Mentor Relationships and Gifted Learners (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007


  • Identify what (not whom) a youngster needs. The student may want to learn a particular skill or subject or want someone to offer help in trying out a whole new lifestyle.
  • Decide with the youngster whether he or she really wants a mentor. Some might just want a pal, advisor, or exposure to a career field, rather than a mentor relationship that entails close, prolonged contact and personal growth.
  • Identify a few mentor candidates. If access to local resources is limited, long-distance mentors are an option. WHO'S WHO directories and the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ASSOCIATIONS are rich sources of potential mentors.
  • Interview the mentors. Find out whether they have enough time and interest to be real role models, whether their style of teaching would be compatible with the youngster's learning style, and whether they are excited about their work and want to share their skills. Be explicit about the student's abilities and needs and about the potential benefits the mentor might derive from working with the young person.
  • Prepare the youngster for the mentorship. Make sure the youngster understands the purpose of the relationship, its benefits and limitations, and the rights and responsibilities that go along with it. Make sure you understand these things as well.
  • Monitor the mentor relationship. If, after giving the mentorship a fair chance, you feel that the youngster is not identifying with the mentor, that self-esteem and self-confidence are not being fostered, that common goals are not developing, or that expectations on either side are unrealistic, it might be wise to renegotiate the experience with the youngster and the mentor. In extreme cases seek a new mentor.


  • Does the student want a mentor? Or does the student simply want enrichment in the form of exposure to a particular subject or career field?
  • What type of mentor does the student need?
  • Is the student prepared to spend a significant amount of time with the mentor?
  • Does the student understand the purpose, benefits, and limitations of the mentor relationship?

To identify mentor candidates, use your own circle of friends and their contacts, other parents of gifted students, local schools, local universities, businesses and agencies, professional associations, local arts groups, and organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons. State Governors' Schools and magnet high schools for gifted students are also potential sources of information on mentors and mentorship programs.


  • Does the mentor understand and like working with gifted youngsters and adolescents?
  • Is the mentor's teaching style compatible with the student's learning style?
  • Is the mentor willing to be a real role model, sharing the excitement and joy of learning?
  • Is the mentor optimistic, with a "sense of tomorrow"?

Cox and Daniel (1983) and Cox, Daniel, and Boston (1985) have provided useful guidelines for establishing mentor programs.

For more information, contact Gray and Associates, in care of the International Centre for Mentoring, 4042 West 27th Avenue, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6S 1R7. If you want to become a mentor, call your local volunteer coordinating agencies or clearinghouses such as United Way.
One plus one -- Pass it on.

Berger, S. (1989). COLLEGE PLANNING FOR GIFTED STUDENTS. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Boston, B. (1976). THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE: A CASE STUDY IN THE ROLE OF THE MENTOR. Reston, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children/The Council for Exceptional Children.
Boston, B. (1979). The mentor and the education of the gifted and talented. In J. H. Orloff (Ed.), BEYOND AWARENESS: PROVIDING FOR THE GIFTED CHILD, (pp. 36-41). Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Northern Virginia Conference on Gifted/Talented Education, Northern Virginia Council for Gifted/Talented Education, Falls Church, VA.
Cox, J., & Daniel, N. (1983). The role of the mentor. G/C/T, 29, 54-61.
Cox, J., Daniel, N., & Boston, B. (1985). EDUCATING ABLE LEARNERS. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Frederickson, R. H., & Rothney, J. W. M. (1972). RECOGNIZING AND ASSISTING MULTIPOTENTIAL YOUTH. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
James, D. J. (Producer), & Camp, J. (Director). (1989, October 18). MENTORS, A MATCH FOR SUCCESS [film]. Washington, DC.: WETA, Channel 26, Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association.
Kaufmann, F. (1981). The 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars: A follow-up study. EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN, 48, 164-169.
Kaufmann, F. (1988). Mentors provide personal coaching. GIFTED CHILD MONTHLY 9 (1), 1-3.
Kaufmann, F., Harrel, G., Milam, C. P., Woolverton, N., & Miller, J. (1986). The nature, role, and influence of mentors in the lives of gifted adults. JOURNAL OF COUNSELING AND DEVELOPMENT, 64, 576-578.
Kerr, B. (1983, September). Raising the career aspirations of gifted girls. THE VOCATIONAL GUIDANCE QUARTERLY, 32, 37-43.
Kerr, B. (1985). SMART GIRLS, GIFTED WOMEN. Columbus, OH: Ohio Psychology.
McIntosh, M. E., & Greenlaw, M. J. (1990). Fostering the postsecondary aspirations of gifted urban minority students. In S. Berger (Ed.), ERIC FLYER FILES. Reston, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children.
Weinberg, H., (Producer) & Weinberg, H. (Director). (1989, October 18). ONE PLUS ONE [film]. The Public Television Outreach Alliance, Corporation for Public Broadcasting; QED Communications.
Goertzel, M., Goertzel, V., & Goertzel, T. (1978). 300 EMINENT PERSONALITIES. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under Contract No. RI88062007. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.

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