Opportunities to Reconceptualize and Advance Mentoring Practices

By Bryn Harris, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Colorado Denver & Sally Grapin, PhD, Associate Professor, Montclair State University

In their recent article, Grapin et al. (2021) review 16 empirical studies of mentorship in the field of school psychology. In line with previous work (Cobb et al., 2018; Johnson, 2014), the authors define mentorship as “a positive, reciprocal, and proactive relationship in which a less experienced individual receives intentional support (e.g., career and psychosocial support) from a more senior one.” There are multiple empirically supported benefits of mentorship, ranging from guidance on career planning to supports for psychosocial well-being. However, the article also discusses several barriers to mentorship; particularly among individuals with racial, ethnic, sex, and gender minoritized identities.

Grapin and colleagues (2021) identify a number of descriptive themes across the school psychology mentoring literature. While more detail can be found in the manuscript, we have summarized selected themes from the article and provided reflection questions to assist with furthering your own mentorship abilities.

Access and Availability

Key Takeaway: Being accessible (within reason) to your mentees is important for building positive relationships. For mentees, having access to networks of multiple mentors can be beneficial as well.

  • In what ways do you demonstrate availability and accessibility with your mentees?
  • Are the ways in which you demonstrate this availability clear and consistent among mentees?
  • Have you explored and disseminated information about other formal and informal mentorship opportunities?

Structure of Mentoring

Key Takeaway: Mentees can benefit from both formal and informal mentoring experiences. Mentees may have different preferences and needs, so discussing expectations for the mentoring relationship in advance can be helpful.

  • Have you explicitly discussed expectations for the mentoring relationship with your mentees?
  • What type of structure do your mentees desire from your mentoring relationship? How can you work with mentees to ensure they have access to the supports they need?

Supporting Mentees with Minoritized Identities

Key Takeaway: Mentoring occurs within a variety of larger programmatic, institutional, societal, and cultural contexts. Understanding how dynamics of power, privilege and oppression can shape mentoring processes is essential. Proactively disrupting injustice in the context of mentoring relationships is imperative.

  • How might dynamics of social power, privilege, and oppression impact your relationships with your mentees?
  • How might aspects of identity such as sex, gender, race, and ethnicity (and their intersections) impact your interactions?
  • