Remote mentoring for students: It’s not where, it’s how

Written by: Stephanie George | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Mentoring support could play a key role in helping to safeguard or rebuild the wellbeing of students who are stuck at home due to lockdown or self-isolation. Stephanie George looks at effective remote mentoring of students

New modalities are being established for the teaching and learning of students, but what of the impact of physical distance from school for those students who need pastoral and other support, such as from pastoral staff, mentoring practitioners, safeguarding officers and heads of year?

The pandemic has affected the emotional, social and mental wellbeing of young people on a scale that has never been seen before. A YoungMinds survey in autumn 2020 found that:

  • Sixty-nine per cent of respondents described their mental health as poor.
  • Forty per cent of respondents said that there was no school counsellor available to support students in their school.
  • Only 27 per cent had had a one-to-one conversation with a teacher or another member of staff in which they were asked about their wellbeing, by the time they completed the survey (in September 2020).
  • Almost a quarter said that there was less mental health support in their school than before the pandemic (only nine per cent agreed that there was more).

So the question is: “Can we, from a distance, effectively support students who are outside of the classroom to manage their emotional wellbeing?” I would say that we can – and so the question becomes: “How?”

The online appointment

First, we need to ensure that protocols are in place so that appointments for mentoring sessions are scheduled with clear date, time and duration and at a time suitable for the student with due regard to their timetable commitments.

Consider the family/domestic circumstances and, if appropriate, discuss with the parent/care-giver, being mindful of any safeguarding issues.

Inform the student that you will be making notes (just as you would if the session was in-person) to ensure that there is an official record of the meeting and/or if you are completing an activity or exercise together. Follow your organisation’s usual practice and procedures around safeguarding and ensure that the student is aware of if, how or when you may need to refer any issues of concern.

The online platform and communication

It is likely that you will be speaking with a student with whom you are familiar, that they are familiar with you, and that rapport has already been established.

Check in with the student at the start of the appointment that they will not be overheard or interrupted and that they have a private space. Both practitioner and student would be advised to use headphones and microphone (if possible) to reduce the risk of being overheard.

From a professional viewpoint, ensure that your work space is free of distractions and professionally appropriate. It may well be that parents/carers may enter the room to check who their son/daughter is speaking with.

Should the appointment be via telephone, ensure that you are speaking to the student themselves and not another family member. Ensure that your personal phone number is not identifiable. The following checklist is helpful:

  • Is there a safe space to conduct the call?
  • Can the student speak freely?
  • Who is “in charge” of the devices on which the call is connected?
  • Is there a reliable broadband connection?
  • Are the devices fully charged?
  • Does the student know how to use the “raise your hand and chat functions” (should they need to say something and are uncomfortable talking about this out loud)?
  • Have a protocol should connection be lost, so both parties know what to do.
  • Ensure that the student is clear about how the session will end. Good practice would be to say “we have X minutes left”, say, when there is 10 minutes of the session remaining.

Completing activities online

There are a number of ways to mentor online, for example:

  • Screen-sharing a presentation, assessment resource, quiz or activity.
  • Shared reading.
  • Making use of the raise hands and chat functions.
  • Using interactive whiteboards, such as Google Jamboard, Sketchboard, Explain Everything, Microsoft Whiteboard.
  • Using video links.

Go with the flow: The remote mentoring process should look something like this flow chart

Effective mentoring practice

The mentor’s approach will be one of facilitator, guide, supporter, enabler and professional advocate. The role is not one of a friend, disciplinarian or a manager.

Accountability, transparency and quality of intervention are key and a mentor will need to consider the following:

  • Working with children and young people to identify any barriers to learning and development.
  • SMART target-setting to develop an action plan to make progress in their journey.
  • Providing opportunities for students to develop self-esteem, confidence, resilience and self-reliance.
  • Working collaboratively with other professionals to support young people.
  • Monitoring review and re-assessment with the young person.

Do we know what we mean by mentoring? Is it counselling? Is it advisory work? Is it instruction or is it, as erroneously termed at times, a “short quiet chat”, or is it none of these things?

These are questions that we need to ask to understand what we want mentoring to do for our young people and the successful outcome we seek for them.

Entering the matrix: This mentoring impact and endeavour matrix can help to keep track of issues, concerns and progress with your mentee

To walk with me

Absolutely key to effective mentoring intervention is to recognise that the needs of the young person are paramount.

It is the role of the mentor to “walk alongside” the learner, not in front or behind, but alongside. It is the role of the mentor to assist the learner to discover what is needed in order to overcome the hurdles that they are facing. It is the role of the mentor to bring questions to the mentoring session but not necessarily to provide solutions.

Quality mentoring draws solutions out. The answers lie with the student and with care a route can be found that is fitting for the student. It is, most importantly, a student-generated pathway, drawn out with the help of the mentor, who will “thought-test” a variety of hypotheses, options, ideas and actions with the student.

This is key in terms of subsequent action. It is the student who will walk the road. A student-generated pathway is for them to walk, with support, guidance and care; mentoring does not impose.

Using the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis approach allows the mentoring practitioner to explore the issue or event with their mentee.

Mentoring has no limits

Within each quality mentoring relationship, the answers, responses, ideas, thoughts, actions or resolutions we seek are seated uniquely and squarely within the student. Quality mentoring brings this out and as mentors we are brokers and advocates for the other support agencies and intervention that the student may also need to support their journey. We need to be alert to the need, for example, of referral to medical professionals, social care and the like.

Measuring the difference mentoring makes

Assessment will need to measure the skills, knowledge, and beliefs of the student. Initial, formative and summative assessment should be an intrinsic part of mentoring. Successful outcomes enable the young person to move forward in their journey by marking where they start and finish, with timely pauses and markers on the way.

The initial mentoring assessments will need to cover aspects of the young person’s approaches to learning as well as aspects of self, such as self-confidence, self-esteem, friendships, social interactions, family situations/arrangement, health, medical issues, young carers, mental health concerns, isolation, loneliness, schooling, anger, fear, anxiety, relationships, preparedness for learning and organisation.

The assessment should aim to build a full picture of the student to enable the mentor to focus on the issues that impede development, progress, learning, participation and achievement.

Every journey takes time

Mentoring is not a quick fix; you may have to walk alongside the student for some-time. Issues are complex, contexts can be difficult, and relationships may be strained. A mentor’s intervention may be lengthy, where issues are compounded, however with compassionate relentlessness, many hurdles can be overcome and the returns can be life-changing in terms of student success, progress, life chances and opportunities available to them on their road.


  • Mentoring is one form of intervention that helps students maximise their potential.
  • Formal mentoring must be structured with a clear identification of the needs of the student.
  • The plan for intervention must be owned by, and accessible to, the student if it is to be effective.
  • Timely re-assessment is crucial with a revised plan being put in place if necessary (pause and reflect time).
  • The student and the mentor should evaluate mentoring.
  • Mentoring is not a quick fix, and requires an investment of time and commitment.
  • Stephanie George is a teacher, trainer and author of The Learning Mentor Manual (Sage 2010), as well as a number resource books including Activities for Mentoring Young People (2013) and The Mentoring Toolkit (2016).


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