Tutors or Mentors?

March 12, 2015

Through the LIHI/WWU Mentoring Project, volunteers from local Seattle area community colleges provide one-to-one tutoring for a LIHI transitional housing residents for a 12 week period. Selecting mentors from the same area where LIHI residents live facilitates a sharing of resources and knowledge providing community based education mentoring. Residents work with mentors based on a mutual desire for development towards goals and objectives. The tutors help the residents to develop or improve such things as their digital literacy skills, job search skills, and help them work towards their long term goals.

The tutors participate in an online training program through Western concurrently with tutoring the resident. The training provides them with a background in; the qualities of a good mentor, mentoring strategies, Participatory Action Research, and Community-Based Education.

With the added background in mentoring, the tutors will work as mentors if the resident needs the added support. Once the tutors develop a rapport with the resident, they often build a relationship of mutual respect and trust. As mentors, the volunteers act as friends, guides, listener, confidant, and resource builders. We refer to our student volunteers as "mentors".

At the beginning of the program, the mentors learn interview techniques and perform practice interviews to prepare them for interviewing the LIHI residents. The tutoring sessions begin with an entrance interview. This allows them to learn about each other's lives, experiences, perspective, and understand what the resident would like to learn from their tutoring sessions. 

Working together, mentor and resident develop advocacy projects that help increase self sufficiency and self-determination for the LIHI resident. This includes creating a Participatory Action Research Project that is designed to benefit the resident.

Below is the basic framework the LIHI/WWU Mentoring Project uses to outline the role of the mentor.

Mentor Roles and Responsibilities (1)

Mentor roles and responsibilities are varied and complex. Serving as a guide, facilitator, role model, and/or ally to the mentee, a mentor must be prepared to take on a range of roles and responsibilities that may change as the mentor/mentee relationship develops over time, as the needs and goals of the mentee shift, and as specific contexts and situations require different strategies. Although it’s not possible to pigeonhole any mentor, mentee, or mentoring relationship, a mentor will generally enact a number of common roles and responsibilities. It’s worth emphasizing that whatever role the mentor may take, the mentor’s principal goal, as Paulo Freire reminds us, is to invite and nurture the “total autonomy, freedom, and development of those he or she mentors.”

What a mentor is . . .

  • A knowledgeable and experienced guide who teaches(and learns) through a commitment to the mutual growth of both mentee and mentor.
  • A caring, thoughtful, and humane facilitator who provides access to people, places, experiences, and resources outside the mentee’sroutine environment.
  • A role model who exemplifies in word and deed what it means to be an ethical, responsible, and compassionate human being.
  • A trusted ally, or advocate, who works with (not for) the mentee and on behalf of the mentee’s best interests and goals.

What a mentor is not...

Mentors and mentees should understand that mentors cannot be all things to their mentees. A role model is not a flawless idol to be mindlessly emulated by the mentee; an experienced guide is not a surrogate parents who stands in as a mother or father figure; a caring facilitator is not a professional therapist who is capable of treating serious personal problems; a trusted ally or advocate is not a social worker or a financier. Often, mentors and mentees encounter problems in their relationships due to different ideas about the appropriate role(s) and responsibilities of either the mentor, mentee, or both. There are boundaries in virtually any and all relationships, and the mentor/mentee relationship is no exception. While there are no hard and fast rules, and while there may be rare exceptions, there are guidelines for what a mentor is (or should be) and for what a mentor is not (or should not be).

A mentor is not . . .

  • A (surrogate) parent.
  • A professional counselor or therapist.
  • A flawless or infallible idol. • A social worker.
  • A lending institution.
  • A playmate or romantic partner. 

Marc Ravaris, LIHI/WWU Mentoring Project, Project Manager

(1) From Developing a Mentoring Perspective​ by By Dr. Gordon Nakagawa, retrieved from Developing a Mentoring Perspective.

Mentor Stories: Nickelsville