This article was expanded from a seminar hosted by the Davidson Institute. It provides tips for parents on finding a mentor for their gifted child, including things to keep in mind when your child is seeking a mentorship and six steps to establishing an effective mentorship.
Does your child show a spark of interest and motivation in a particular area? Do they find aspects of school unsatisfying? Is there an insatiable curiosity that you’re not sure how to address? If these questions describe your child, they may benefit from an advanced tutor or a mentorship. The opportunity to pursue interests outside of the classroom can produce remarkable results for young people, both academically and personally.
Is an advanced tutor or mentor right for your family?
It’s helpful to distinguish between an advanced tutor and mentor as these are two different relationships (though many call both “mentors”). An advanced tutor instructs a student through advanced material; the tutor is finding materials and resources, developing a plan for working through that material, and designing projects and assignments. This may be less structured than a typical class and may have a lot more student input, but, at the core, the tutor is leading a student through the subject.
In a mentorship, on the other hand, the student is in the lead. Typically, a student is independently pursuing a course of study or working on a project. The mentor acts as a sounding board when the student runs into obstacles and might point the student in the direction of additional helpful connections, resources, or people. The mentor is there when needed, but it’s typically the student that initiates contact on an ongoing basis as needed.
|Lead in relationship
|Responsibility of the Adult
|Advanced tutors instruct the student. They are responsible for finding reading and learning materials appropriate to the student’s interests and ability level. They design projects and other learning experiences to engage the student in the process. They sequence and pace the learning according to the student’s learning rate. They listen to the student and incorporate their feedback.
|Mentors follow the student’s lead. They answer questions brought up by the student. They use their seasoned perspective to alert the student to possible obstacles they may face. They point them to additional opportunities and learning materials the student may not be aware of. They serve as a brainstorming partner when the student reaches out to discuss a problem they have run into. They share insight into the larger field that the student is engaging with and offer advice on future education and career advancement.
|Responsibility of the Student
|The student engages with the tutor and the learning experiences designed by the tutor. They do any reading or work assigned to them between meetings with the tutor. They share their interests and insights with the tutor. They share feedback on the level and pace of learning. The student asks questions when they want to dive deeper or don’t understand something.
|The student decides on a specific course of study or project to complete. The student decides the timeline of this and takes the initial steps to start down that course of action. The student initiates and maintains the relationship with the mentor. The student reaches out with specific questions related to their course of study or project. The student touches base when they run into a problem or foresee one on the horizon. In between conversations with the mentor, the student propels their course of student or project forward independently.
|Length of Relationship
|While advanced tutors can work with students for any length of time, the timeline is typically dictated by what a student wants to learn. Thus, a tutor may work with a student until they learn a specific area of content (for example, they may work together while the student learns about World War I or medieval machinery) or specific skill (for example, they may work together as the student learns how to write a scientific report or speak conversational Portuguese).
|While some mentorships are open ended, the timeline is typically dictated by the student’s project. The mentor is there as a sounding board until the student’s project comes to fruition.
Before making moves to contact an advanced tutor or mentor, there are some things that families should consider in order to set students up for the most successful partnership. First and foremost, does the student want an advanced tutor or mentor? Or does the student want enrichment in the form of exposure to a particular subject or career field? For students who may not be ready for an advanced tutor or mentor but do want some form of enrichment, check out the other articles in our talent development resource bundle. If your student does want an advanced tutor or mentor, your family can use the chart above to help you consider which type of relationship would be more beneficial for your student. It makes sense to have some serious conversations with your gifted student about their level of dedication to this and get on the same page about how much time they want to have an advanced tutor or mentor. It also makes sense to have some deep conversations with your students to ensure that they understand the purpose, benefits, and limitations of the relationship with their tutor or mentor.
Other considerations include transportation for the child, time spent as a family on the project, and any costs associated with this partnership. Getting really clear on what you are looking for, your budget, and any constraints impacting your family can help you during the vetting process and can help an advanced tutor or mentor make the most informed decision when you approach them.
How to Find an Advanced Tutor or Mentor
The process of locating an advanced tutor and mentor can be similar. Here are a few ways other families have gone about this:
- Reach out to a local college: One way families have located an advanced tutor or mentor is through reaching out to their local university or college.
- For advanced tutoring, the institution might know of an advanced undergraduate or graduate student who would be open to offering services in the subject area of interest. Typically, families reach out directly to the relevant department head to introduce themselves, explain what they’re looking for, and start a conversation with someone who can help. It may be beneficial to reach out to an education department as a start, as they may know of students who are wanting to teach younger children and already have experience with writing lesson plans and locating resources.
- For locating a mentor, similarly, families typically reach out directly to the relevant department head to introduce themselves, explain what they’re looking for, and start a conversation with someone who can help. As mentors are generally very knowledgeable in their field and well-versed in current findings and research, a graduate student or retired professor may be well-suited for mentorship.
