Broadening Horizons Mentoring: a case study

This blog was written by Ruth Carter, RSA Fellow and mentor at Whitley Academy.

When I heard about the RSA mentoring programme, I was interested in finding out how I could help support young people at school. My main reason for wanting to mentor a young person, was so that I could help support them with their future decisions, give employer feedback and help boost their confidence and self-esteem, to make a difference.  The programme at Whitley RSA Academy is flexible around my availability and I never feel pressured by the staff there. We have developed a good relationship over the past few years – I just email some available dates and we look at making one of them work. I’ve also received positive feedback from the school, it’s great to know that the students find the sessions valuable.

Whilst at Whitley, over the past three years, I have had the privilege to mentor three students to date. The first mentee I had unfortunately moved away before the end of her GCSEs, but I hope that I helped her develop some confidence in her abilities and how to take hold of her own future. I’ll mainly concentrate on my second mentee as I’ve been working with them for nearly two years. It has been an immensely rewarding experience to date. I am so pleased to work with such a capable and hard-working young person. We’ve learnt quite a bit about each other over time too, as we try to meet once a month in term time – for example, we’ve discovered we’re both definitely not morning people and now plan to meet in the afternoon – that way we’re both much more productive and engaged, and that’s given us a bit of giggle to find out.

I see my role as a mentor as helping to guide, advise, nurture and connect.

As an employer, I bring a different perspective and can help with lifting the young person off the page and to find out what makes them stand out from everyone else. To begin with, it’s easy to concentrate on the academic achievements, but what makes that young person unique? Is it the work experience they’ve gained in a voluntary, seasonal or part-time job; that they are a member of the student voice council; that they have brilliant languages skills as they are fluent in two languages (with English their second language); or that they support a family member?

It’s about key skills and nurturing the young person to realise how brilliant they are – for example, that they have great problem solving, self-motivation, commitment, time keeping, or IT skills or that they are adaptable and like a challenge. To help them see what it is that employers and universities are looking for. It’s the surround that is key.

We find common ground to begin with.

A fun quiz that shows how, though we are different generations, we may have the same kind of interests or values, likes or fears or just a shared love of something. It’s great to keep coming back to this and also having a laugh at the differences. I remember horrifying one of my mentees with my choice of 80’s music. It’s also about saying that it’s ok not to know what you want to do, but let’s find a starting point with something that interests you that we can explore together.

My aim is to be myself, to be open and honest. To say, actually I’m a bit nervous here too. To explain my past challenges, for example not getting my GCSE maths first time around (I wanted to be an actress so what did I need maths for? Erm… tax return, budgeting, etc) and when we start off, I briefly explain my career history and the pathways I took to be where I am now. I still act, as I work at Warwick Castle too, but that, for my main job, I’m doing something that as a teenager would have horrified me – the thought of working for an examination board would have filled me with dread. My life experience, knowledge and skills in my different job roles means I can support my mentees, as I can introduce, share information or know where to find out about something. Together, we look at compiling personal statements, CVs, covering letters and cover revision strategies, well-being and just catching up on what’s been happening since we last met.

I’ve learnt a lot from both my mentees too.

Such as how technology helps them to revise, how difficult it is to get a weekend job nowadays and how hard it is now that opportunities have got smaller with the world getting bigger and available at the touch of a button.

It’s early days with my third mentee as we’ve only met a few times, but I really hope to help build confidence, ambition, motivation and sense of purpose with this young person. Exciting times.

My biggest achievement as a mentor to date, was being asked by one of my mentees to come in to school with her on GCSE results day. I felt so honoured and privileged to be asked to share such an important experience with her – and, of course, she smashed them. We’re continuing to meet now she’s in sixth form and we’ve worked together on a successful application for seasonal employment. I’m so in awe of her drive and capabilities and very proud of what she has achieved to date.

I’ve developed too – I’m now more confident talking to teenagers and have grown in confidence as a mentor. All credit to my mentees at Whitley – thank you!