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Learn how to train adults to be good mentors.


  • Why train adult mentors?

  • When do you train adult mentors?

  • Who should train your adult mentors?

  • Where should the training be held?

  • How do you train adult mentors?

  • Where should the training be held?

Why train adult mentors?

You've screened the applications, conducted the interviews, checked the references, and even started thinking about which adult mentor will work best with each protégé. So you're ready to introduce the pairs to one another and get your mentoring program under way, right?

Not quite. You've left out a very important step: Training your adult mentors.

Training adult mentors is important for several reasons. Even though they've made it through your group's screening process, newly recruited mentors may still have a number of questions. They may need to learn about or brush up on such skills as communication and problem solving. They will certainly need to learn more about the program's goals and expectations. And by learning more about the program and its expectations, mentors may find it easier to meet his or their own goals, as well.

Training adult mentors helps them develop the skills they will need to create successful and effective relationships with their protégés. The training may include an orientation; an overview of the mentor's -, and the protégé's - responsibilities; and instruction on listening and problem solving skills, conflict resolution, goal setting, available community resources, and dealing with the protégé's family.  Suggestions for icebreakers to make new mentors and proteges more comfortable with each other would also be useful here.

When should you train adult mentors?

If possible, right away! Optimally, you will want to train your mentors as soon as they start the program. However, if you have mentors joining the program continually throughout the year, it may not be feasible for them to attend--or for you or your organization to set up--individual training sessions, particularly if you offer extensive, in-depth training. If this is your situation, you may wish to hold comprehensive training sessions three or four times a year.

As adult mentors enter your program, you can give them written materials, including such information as the history and purpose of your program, an outline of the mentor's role and responsibilities, and a list of outside resources such as hotlines, teachers, and social workers. You might let mentors so equipped begin work right away, with training to come with the first available training session.  In general, though, unless there’s a crying need for immediate matchups, you’d probably wait to pair mentors and proteges until after mentors had been through a complete training.

Who should train your adult mentors?

You - or your organization - will probably be responsible for the bulk of the training. You may even be responsible for all of it. But why not see if some local professionals would be willing to volunteer their time to help out? For example, a professional mediator may be willing to hold a session on conflict resolution. A social worker could lead a discussion on the mentor's relationship with the adolescent's family. Look around! You'll find dozens of untapped resources within your own community.

Where should the training be held?

The training can be held anywhere. A classroom can be a good choice: classrooms are frequently empty on evenings and weekends (although not always--check first to find out), and you'll have desks and a chalkboard readily available. If you are able to hold the training at the school most of the mentees attend, the adult mentors will get a better sense of their protégés' surroundings and everyday life.  On the other hand, classrooms are often uncomfortable for adults – chairs and desks too small, harsh lighting – and schools may feel oppressive to some people.

Alternatives are abound in the community. Besides schools, some possible training sites are community centers; libraries; conference rooms in businesses, banks, or hospitals; colleges and universities; and town or government buildings. Anyplace that’s clean, quiet, and well-lit might do, as long as it’s large enough, has reasonably comfortable furniture, and isn’t too hot or too cold. Make sure that coffee, water, and snacks are available to the mentor-trainees, and that bathrooms are readily available.

How do you train adult mentors?

Training mentors can be as simple or involved as your program wants, but because the mentors will play such an important role in their protégés' lives, we recommend something more in-depth than a handful of papers (although printed backup materials may be a key element of your training program). And extensive training sessions or training retreats can be expensive. How, then, can you find a reasonable middle ground?

We suggest holding several evening sessions, or one all-day session on a weekend, with each section of the training composed of one or more modules covering topics that are important to your program. We discuss some possible modules below. Feel free to pick and choose from among these--or invent your own, based on your program's needs. For example, if you know that your mentors will be tutoring their protégés in English literature, you may want to provide some background information on the books the protégés will be reading, the assignments they are likely to have, and their teachers' expectations of the program. You might want to invite a teacher to help with the training.

There are a few methods of training and orientation that can be used in preparing mentors for their task.

Orientation session

The orientation is a one to two-hour information session, which you can hold for new mentors or people considering being mentors for your program. It should inform candidates of what will be expected of them, and what their roles as mentors will be. The orientation should include presentations on:

  • Your organization's history, purpose and accomplishments
  • Programs currently in progress
  • Time commitment expected of mentors
  • Program logistics, such as meeting times and places and transportation
  • Program resources, such as literature and ideas for activities with youth
  • Outside resources, such as hotlines and referral names of teachers and social workers
  • Guidelines for the relationship, such as what mentors are and are not expected to do
  • Who will be mentored, and why? Describe the background of the at-risk population and the issues facing them
  • Who can mentor? Discuss how mentors are selected and ask the group to assess their personal goals and commitment. This will give them a chance to change their minds.
  • How can the mentors themselves benefit from the program?

An orientation session will also allow mentors to ask any questions they didn't ask during the interview and give them a point of departure for the work they will be doing.

Training sessions

As mentioned before, you may choose to spread your training across several sessions. The training sessions can include several topics.

