“Make it Real & Relevant” (Mentor Tip)


Make it Real & Relevant

As mentors, by default, students will react to our words and actions.  The trick is getting them to react in a positive way that influences them for the better.  A key ingredient in making this happen is to “Make it real & relevant”.

Have you ever had someone give you an analogy based on a subject area that you cared nothing about?  (i.e. someone uses football to explain the benefits of working as a team when you neither know nor care anything about football?)  Was it an effective method of communication? The answer is probably, “No”. This is why making it real & relevant matters.


Here are two steps to help make it real & relevant.

#1 Make it real to them.

People are not impacted unless they find meaning and purpose in what they are doing, and meaning can not be forced upon a person.  In recent research concerning teaching strategies, Chris Hulleman, Director of the Motivate Lab at UVA, said, “It’s important for teachers [mentors] to allow students to find their own meaning in their school work.”  Mentors have the opportunity to help guide students in discovering their own meaning in topics and allow them to see how it is important to their life.  

For example, if the topic of money comes up in a conversation, ask open ended questions to find out how they feel about money

  • Do you think you should give to help others, or a cause?
  • Is it important to save money?
  • Do you think prices in our country are reasonable?
  • Do you know someone (family or friend) who has been impacted by financial struggles?

Once they have made the connection to how money matters to them, your words will make a greater impact and have a chance to take root.


#2 Listen first; don’t lecture

“Resist the temptation to lecture,” Hulleman said. “You’re trying to get students to discover the personal meaning for themselves. Teachers [mentors] can give examples from their own personal lives, but just as an example.”  

Have you ever heard the old Chinese Proverb, “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.”  To be more applicable to our situation, the proverb needs to be tweaked a bit, “Force feed a person fish, and they will neither like fishing nor the taste of fish.”  In other words, if we help students to discover meaning before telling them how they should feel or think, we have awakened purpose from within.  A person must feel compelled from the inside out and not from the outside in.


In summary, I’ll borrow the words from James (1:19),

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

CLICK HERE for full article quoted above.

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