The Mentor-Student Advantage

Share this article
Sydney Williams January 18, 2023 Founders Corner

The most successful educational institutions place mentor-student relationships at the center of the learning process.

Constructive interactions produce powerful student outcomes. Miscommunications, mismatched expectations, or a lack of trust can put the success of the relationship—and the institution itself—at risk.

Educational institutions are defined as places where learning and instruction occur, such as primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. Mentors are individuals who support and guide the development of students, and include teachers, coaches, and extracurricular leaders. Students are individuals who receive guidance and support from mentors.

Several factors affect the success of mentor-student relationships, including:

  • The availability and allocation of resources, including financial and human resources
  • The level of support from the community and administration
  • The use of tools and technologies that facilitate learning and assess outcomes
  • The use of tools and strategies that enhance student engagement


Teacher shortages, declining enrollment, learning loss, and financial uncertainty following COVID-19 lockdowns are challenging the mentor-student dynamic in educational institutions. These challenges impact the ability of institutions to deliver high-quality education and support.

Since the start of 2020, for example, over 500,000 teachers have left their jobs, and public school enrollment has decreased by over one million students. Undergraduate enrollment at colleges and universities has declined by seven percent from 2019.

Lockdowns have contributed to significant learning loss, with some students experiencing more than half a school year of lost learning in math and nearly a quarter of a school year in reading.

As schools use up their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, they will need to consider how to fund any new positions or programming created with federal funds.

Additionally, school districts that rely more heavily on state and local funding are facing challenges due to shrinking tax bases caused by economic and financial market weakness.

The Right Strategy

Any decision to combat these headwinds should not let go the mentor-student relationship, whether it occurs in the classroom, extracurricular program, or playing field.

Tools that support, improve, and measure these relationships can help institutions to prioritize and economize resources. They can focus community and administrative support. They can streamline learning technologies and boost student engagement.

  1. Start by understanding what students can learn from mentors.
  2. Know how relationships can break down and the ways that mentors can connect more effectively with students.
  3. Be familiar with positive mentor-student communication.

What Students Can Learn From Mentors

Students can learn many valuable lessons from mentors that will serve them well in the future.

  • The importance of hard work and dedication. Mentors can serve as role models and demonstrate the value of hard work and dedication to achieving goals.
  • How to set and pursue goals. Mentors can help students to identify their goals and develop a plan for achieving them. They can also provide guidance and support as students work towards their goals.
  • The value of persistence. Mentors can help students to understand that success often requires persistence and the ability to persevere through challenges and setbacks.
  • The importance of self-reflection and self-improvement. Mentors can encourage students to engage in self-reflection and identify areas for personal growth and improvement.
  • The power of networking and building relationships. Mentors can help students to understand the importance of networking and building relationships with others, and can provide guidance on how to do so effectively.
  • How to take risks and embrace new opportunities. Mentors can encourage students to step outside their comfort zone and take on new challenges, and can provide guidance and support as they do so.

How Mentor-Student Relationships Can Go Wrong

Students and mentors should communicate openly and honestly, establish clear expectations and boundaries, and work together to ensure that the relationship is healthy and productive. If any of these factors are not present, the relationship may not be successful.

  • Lack of communication. If students and mentors do not communicate effectively or openly, it can lead to misunderstandings and conflict.
  • Different expectations. If students and mentors have different expectations for the relationship, it can lead to frustration and disappointment.
  • Power imbalance. If there is a significant power imbalance between the student and mentor, it can create an uncomfortable or unhealthy dynamic.
  • Lack of trust. If there is a lack of trust between the student and mentor, it can be difficult for the relationship to be productive or fulfilling.
  • Misalignment of goals. If the goals and interests of the student and mentor are not well-aligned, it can be difficult for the relationship to be meaningful or beneficial.

When Are Student Mentor Relationships Most Important

Student-mentor relationships can be important at many different points in a student’s academic and personal journey. Some key times when mentor relationships may be particularly valuable include the following:

  • During the transition to high school or college. Mentor relationships can be particularly important during times of transition, such as the move from middle school to high school or from high school to college. Mentors can provide guidance, support, and encouragement as students navigate these new environments and adjust to new challenges and responsibilities.
  • When facing academic or personal challenges. Mentor relationships can also be important when students are facing academic or personal challenges, such as difficulties with coursework, relationships, or personal struggles. Mentors can provide a listening ear, offer guidance and support, and help students to develop strategies for overcoming these challenges.
  • When exploring career or educational goals. Mentor relationships can be valuable for students who are exploring career or educational goals, as mentors can provide guidance, advice, and support as students make decisions about their future.
  • When seeking guidance and support. Finally, mentor relationships can be important at any time when students are seeking guidance and support in their academic and personal lives. Whether they are seeking advice on course selection, career goals, or personal issues, mentors can provide valuable perspective and support.

Tools That Mentors Can Use

There are many tools that mentors can use to connect better with students, and build strong and meaningful relationships.

  • Active listening. One of the most important tools for mentors is the ability to listen actively and attentively to students. This involves giving students your full attention, asking open-ended questions, and being responsive to their concerns and needs.
  • Empathy. Showing empathy and understanding towards students can help to build trust and create a sense of connection. This involves being able to see things from the student’s perspective and being able to relate to their experiences and emotions.
  • Communication. Effective communication is essential for building a strong and meaningful relationship with students. This includes being clear and concise in your communication, using appropriate language, and being responsive to students’ needs and concerns.
  • Flexibility. Being flexible and open to different approaches and perspectives can help mentors to better connect with students. This may involve adapting your approach to meet the needs of different students or being open to new ideas and suggestions.
  • Trust. Building trust with students is crucial for a successful mentor relationship. This involves being reliable, transparent, and consistent in your interactions with students, and being responsive to their needs and concerns.

Positive mentor-student communication requires open, honest, and respectful interactions between mentors and students. Mentors can encourage students to think critically and express themselves by asking open-ended questions. Mentors can provide feedback in a constructive and positive manner. They can show interest in what students have to say. They can be respectful.

As institutions make their way through difficult conditions, they must ground decisions on a bedrock of strong mentor-student relationships. Anything less would jeopardize student outcomes.

Sydney is Stride’s Founder.