When mentorship is a team sport, everybody wins

Last updated March 16, 2020

The old proverb says it takes a village to raise a child, and yet we expect a successful mentor relationship to involve only two people.

In an educational setting like a course or a bootcamp, for example, the norm is to have an instructor dispensing instruction or advice, and a student who gratefully takes it all in.

While it often works, there can be challenges for mentees in getting the feedback they want in a timely manner, and following up with a mentor for any additional questions around implementing that feedback.

This is prompting some educators to take a more holistic approach, bringing in additional players into their mentorship model. At CareerFoundry, for example, students are assigned two primary mentor contacts—their instructor as a well as a tutor—along with two other support contacts who work collaboratively to guide a more successful student experience. 

“Our mentors share their experiences of their industries, give advice on which area of the student’s new field might appeal most to their talents and proclivities, and, of course, provide individual, personalized support throughout the program,” CareerFoundry Director Of Student Success Georgina Macneil explains. “The course expert—the tutor— knows the learning material inside out and can provide swift responses to student’s work.”

The Mentor-Tutor Tag Team

Choosing and pairing mentors and tutors involves more than making sure they’re on the same time zone as those studying with them, Macneil says. CareerFoundry also matches those with complementary backgrounds, interests and aims so that the student has a well-rounded experience.

Rather than matching a tutor and mentor who both have experience in a specific industry, for example, the organization looks for a diversity of sector experience, which can help with getting hired.

Our tutor-mentor pairs tend to last as long as the individual instructor’s tenure with us, and their bond grows over the years,” she says. “We have some lovely stories about mentors hiring tutors or working with their students outside the course, which shows the relationships extend beyond just our course environment.”

The curriculum at CareerFoundry is hands-on and assessments are “task-based,” Macneil adds, which helps students build a strong portfolio. Tutors add a lot because they can help guide the design and development process through steps such as ideation, research, delivery and hand-off. Mentors continue to be brought in as needed, though—perhaps to answer a more technical question a tutor doesn’t know.

Students have given CareerFoundry good feedback on its approach, including one who shared some comments anonymously via e-mail:

“At the beginning, I admit I didn’t completely understand the difference between the two,” the student said. “Now, having worked with both throughout the program, I’d convey it like this: you have your hands-on go-to person for everything that happens in the course—the daily business—and then you have someone to turn to for when it comes to you career development and seeing the bigger picture.”

Working with multiple parties doesn’t just offer students strong support, but helps prepare them for the workforce, where they’ll be expected to take feedback constructively from managers and clients, Macneil points out.

In order to minimize the subjectivity of design critiques, meanwhile, CareerFoundry has created detailed feedback frameworks or rubrics that explain what it takes to get a completed task approved.

“We introduced rubrics to raise the quality and improve the consistency across the board of all tutor/mentor feedback,” Macneil says. “There will always be an element of subjectivity to design/development critique, which is why having not just one, but two pairs of eyes on a student’s work—and then a career specialist to review the finished portfolio—helps the student consider multiple perspectives on the creative choices they make.”

The Student Advisors and The Career Specialists

CareerFoundry doesn’t stop with tutors but also adds advisors, based at its Berlin headquarters, who aren’t course experts but help students overcome any administrative, motivational or logistical barriers which may hinder their studies.

“They’re like guardian angels who drop in at just the right moment of the student journey,” she says. “Perhaps even more importantly, they moderate our student community, which is like a virtual campus that lives on Slack.”

Rounding out the student experience are career specialists, who Macneil said are often mentioned positively in reviews.

“For many of our students, our career specialists are the first people who have ever sat down with them and discussed in detail how to prepare a job search strategy, best practice in application materials, and how to network,” she says, adding that career specialists have also helped some students negotiate a higher salary or better conditions after a job offer. “The career specialists drive our students hard, but this reflects the stage they’re at in their journey with us. By this time, they’re no longer would-be designers or developers, or “just” students—they’re professionals, so we help them carry themselves as such.” 

CareerFoundry’s approach could be helpful for students of any class who want to think about what they want and need from a particular school of educational experience.

“What our students get from their mentors is a broader perspective on the industry and what their place in it might be,” she says. “We find that a large part of what our mentors provide to their students is the assurance that yes, they can do this. They’re a competent designer or developer, they’re on track, and they can feel as if the field is open to them.”

The student we corresponded with agreed. “Ultimately, what I liked about the model is something a bit intangible: the subtle, subconscious emotion of having a team behind you which is going to help you through—you have this pair of super-duper highly-qualified people who will make sure you have a consistent learning curve, and that you’ll get over the valleys you have to cross.”

In recognition of the recent International Women’s Day, CareerFoundry is offering all self-identifying women up to $1,200 (USD) off the full price of its web development, data analytics, UX and UI design career-change programs. Find full details of our Women’s Day scholarship here and apply before the end of March.

Shane Schick

Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate and manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing Magazine and B2B News Network. He is also the former Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief) at IT World Canada, a former technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada, and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca.

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