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7 Biggest Mentoring Mistakes to Avoid

Saturday, November 19th, 2022

An image of a girl in a pink tie-and-dye shirt taking an online lesson
Mentoring can be a difficult task, especially when done online. When you don't have face-to-face time with students, it's hard to pick up on subtle mistakes or miscommunication.
But that's how it is with online learning, right?
A few slip-ups here or there are inevitable, but if you're committed to the profession, you'll go the extra mile to be a good tutor that mentees can trust and enjoy learning from. This involves being aware of the biggest mentoring mistakes to avoid that can influence the quality of your mentoring relationship or even cause it to end.
  1. Not Treating Mentees Like Real People

    When you're teaching someone about something important, it's easy to treat them like an empty vessel that you can fill with knowledge.
    But that's exactly what mentoring is not!
    Mentees are people with their own needs, quirks, and flaws —and they want to be treated so.
    Don't just expect them to listen and take notes on everything you say; make sure your conversation is fun, engaging, and relatable. Ask for their input, too, to tap into their knowledge and build on it.
    And remember that the real goal here isn't about getting everyone up-to-speed on everything immediately; it's about building a relationship so that both parties feel valued working with each other.
    Another blunder associated with not treating mentees like real people is having an unreasonable tutor-student ratio. In this case, tutors struggle to consider each student's individual learning ability and style, ultimately affecting their experience.
    So, how many mentees should a tutor have at a time?
    While one-on-one mentoring is ideal1 for effective relationship-building, tutors may sometimes cater to multiple mentees (even large groups) at once. The correct answer will depend on your capability to pay undivided attention to the mentees without unintentionally disregarding their needs or concerns.
    The mentees will feel more connected to you and be motivated to work hard if they know you're looking out for them as individuals rather than just another assignment or job.
  2. Forgetting to Set Clear Goals and Expectations

    It's easy to forget to set clear goals and expectations for your online students – and it's all downhill from there.
    You must ensure your mentees know what they're expected to do and when something needs to be done. If you don't set these parameters, they'll be confused and frustrated when they don't see progress.
    Just as setting clear goals will help keep them on track and motivated, clarifying the expectations of your tutor-student relationship at the start will ensure both parties understand what's expected of them in terms of time commitment, respect, and mutual growth.
    Start with things like:
    • How a student can reach you should they need something.
    • Which subjects are off-limits.
    • Primary goals mentees are looking to accomplish.
    • Any issues mentees are facing with their studies.
    • How long the mentorship relationship should last.
    Some of these boundaries are essential for preventing inappropriate tutor relationships. Anyone who disagrees or can't comply should be upfront about it so there are no unpleasant surprises later.
  3. Being Too Eager to Provide Solutions

    There are many ways to make a student feel like they're not ready for the work they're doing. One of the most common is if you try to solve every little problem for them.
    You must remember that your role isn't to present solutions to them—it's to help them develop the skills they need to solve the problems themselves.
    Mentors' advice to mentees is always supposed to help each student become an independent learner and problem solver. That means helping them learn how to do their own research, think critically and independently, and use evidence-based reasoning when making decisions about the steps they should take next in their learning process.
  4. Avoiding Vulnerability

    And you know what? It's correct!
    Although many believe vulnerability is what makes a bad student, the willingness to put yourself out there and be honest with your students will take you far.
    Here's the thing: your mentees have to be comfortable enough to bring their problems to you. If you give the impression that you've always known everything you know and never made a mistake, they won't feel they can talk to you.
    You must have failed a few times and learned from your mistakes. Have the courage to own them and use the ups and downs of your journey to establish a personal connection with your mentees.
  5. Getting Too Connected with Mentee's Emotions

    Getting stuck in the student's emotions is one of the biggest mentoring mistakes to avoid if you want the relationship to work out in both of your favor.
    How will you lead a struggling student out of an uncomfortable state if you, too, become too connected with their emotions?
    While it's important to empathize with your mentees, you shouldn't try so hard to make them feel better that you end up being emotionally invested in them. Doing this makes it easy for the tutor-student relationship to turn unproductive.
    Instead, try focusing on what you can do for your student. For example, if your student is having trouble understanding a concept or finding their place in an online course, offer advice on how they might approach it differently next time. Or, if they seem frustrated or overwhelmed by the workload, offer suggestions on how they can prioritize their time and set realistic expectations.
  6. Scolding Mentees and Not Tolerating Failure

    Even if you think you know what's best for your student, and even if they're a hard worker, there are times when it's okay to let them fail. It's okay to watch them make their mistakes without judging them.
    Remember, failure is part of the learning process. You must know how to challenge your student on why they think something didn't work out well (and even offer feedback and suggestions) without pointing out every single problem in an attempt to shame or blame them for making mistakes.
    Sometimes, tutors go too far when providing feedback, even when they mean well, but scolding a student is never the right thing to do. It's more likely to cause them to become defensive, avoid engaging with you or shut down entirely, resulting in you losing an opportunity for growth as a tutor.
  7. Lacking Insight

    One of the biggest mentoring mistakes to avoid is offering advice that lacks insight.
    Mentors' advice to mentees is always considered a pearl of wisdom. Your mentees will look up to you for direction and guidance when they feel lost. If you fail to explain your point of view or clarify the direction you attempt to steer the mentees in, it'll put a dent in your relationship.
    So, make sure you always have facts or reasonable explanations to back your guidance to inspire your mentees like a true tutor concerned about their growth and success.

Play Your Part in Improving the Academic Performance of Students across the Country with Mentor DB

You can only contribute positively to any student's life if you know how to overcome mentoring challenges.
By setting clear expectations from the get-go, allowing for vulnerability and mistakes, and offering advice the right way, you can steer clear of the biggest mentoring mistakes to avoid at all costs.