In a normal school year, transitioning to a new school (such as Elementary to Middle or Middle to High school) can be daunting. COVID has only compounded anxiety about any changes, and that’s before considering things like returning to full classrooms. Many of our students have experienced more moves than usual directly as a result of the pandemic, and might be starting over in a new part of town, where they don’t know anyone. In the greatest of circumstances, transitions can be tricky for all kinds of reasons.
To top it all off, a year of social distancing has left us all feeling isolated and a bit rusty on our social skills, and odds are your mentee feels uneasy around both of these issues. Spending time with their mentor can help. You have the experience and empathy to help your mentee successfully take on what lies ahead. Here we share some helpful and encouraging tips to bring out your mentoring superpowers with your mentee.
Give your mentee opportunities to express their feelings
If your mentee isn’t bringing up their feelings about the change to a new school or possible return to pre-pandemic school structure, they may be too overwhelmed or distracted, given our current reality. This is a great time to do a check-in and initiate a conversation. By acknowledging the change that is coming and asking open-ended questions, you are reminding them that you are a safe person to confide in.
Listen to fears and concerns
Concerns and fears may look different this year. Whether the concern is about health and safety, friendships, academics, or just life changes, listening is key. It’s tempting to try to downplay them or respond with a blanket statement like “you’ll be fine.” Just listening and empathizing can actually be more effective in allowing them to feel heard. Actively listen to what they have to say and hold space for their feelings. If they ask for your input, offer practical suggestions.
Talk about your own life transitions
Strategic self-disclosure can be a valuable tool to help your mentee see that worries are normal and expected. You may even get a laugh or two as you describe your own experiences and how you handled them – or, in the case of an anticipation to a return to pre-pandemic activities – how you are handling them. This is an opportunity to bond with your mentee and remind them (always important, but especially in transition years) that they are not alone in what they are experiencing.
Help with goal setting and getting involved in new things
Look at your mentee’s new school website together. Check out extracurricular activities that may be available next year. Talk about how an after school activity can help them make new friends, and how elective classes allow them to follow their own interests (and develop new ones) with students who share them. Some of the offerings at the new school might be a total mystery to your mentee. As their mentor, you are a safe person for them to ask what some of those activities might entail and if they line up with your mentee’s interests or abilities.
Point out your mentee’s strengths and abilities
Adolescence can be a time of extreme highs and lows in self-esteem and self-confidence. Find ways to remind your mentee about their abilities and how they will help them be successful in their new school. Be specific in your praise. For example, “you’ve really gotten organized with your schoolwork this year. That will be helpful when you start middle (or high) school.”
Talk about friendships
Transition often creates a worry about missing familiar faces and places, but changing schools doesn’t have to mean losing friends. Remind them how they’ve made new friends at their current school. Have your mentee name students they want to get to know better who are going to the new school. Ask your mentee about their friends outside of school (in the neighborhood or community organizations). If some of their friends are not going to the same school next year, have them think of ways they can stay in touch.
Support your mentee
Worries won’t disappear when the school year is underway. Adjusting back to in person learning with a full classroom, attending a new school, and finding their place will all take time. As your mentee comes to you with problems and concerns, listen and use open-ended questions to help problem-solve with them. You can’t fix their problems, but you can offer your own perspectives.