"Hello, Jasmine," Mrs. Roberts said as she passed the thirteen-year-old middle-schooler in the hall between classes. Deliberate and sustained eye contact accompanied the simple greeting. Jasmine nodded, and both student and educator continued on their way toward separate destinations.
The scenario described above appears to be a typical exchange between a teacher and her student, the kind of thing that occurs routinely in any middle school, on any day, in any part of the world. But, in reality, it is far from typical. Mrs. Johnson does not have Jasmine as a student, and the greeting was planned deliberately, with specific intention. It is part of a much larger effort called silent mentoring.
Silent Mentoring is a program currently being implemented in many schools in which there is concern about students who do not appear to be connected. These isolates have few friends and spend much time alone. They eat by themselves, study by themselves, and walk the halls by themselves. They seem to be on the outside looking in and are never really part of the action. Silent mentoring is an effort by professional educators to reach out to these students and connect with them. Students are identified as candidates for this program based on observations made by teachers, administrators, and counselors. The students are not told they have been selected. They are matched with a volunteer educator, one who does not currently have the student in class. Not every teacher in these schools participates.
Once the educator and student are matched up, the educators are expected to make three reach-out efforts a week. Reach-out strategies can include morning greetings, asking the student how he or she liked the assembly, or commenting on the book he or she selected in the media center. Other strategies that are detailed in the silent mentoring handbook include:
A. Sending "I noticed" statements
"I noticed you like to wear red."
"I noticed" is not designed to evaluate, as in "I noticed you did a good job." It is intended to deliver an important message: "I see you. You are not invisible here."
B. Touching with your eyes
Use sustained eye contact. Eyes say, "I care about you. You are important to me."
C. Engaging in proximity behavior
This strategic-placement move puts you in the proximity of the student you wish to influence. Purposefully be in the vicinity of that student more than you normally would. Making a conscious effort to be around him or her shows interest and concern. And this happens simply by your presence.
Do this with intentionality. Be genuine and sincere.
E. Using names
The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of your own name.
"Good morning, Juan."
Silent mentoring takes its name from the fact that no formal announcements are made that the event is happening. There is no structured time in which it has to occur. No newspaper articles are written. No sound bites are delivered. The entire process is pretty much a secret.
Silent mentoring happens best and has the biggest impact when students least expect it. That's why students are not assigned to their regular teacher. If the reach-out program is implemented in the classroom, students often think you are doing it because it’s your job. After all, you are their teacher. You are being paid to like them. Reach out in the hall, in the lunchroom, and at the basketball game. Do it if you run into the student downtown or in the mall.
Do not require students to respond. You might say hello and get nothing back. Eye contact and smiles may not be returned. Keep reaching out anyway. You are touching this student on some level, whether you see the results or not.
Do you know an isolated student who feels that no one likes them? Do you see someone who doesn't seem to fit in or belong? Are you aware of someone who needs some connectedness in their life? Do you know that before relationships in general can improve for this student he or she has to develop a relationship with someone and realize that someone likes them? Guess who has the best chance of becoming that person for this student.
Why not become a silent mentor?