Some topics you may want to include in your training session include:

Mentor responsibilities:

Clearly and specifically outline mentoring responsibilities.


  • What does your program hope to achieve?
  • What do you hope mentors will accomplish with their protégés?
  • What do you specifically expect them not to do?
  • What is the adolescent's role in the relationship?
  • What is the adolescent responsible for?

Goal setting in the mentoring relationship:

Discuss the importance of defining and setting goals, and provide information on how to:

  • Help the youth define and set realistic goals
  • Set appropriate mentor expectations for what youth can accomplish
  • Find solutions or pathways to reach those goals
  • Adjust goals as the capabilities and needs of the youth change

Listening skills:

Teach your mentors communication skills they can use with their protégés.

This session can include:

  • Lessons in active listening
  • Role plays of helping situations
  • Practice in non-judgmental helping

Problem solving skills:

Include information on:

Conflict resolution skills:

Teach your mentors how to resolve tension in a relationship. Here we are talking about conflicts between mentors and protégés, and ways to avoid or solve them.


  • How to avoid conflict
  • How to work through conflict
  • How to search for solutions
  • How to avoid mentor burn-out
  • How to motivate adolescents
  • When and how to end an unproductive mentor relationship

Conflict resolution training might also include ways to help proteges learn to solve conflicts with peers and family members.

Community resources and networking:

Provide information on community resources and organizations that will help youth meet their goals.

The mentor relationship and the protege's family:

Some questions to be addressed in this training session include:

  • What is the nature of the mentor's relationship with their protégé's family?
  • What are a mentor's responsibilities to a protege's family?
  • How involved can a mentor become with the other family members?
  • How do mentors set limits with family members?
  • How do mentors handle conflict within the family?
  • How do mentors handle parents who want to shape the mentoring relationship?
  • How do mentors handle uncooperative parents?


As a mentor, you want to know if your approach is being effective, if you’re accomplishing what you set out to do. It's also important to know if the protégés are getting what they expected. Do they have questions? Do they think your mentoring is helping them? Mentors need to evaluate protégés and vice-versa.

Follow-up training

Occasional follow-up training will keep your volunteers up-to-date and interested, and may prevent burnout. And training, optimally, is an ongoing process in which your volunteers never stop learning' on the job. Here are some ideas for ongoing training.

  • Be sure to provide written materials to back up the training the mentors receive in their initial sessions. These materials may be used for reference throughout the mentor/protégé relationship.
  • Make sure your staff is always available to answer questions and help to solve problems for mentors experiencing unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations.  (Staff involvement could range from making simple suggestions for activities to helping mentors understand how their own experiences or reactions are feeding into a situation, etc.)
  • Provide ongoing supervision for your mentoring pairs to ensure problems are being resolved as they crop up or headed off before they appear.
  • Organize ongoing training sessions or "special topics" sessions to keep your mentors/protégés fresh and aware during the relationship.
  • Organize a mentors support group or chat session in which mentors can exchange ideas or strategies, share resources, and offer one another emotional and social support.
  • Keep in regular contact by phone or in person with your mentors; this both keeps you up-to-date on how the relationship with the protégé is going, and helps the mentor clarify their situation. Ongoing contact also shows mentors that you are interested in their progress and that they aren't alone.

In Summary

By using a thorough screening process, you've done much to increase the chances that your mentoring program will be successful. But even capable adults need guidance and support in order to meet the challenges that mentoring adolescents can bring. Careful training will give your volunteer mentors the knowledge, skills and abilities to meet those challenges confidently, and will help you ensure that your mentor program is an unqualified success!

Lorraine Claassen
Kate Nagy
Marcelo Vilela

Online Resources

The National Mentor Partnership's Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring publication details research-informed and practitioner-approved standards for creating and sustaining quality youth mentoring programs and consequently, impactful mentoring relationships.

How to Build a Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring is a planning toolkit with tools, templates and advice for implementing the  Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring publication.

Print Resources

Basualdo-Delmonico, A. M., & Spencer, R. (2016). A parent's place: Parents', mentors' and program staff members' expectations for and experiences of parental involvement in community-based youth mentoring relationships. Children And Youth Services Review, 616-14. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.11.021

Rhodes, J., Liang, B., & Spencer, R. (2009). First do no harm: Ethical principles for youth mentoring relationships. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice, 40(5), 452-458. doi:10.1037/a0015073

Campus Partners in Learning. (1990). Resource Manual for Campus-Based Youth Mentoring Programs. Providence, RI: Brown University.

Freedman, M. (1993). The kindness of strangers: adult mentors, urban youth, and the new volunteerism. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Furano, K., et al. (1993). Big brother / big sister: A study of program practices. Philadelphia, PS: Public/Private Ventures.

Kanfer, F. (1995). A Mentor manual: For adults who work with pregnant and parenting teens. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Public/Private Ventures. (1994, Winter). Mentoring in the juvenile justice system. Philadelphia, PA: Mecartney, C.A.