Tools of Mentoring
Melissa Blake, September 7, 2015
Humans learn a lot by watching. When other people see us being comfortable in nature, eating wild food, and starting fires with friction it inspires them to do those things, too, and gives some idea how to do them.
Most adults are capable of sitting through a lecture. But almost everyone, especially kids, would rather hear a story. Stories can be true or fictional; they can be used to inspire or teach. A story draws the listener into the experience. The more sensory details are included and the more emotion the listener feels, the more memorable the story will be because more memory pathways will be engaged.
Sending on errands
Along with being challenged at the right level for their skills, people enjoy being given the right amount of responsibility. Errands are opportunities for independence, testing and proving abilities, and serving the group.
Coaching for inner tracking
A mentor helps participants reflect on their own inner processes and learn about themselves. He can also encourage people to become committed to their own lifelong growth, so the reflection will continue after he’s gone from the picture.
Teamwork is important in community, and an important life skill. Often the challenges of outdoor survival are more easily met when a group works together, so wilderness survival experiences are a perfect venue for practicing these skills.
Three levels of questioning
This is a strategy for helping learners construct their own knowledge. The first level are questions you know the person knows the answer to. Ask lots of these, to build confidence and help him see what he knows. The second level are questions that challenge him but which he is still capable of answering with some effort. Ask enough of these to keep him in that Zone of Proximal Development much of the time. Finally come questions he didn’t even know were answerable; they may or may not be, but they help him see the endless possibilities for learning. Use sparingly so as not to discourage!
Seize the moment
Take advantage of what’s happening in the environment, i.e. by nut-gathering or maple sap-collecting. This creates connection to place and season.
Listening to someone’s “Story of the Day”
and asking her challenging questions about it. What did she see? What did it mean? What else did she notice? Her answers tell you about gaps in her knowledge. Your questions should prompt her to gather even more information the next time.
Creating a (perceived) survival need
Necessity is the mother of invention, and of most learning as well. If you need a fire to keep warm, cook your food, and give you light you will be highly motivated to learn how to build a fire and keep it going!
Energetic progression or “flow”
There is a natural cycle of energy in learning. Joseph Cornell explained it well and coined the term, “Flow Learning” (different from the “flow state” discussed on page 10). The idea is to both capitalize on and direct the natural energy in the group. Plan or “choreograph” your time together with this in mind, and be prepared to read the group’s energy in the moment and change activities on the fly.
Knowing participants as individuals
and tailoring the learning experience. Distinguish mentoring from other forms of teaching. With this knowledge, mentors provide the appropriate amount of challenge to keep everyone in a state of “flow” (see p. 10). Observing them work in teams, listening to their stories, asking them questions, and facilitating their tracking of their own inner process are ways we get to know each participant.