- The article, “Tips for Finding an Unpaid Lab Placement,” may be useful. Although this article was written for Stanford undergraduate students, many Young Scholars have still found the steps outlined in the article to be useful. The article shares information about contacting university personnel, including graduate students and research lab members. Typically, a university will post information on their graduate students and their research on their website, which sttudents could use to find a potential tutor/mentor. In a similar vein, “How Do You Write an Email or Letter to a Professor?” by Karen Kelsky, may be helpful in drafting emails to possible tutors/mentors even though this article was intended for undergraduate students.
- Explore online options: There are organizations help facilitate high school research through mentorship including Pioneer Academics, Polygence, and Lumiere Education. Many gifted students also take classes online to supplement their education. You can view the Davidson Institute Online Comparison Charts below. If you come across a teacher that your student “clicks” with, it may be worth asking if they offer tutoring services or are open to mentoring your student.
- Online Foreign Language Program Comparison
- Online Language Arts Program Comparison
- Online Math Program Comparison
- Online Science Program Comparison
- Online Social Science/Humanities Program Comparison
- Online Coding Program Comparison
- Look into state gifted associations and homeschool organizations: Depending on the state you live in, there are designated state gifted associations and homeschool organizations that may have knowledge about locating tutors and mentors in your area. One way to find your state gifted association is through the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) State Locator.
- Reach out to professionals in your community: Depending on your child’s area of interest, reaching out to local organizations, museums, or clubs can be a way to find professionals in a field who may be interested in mentoring a young person.
While you are in the process of finding a tutor or mentor for your gifted child, it may be worthwhile to ask if any potential candidates have experience working with gifted students. If they have, you may want to ask them about their experience. Because there is a lot of variability among the gifted, what works for some gifted students will not work for all of them. Many families have found that tutors or mentors that are open minded and flexible work well with their gifted child.
It may be a benefit to your family to talk about relationship boundaries early before you have even found a tutor or mentor. This can preview what the process will look like for the student, and it will give them a set of appropriate expectations to hold themselves and others to throughout the tutoring or mentorship. Depending on your family, some common expectations include:
- Meeting in a public place. You can have a conversation with the tutor or mentor and mutually decide on a public place that is workable for everyone. Places like cafes, libraries, or buildings on a university campus are conducive spaces for co-working, with charging stations, internet access, and comfortable seating.
- Establishing clear lines of communication between parent and student. Parent and student communication needs to be consistent and reliable in case any issues or concerns arise. Keeping an open line of communication can help you as a parent get a sense of some things that your student does and does not like about their experience.
- Establishing clear lines of communication between the tutor/mentor and the parent. Discuss with tutors or mentors what the communication expectations are. Phone calls, texts, or emails may be the easiest way to get a hold of a tutor or mentor. Some families want to be able to access any messages sent by staying in the email thread or group message. Other times, families request that any communication be CC’d to them when it is sent to a student.
Benefits of Tutors and Mentorship
Mentors and advanced tutors can be a great resource to help guide students into the next level of their interests and provide support in other key areas, like social-emotional development. Here are several ways a mentor might help a gifted child:
- Provide breadth and depth to the student’s area of interest. Mentors or tutors can introduce students to advanced topics as well as broaden the connections between one field and another.
- Provide academic or professional career guidance. Mentors can illuminate the path from being a passionate student to a professional by providing insight into the key milestones they’ll need to hit to achieve their dream.
- Provide a network. Sometimes, the old saying is true about how it is not always what you know, but who you know. Mentors and tutors can provide introductions to key players that may turn into volunteer or job opportunities down the road.
- Provide support. Imposture syndrome and other sources of discouragement are hard to overcome alone, but a mentor or advanced tutor may be able to share what helped them get through those very same obstacles and offer encouragement.
- Provide understanding. If your mentor or tutor is also a gifted individual, chances are they remember what it is like being the youngest in class or juggling dual enrollment. They may be able to relate to unique experiences of gifted students.
An advanced tutor or mentor can also provide a space where students ideas are taken seriously. Some gifted children feel like when they talk, no one listens. Having niche interests, a different developmental trajectory, and/or other exceptionalities can be challenging. Some gifted children have trouble understanding why adults get to have the final say all the time. Having an advanced tutor or mentor that can meet them on their level and talk in detail about their interests can help empower students’ voices. In having an advanced tutor or mentor, students get the opportunity to practice numerous skills that can help them build self-esteem, confidence, and resiliency:
- Self-advocacy. Students are responsible for bringing questions to their tutor or mentor. It may be agreed that they have to be the one to initiate contact and plan the next meet-up.
- Challenging of ideas. Mentors or advanced tutors may challenge students’ ideas in a way that their peers or classmates don’t. This is a good opportunity to practice taking someone else’s perspective and having healthy disagreement in a low-stake environment.
- Changing one’s mind. The gifted profile can include black-and-white thinking patterns, which can make changing one’s own mind or being wrong difficult. If something comes up in tutoring or mentorship that your student changes their mind about over the course of the relationship, it can be helpful to practice that with someone who has a good relationship with the gifted student and can show them that their new outlook or idea is also valid and worthy of listening to.
For more information on finding an advanced tutor or mentor, you can read the Davidson Institute Mentoring Guidebook and check out the following posts on the Davidson Gifted blog: