Developing an alumni mentoring program

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Mentoring is one of the most effective pedagogical strategies for gifted students, with valuable psychosocial and vocational benefits. Mentorships can play a significant role in the positive development of gifted students, with mentors recognising and supporting the development of their mentee’s strengths. Though further research is required, the consensus across the literature is that the inclusion of a mentoring program is valuable to developing students’ gifts.

There has been plenty of research analysing the academic development, social effects and psychosocial effects of gifted students, however, a holistic study on the contribution of mentors to gifted students’ cognitive, social, emotional and vocational development has rarely been addressed. Literature in the field recommends mentoring programs with gifted students from an early age, for short durations of time that increase as the student matures.

In 2017, I developed the Girl Guardians mentoring program with gifted girls in Year 5 at Perth College. During that inaugural year, the numbers were small, but the program was significant and considered in its approach. At Perth College, our alumni, known as Old Girls, are an integral part of our school community – once a PC girl, always a PC girl.

The alumni mentoring program focused on our school value of caring and challenged each individual student to build on their character strengths. The cognitive aspect of the program was underpinned by positive psychology, supporting mentees and mentors to focus on what makes them thrive.

The mentors, who had all taken different vocational paths, spoke to students about their experiences at Perth College and their next steps after Senior School. Conversations were informal, over a shared meal or during the open cognitive activity sessions. Mentees were able to ask any curious questions they had and were provided with the tools to learn and grow, leading them to experiences of flow.

Students were not paired up with mentors, rather the program allowed mentees to take their time and establish a connection with a mentor through tasks and one-on-one or small group conversations. This ensured students had their own space when they needed it, but also enhanced the mentorship and that connection with an adult. Mentors were able to help develop the capabilities of the students by providing them with direct feedback and promoting individualised learning – something that is often hard to do in the classroom.

During my postgraduate studies, my Master’s focused on the influence a mentoring program has on gifted girls’ social, emotional and cognitive development in upper primary school. Results from the study highlighted significant growth in each domain. Key findings identify positive relationships building through connections in two forms – between like-minded mentees, and mentees and mentors. The inclusion of cognitive and natural ability extension helped to support mentees’ personal development. The increase in all domains lead to a positive increase in mentees’ affective and cognitive development where they could be deemed in a state of flow, which, in turn, leads to the ultimate goal of a gifted girl flourishing.

This year, the mentoring program has expanded with the Year 5 participants from last year returning as Year 6s, along with a new group of gifted Year 5 girls. An overwhelming number of Old Girls wanted to be involved in the program, which utilises a group mentoring outset to allow the girls to find their connection.

The significance of this mentoring program has been recognised at two international conferences in the fields of gifted education and positive psychology. We will continue use the program to explore the influence mentoring has on the holistic development of a gifted girl in upper primary throughout the year. It is an exciting time ahead for the Imaginarium at Perth College’s Girl Guardians mentoring program.