Jean Rhodes - Effective Mentorship Through Shared Purpose and Interest

How does shared interest impact cross-generational relationships in formal and informal learning spaces?

About The Speaker(s)

Dr. Jean Rhodes is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston where she serves as Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring. She has devoted her career to understanding the role of intergenerational relationships in the lives of disadvantaged youth. Her interests include mentoring relationships, risk and protective factors in adolescent development, emerging adulthood, preventive interventions, and the role of intergenerational relationships in digital media and learning. Dr. Rhodes is also Principal Investigator of the Connected Learning Research Network project, The Affinity Project, which draws on analysis of youth mentoring programs in order to explore the development of youth interests and the role of shared interest in forging close inter-generational relationships.

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Key Questions and Comments

  • (3:53) The reason that mentorship is so central to the connected learning model is because so much of learning occurs in context of relationships. And when kids are pursuing their interests and going deeper into a topic, having a more advanced thinker...to help them scaffold that interest can be key to whether they go deeper into it or move away from it.
  • (5:26) In terms of what you have seen in your experience with the importance of "shared interest" as being a key part of mentoring, how critical is that?
  • (9:57) How important is it for youth to have mentors and role models who are like them in terms of gender, race, or other identity-related factors? And how much does this influence the mentor-mentee relationship?
    • (10:24) [In our research, we found that] the number one factor that moderated the effect of youth mentoring on kids was shared interest. It doubled the effect size (the "magnitude of impact") of youth mentoring.
  • (12:10) Middle-class and upper middle-class kids have adults who expose them to a whole range of piano lessons and all these other things. In some ways, after-school settings that reach additional youth--who might not have the same level of resources--have a way of democratizing happiness...The role of adults in fostering that is so huge.
  • (14:34) Really, mentorship only works under certain conditions in formal mentoring programs. It only works when there is strong, enduring, close relationships. And to get to that takes an investment; it's a not a very inexpensive thing. It's basically creating intensive relationships, and that requires training, and support, and program infrastructure.
  • (18:07) It's one thing to just have a job and come in and say, "Hey, let me take you through this process." But we generally love these students, and we want to make sure that they have the best in their lives.
  • (22:26) When [youth] meet these mentors and they see us as artists...they go on to see that "I can make this a legitimate career, it doesn't just have to be a hobby for me"...They have to see that "Someone just like me has done this."
  • (26:38) It's one thing to showcase [your own work] amongst your peers, but when you can ping young people to opportunities outside the [learning] space, we found that is really key. Those moments are just really touching: to see young people become successful, and then recognize that mentorship is a key factor to that.
  • (31:49) Staff [mentors] see the youth through eyes that maybe nobody else has seen them, and they raise the bar for youth. They see in the youth talent and potential, and they cultivate that. And the youth begin to internalize how they're being seen, and that 'reflected self' gets internalized into their identity.
  • (33:58) We can double the effect size if we match youth and adults on shared interest. Well, what are the other things that we should be matching them on? Maybe there's personality, maybe there's history, all sorts of things...
  • (34:55) How is the internet and the digital piece and social networking fit into this? Does the internet...bust open the universe of potential matches? Does it help connection?
  • (40:12) When you talk about Facebook and Twitter and this 24/7 mentoring, you almost become a 24/7 mentor whether you want to or not! Our students sometimes feel like we belong to them, so they are able to access us whenever they want to...What these social networking spaces allows us to do is stay connected with [students who have naturally left the program], and they to us.
  • (43:59) We don't want to mistake more perfunctory connections with the importance of really deep connections. The history if the field of mentoring has been: 'trying to get as many kids with as many mentors as quickly as possible', in short. We don't want to shortchange kids with perfunctory relationships.
  • (45:17) The research on kids who are vulnerable, perhaps because they live in hazardous environments or poverty...for those kids, what we have through years of research is that one good relationship can turn a life around.
  • (48:22) We run into hundreds of kids every day. They might say, "Hey, listen to this one song I'm working on"...and I'll just say either "That's a really great piece of work," or "Here's some feedback, you might want to work on that, here are some opportunities for you." But sometimes just those touch-points of validation can really change a kid's life.
  • (48:56) What are some practical tips you have for mentors on how to make their inter-generational relationships more effective?

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