Mentoring in a remote learning environment

By Matt Brinson, Head of Senior School

Kilvington has a wonderful reputation as a school providing quality care for all students and our pastoral care system ensures students are personally connected and individually known.

The shift to a new Mentoring and Pastoral Care System in 2020 saw every student in Senior School continue to be part of a Mentor Group with a teacher Mentor. However, the number of teacher Mentors has doubled and Mentor Groups are now year level based consisting of only approximately 10-12 students.

The key role of our Mentors is to know and value each individual student, create an environment that promotes a culture of connectedness and to check in with each student regularly; have individual conversations to determine social, emotional, academic status and home life. Our Mentors understand the strengths, weaknesses, passions and interests of their students.

Smaller mentor groups provide a place for connection, comradery, competition and fun. It was a highlight of my term to drop into Mentor Groups and see the diverse and unique cultures emerging within each one.  (Jonathan Williams, Dean of Wellbeing – Year 8)

We know that the COVID-19 outbreak has posed some of the greatest challenges the world has faced in recent times. Schools are not exempt from these challenges, resulting in inevitable changes to the way learning communities operate now, and into the future. It is understandable, as a result of such an unprecedented event, that people are experiencing a range of emotions which can trigger behaviours that may not have been witnessed on such a large scale before.

Certainly, as Kilvington teachers mentor remotely, part of their role will be to guide students to express difficult and sometimes unanswerable questions, encouraging the kind of reflection and growth that takes patience, time and trust. (Philip Thiel, Dean of Wellbeing – Barrett House)

Research after the SARS pandemic in Hong Kong in 2008, provides evidence of the significance of connection through epidemics.  It found that residents in Hong Kong experienced increased social connectedness, which offset the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic. During this time of reduced physical interaction, event cancellations and intense media coverage, it’s important to help maintain connections with others.

Senior School Mentors continue to meet regularly with their students, both collectively and individually, to reduce isolation and helping them stay connected, virtually. We all need each other’s support to grow and flourish, and though we might not be able see each other face to face we can do it online.

Mentors have been working incredibly hard to maintain student connectedness and belonging in a number of ways. The daily 10 minute Mentor check in sessions are a regular catch up, and ones that I have enjoyed calling into, seeing the different activities that each group are running. These have included singing Happy Birthday virtually, quiz sessions and sharing photos of pets. (All the Deans of Wellbeing) have a weekly meeting with their Mentors to discuss any wellbeing issues or concerns that may arise, and in addition, Mentors continue to have 1:1 check ins with individual students (in their Mentor Group). (Nicola Whitfield, Dean of Wellbeing – Burman House)

We understand that our students, indeed everyone, are adapting to a new method of remote learning, are isolated from their peers and networks due to social distancing and isolation measures and managing news overload, general community worry, and uncertainty about their future. Now more than ever, there is a need to call upon the social and emotional skills that ensure we look after our own wellbeing and also do everything we can to protect the wellbeing of those in our communities.

We have been so impressed by the resilience and flexibility of our students and congratulate them on overcoming many of the initial challenges of the transition to remote learning. (Jonathan Williams, Dean of Wellbeing – Year 8)

Our friendships and connections play a critical role in our happiness. Friendship provides people with companionship and affection and creates a space where we can feel valued and cared for. Having positive social connections can help people to improve and maintain good mental health. Social support also helps us to manage stress better, and even appears to positively improve a range of physical health outcomes like cardiovascular disease. Mentors and Deans of Wellbeing are regularly sharing ideas that may help themselves and the students in their Mentor Group cope, survive and hopefully thrive in this new experience.

The pastoral care of our students in the current climate certainly poses its challenges, but it also drives us to be resourceful and to problem-solve so that we can continue to effectively carry out our roles. While I will miss the daily contact I normally have with the Year 7 students; saying hello to them at their lockers in the morning, and seeing them around the school, I know that this situation is temporary. (Dee Broughton, Dean of Wellbeing – Year 7)

We are also ensuring larger groups are staying connected beyond the classroom. In addition to Mentor Groups, we are holding whole school Assemblies, including an Anzac Day Service, House Assembly meetings, year level meetings, whole school sports challenges and some co-curricular groups are running also.

As everyone settles into a new routine of remote learning and house bound isolation, we should take care to make sure our new habits include staying social and connected to others. Mentors are coming up with wonderful ideas such as crazy hair or hat day, what are you grateful for, learn and share a new skill, a myriad of competitions and even mindfulness sessions. Some groups have set up a roster of student-led activities. Many of the creative and interesting Mentor activities are bound to lead to a few laughs together, and might create a fun new tradition when school returns.

The final message is that (this situation) will pass, and we will no doubt look back on this as a very unique time where we have drawn together as a community; students, parents, staff and leaders together. (Nicola Whitfield, Dean of Wellbeing – Burman House)