If you’ve ever bought a piece of “some assembly required” furniture, you know that reading the instruction manual and actually building what you bought are two very different things. On paper, the process seems so orderly and calm. Your bolts, screws, and boards come together in perfect harmony. In real life, though, things might get messy.
In addition to helping out with curriculum, I also serve as a mentor for two summer SWSG groups. While mentoring constitutes a small part of my work week, it’s become the highlight of my intern experience. I love talking to the girls, listening to stories about their week, and playing games with them. Each session, we follow a lesson plan like the ones I’m working on now. But, much like assembling an IKEA loveseat, things don’t always go as planned. Our discussions with the girls might take us in a completely different direction than we expected. Sometimes we do things out of order or improvise activities altogether.
It’s an interesting place to be in, simultaneously writing and using curriculum. On one hand, the curriculum we’re working on will shape the sessions between girls and mentors in the year to come. On the other hand, I know now that mentoring sessions don’t always go by the book.
Mentoring with SWSG has opened my eyes to a new side of curriculum and program development. It’s made me think more about structuring the curriculum around the girls and their interests, not just what I think elementary-school kids should get out of a lesson. As I’m considering group activities to include, I stop and think, “Would my own mentees like this?” If I can envision blank stares from our girls while a mentor explains what they’re going to do next, then I know it’s an idea to scrap. Doing science experiments and making crafts? Probably good ideas. Sitting quietly for long periods of time? Definitely not.
The curriculum isn’t the be-all and end-all for mentoring sessions. It’s an integral part of SWSG, but it’s not the whole story. Rather, curriculum is a way to facilitate the relationships between girls and mentors that happen whether or not their time together goes exactly “as planned.” The girls still learn awesome success skills and interact with college women role models who care for and support them.
So while the instruction manual is important, building a relationship is what counts. (Pun totally intended.)
To all the mentors out there, how do you build relationships with your mentees, even when things don’t go as planned?