the opportunity to reach some sort of closure.

Research conducted after mentoring relationships ended concluded with these clear takeaways:

  • Match closures tend to be more well-received when the reasons are clearly and directly articulated to the mentee
  • Well-planned and clear endings make the transition out of the relationship easier for some youth
  • News is better received coming from the mentor than the agency, and whenever possible, best done in person
  • Incomplete or unresolved match closures can poison the well for future matches for the youth
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

Justin Preston, Clinical Psychology graduate student, summarizes these findings this way: “Clear communication in advance allows your mentee time to prepare for changes in the relationship and gives everyone time to process their experiences. This can allow things to end, if they must, on a positive note for all involved.”

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