Education Wednesday: Mentoring Towards Academic Achievement

In education policy, metrics such as academic benchmarks and graduation rates define student success. Raising academic standards and implementing new learning models are indeed important to improving education for students and closing achievement gaps. However, mentoring, being a positive role model, and providing support that builds strong relationships with students is paramount to achieving better academic outcomes.


Last week, I attended a conference focused on college access for disconnected youth including African American and Latino males, homeless, and foster students. Many of the presenters concluded that students need at least one person in their life committed to providing encouragement and guidance through personal and academic challenges.

This notion became more concrete as one Latina shared how a supportive mentor kept her on track to obtain her goals. She was proud to be graduating high school first in her class rather than dropping out to start a family as her friends expected.  From this speaker and many others with challenging backgrounds, I gained 2 important take-aways:

  1. Personal experiences with adversity can build non-cognitive “soft-skills” such as resilience, self-perception, and grit (the ability to persevere past challenges to reach long-term goals). Much as I mention In Education Wednesday: Cultivating Non-cognitive Skills, these variables connect testable knowledge with academic success. However, adverse situations can also create barriers that hinder these skills from being used for academic progress.

  2. Actively working to connect with students on an individual level, in some cases weeding through the traumas of a student’s life, can change the context through which students utilize these necessary traits and focus their application towards success in school.

The relationships we foster with students and the positive perception we encourage them to have of themselves can transform academic deficits into stories of success.

Aundrea’s Tips for Building Positive Relationships with Students

  • Demonstrate empathy for a student’s background: When we engage students we must be as open to learn from them as we are to teach them. Understanding the unique space every student operates within (their background, family experience, or culture), as well as the talents they bring to the table, is key to motivating young people to succeed.

  • Be consistent in intentions as well as actions: To help students succeed clear expectations for their achievement must be set. Apart from this, maintaining a student’s trust requires educators keep their promises. We as adults must demonstrate the character we wish students to possess until it is eternally felt and outwardly expressed.

  • Create a relationship plan: Relationships do not always form organically, especially for students with challenging backgrounds--or even backgrounds different from our own. Drawing from business models that use systematic approaches to strengthen interactions with key contributors can enlighten the way educators engage students. It is helpful for mentors to map-out how they will breakthrough to students. Whether through trust exercises, weekly individual conferences, or intentional daily small-talk, planning is vital to stronger relationships with students. For more tips on how to build a relationship plan check here.

Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D notes in her acclaimed book A Framework for Understanding Poverty:

“Support systems are simply networks of relationships.”

Positive relationships between students and mentors, teachers, and parents alike can change mindsets that hinder learning and boost academic success. As we work to raise educational outcomes for students, we must provide a supportive foundation to help them to reach higher academic outcomes and navigate their journey through life.

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

How do you build positive relationships with students?