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High school students are truly the leaders of tomorrow. Many of them have already taken a stance on social issues, are more informed about politics than older generations, and have a desire to change the world for the better. As an educator, you spend a good amount of time with your students, and you undoubtedly have an impact on their lives—whether positive or negative—whether you know it or not. So rather than just teaching your students academic concepts that they need to pass tests, you should take advantage of the time you have with them and do your best to help them grow in multiple ways. Some students may seek out an actual mentor or your school may have a mentor program for students and teachers to participate in. Or you may simply wish to have intentional conversations with students throughout the weeks to encourage them in their lives and academic journeys. However you find yourself fitting into the role of mentor or coach, here are some ways to truly impact the high school students that you interact with.
Be a Good Listener
Especially in a school setting, students can get tired of being talked at. Be a good listener and truly hear what they’re saying. Let them facilitate conversations and lead discussions where they want them to go, and don’t be too quick to step into a conversation, even when it’s silent. Sometimes the quieter students need a moment to gather their courage to speak, and even in a one-on-one situation, those moments of silence between comments can be helpful. Just be sure you’re engaged with your mentees and are actually listening to what they’re talking about.
Encourage More Than Advise
You are not there to direct every step your students take—you are there to encourage them on their journey and only advise when they truly ask. Students need to learn to be independent thinkers and they need to be confident in their own ideas and decisions, so try your best not to just spout off advice to them every time you talk. Instead, encourage them to explore possible outcomes of their decisions or encourage them to move forward when they feel confident in what they think is best.
Curb Your Judgment
If you judge students for what they tell you, they’ll likely stop talking to you. If you make light of the little things, they won’t tell you the big things. Try to control your facial expressions and keep your reactions as calm as possible, even if you’re hearing something huge. You’re not there to parent or discipline your high school students, so curb your judgment and instead offer some support or encouragement.
Ask Pointed Questions
Even though you should primarily be listening, there will be times when you need to ask questions to learn more about what’s going on in your mentees life. Try to avoid asking general questions, such as “How was class?” or “Did the conversation go well?” Instead, ask more open-ended questions or questions with more specificity, like “What were your three biggest takeaways from that experience?” or “What is one thing you can apply moving forward that you learned from that situation?”
Help Them Set Goals & Dream Big
Studies have proven that goal setting is incredibly effective at helping people actually achieve what they want. Not only is it important for your students to set goals, but it’s vital for them to be forward-thinking about what they hope to accomplish in life. You can help them vision cast for their future and set some goals in different areas of life, including academic, personal, emotional, and more. Encourage students to be realistic about their goals, but also encourage them to dream big. Maybe they aren’t going to make straight A’s in every single class of high school, but if they want to become a lawyer one day, encourage them to envision that happening and set some actionable steps that will help them move towards that goal.
Now more than ever before, students are anxious for immediate results and instant gratification. This can cause big problems, especially in school, because a lot of academic skills take time to fully grasp and comprehend. Rather than focusing solely on your students getting perfect grades, help them focus on growth. Encourage them to learn life skills, such as resilience, perseverance, and a good work ethic. Help students be self-motivated and self-disciplined, which will serve them long beyond their schooling years and allow them to achieve countless goals.
Be an Example
Students are very observant, even though you may not realize it. Your students are watching your every move in class, during lunch, at afterschool activities, and more. If you are constantly telling them to believe in themselves, don’t ramble on with negative self-talk when you’re having lunch in the cafeteria with your colleagues. If you’re encouraging your students to make wise financial decisions, don’t boast about how you wasted a ton of money at the mall last weekend. Be a solid example, in academics, health, and in your personal life, and your students will get more out of your mentor-mentee relationship.
All of these action steps are important in helping you be the best mentor you can be for your high school students. But none of them will have any impact if you aren’t spending time with your mentees. Show your students that they are a priority and that you value your time together. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of time, but just an hour a week or a few minutes before class each morning can make a huge difference in the lives of your students. Show them that you care and give them your full attention when you’re meeting together, and you’re sure to have a great impact on them both now and into the future.