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Speed Mentoring

By Elizabeth Kennedy and Vicki Bentley

Elizabeth Kennedy of TOOL (Teaching Our Own Legacy—www.toolhomeschool.org) of Fredericksburg, Virginia, shares about how their group developed and implemented Speed Mentoring for their local homeschool group and later adapted it for their state organization:

In a nutshell
“Speed Mentoring” allows veteran homeschoolers to connect with new homeschoolers who are overwhelmed with questions about anything (or everything!) related to home education. The “mentor” doesn’t need to be an expert in homeschooling—she simply shares from her experience. New parents ask their question(s) in a one-on-one setting, then, after an allotted time, a whistle blows, and they move to the next mentor to either ask the same question(s) or shift to another topic. This makes a fun, lively, interactive support group meeting or leadership forum activity.

The speed mentoring idea is really a collaboration: A local homeschool mom had the idea—adapted from the speed dating model—and shared it with our steering team. Our team then worked out the logistics of how to implement the idea for our local support group.

Advance preparation (optional)
In recruiting members for our support group version of the speed mentoring meeting, I sought out homeschooling mentors with five or more years of homeschooling experience. I really wanted a large array of perspectives, including families who had:

  • participated in the public school system,
  • graduated students,
  • many small children and toddlers in the home while homeschooling,
  • homeschooled through difficult life experiences—sickness, transitions, job loss, etc.
  • special needs children
  • used various approaches, including:
    • traditional approach
    • “boxed” curriculum
    • relaxed or unschooling
    • interest-led educating
    • unit studies
    • dual enrollment
    • distance learning or computer-based learning
    • and more

I did the best I could to offer someone that night that would have experience in whatever area a question could arise. It also helps to have the perspective of dads on the mentor panel. We even had a married couple participate who had homeschooled for 20 years—what a blessing!

I approached the mentors with our idea of how the mentoring session would go and asked them to fill out the bio questionnaire, which we made available to all who were participating. It allowed those coming as a “mentoree” to know the background of the mentors and help them get their questions answered. I also sent the mentors a list of starter questions to get an idea of what they may be asked that evening.

Our support group attendance at the time was around twenty, consistently, so we asked eleven mentors to be available at our meeting. We sent out biographical questionnaires to all mentors and made the information available on our web site prior to the meeting. This allowed those in attendance to know the background of each mentor and to tailor their questions accordingly. The information was never given to the general public, but we did have handout copies for those who had not accessed them via the website. We offered a note-taking handout along with a conversation starter questions handout .

We set up tables in a horseshoe configuration with chairs for the mentors along the outside of the horseshoe, or U. We seated the mentors at seats with “table tents” with their names, so “mentorees” would know names for later. We were sure to seat the mentors in random order according to homeschool experience/backgrounds, for variety. Each mentor had a chair opposite her for a mentoree, on the inside of the U-shaped table configuration. Each mentor had water, with water also available for mentorees, and there were mints on each chair.

How it works
The mentoring session began with six minutes to converse with each mentor (with a one-minute warning at the five-minute mark). Then, time was called and the mentoree was reminded to move to the next mentor to her right. As stated, we had more mentorees in attendance than mentors. But, God had given us wisdom thinking this may happen. We had refreshments available—food always helps to make everyone feel relaxed and made for a more comfortable setting. We had a half-circle set-up near the food and drinks where conversations were taking place, and we had a veteran homeschool mom sitting there, willing to talk with those not in the “speed mentoring” session.

As our “spare” mentorees would rotate out of the horseshoe, they would join in the conversations and refreshments. I kept track of those rotating out of the horseshoe to make sure everyone got a turn in the Speed Mentoring session.

The speed mentoring format was a very open forum where parents could ask the personal questions that perhaps they would not ask in a large group setting. The room was abuzz with conversation, and many left encouraged in their homeschooling journey.

As a convention workshop
In a convention setting, we changed the format. We still used the biographical questionnaire for our own purposes; we wanted to be sure to have a variety of homeschooling experience backgrounds in each circle to do our best to meet the needs of the mentorees. We also used a circle shape for our mentors without a table between the mentor and the mentoree, so conversation was more intimate, it was easier to move to the next mentor, and you did not rotate out of the session just around the circle. (Be sure to leave several feet between mentors, to avoid attendees having to shout to be heard.)

We also included a “Making the Most of Your Time” handout which encouraged everyone to keep their introductions concise and focused on meeting the needs of the mentoree. During each six-minute mentoring session we added a one-minute warning to allow the conversations to be concluded before the six minutes were up. We also had motivators who held up 1 minute warning signs when the 1 minute warning bell rang. The motivators also blew a whistle when the 6 minute session had ended while holding a “move to your right” sign to encourage each mentoree to move to the next mentor in the circle.

Again, we made mints available on the chairs, and the mentors each had a bottle of water. As in the smaller sessions, the room was abuzz with conversation. When our time was up many sighed in disappointment, and there were many conversations that continued long after the workshop was over.

Another option would be to have topic specific mentoring. For example, all of the mentors with high school experience sit in one circle, science/ history or curriculum experience in another circle, testing and beginning homeschooling in another circle. This would allow the mentors to be specific or strong in one specific area; the focused subject means the mentor does not have to feel comfortable in all the general areas.

As a leadership forum activity
Vicki has used this model for leaders at leadership retreats, adding questions relevant to leaders. In this setting, the more veteran leaders sit in the mentor seats, but the mentorees may ask questions from the leadership questions as well as from the general questions (and the questioning often goes both ways in this format!). The size of the group and the amount of time allotted can determine the length of each “visit”; in this format, four to five minutes is generally sufficient time to get the idea of how this can work back in their own groups.

Leaders have commented that after this session, they realized they have more encouragement and knowledge to share with others than they had thought!

These forms will be available in the general Group Services articles for a limited time and will then become available by log-in access only:

Speed Mentoring Bio
Speed Mentoring Conversation Starters
Making the Most of Your Time with Your Mentor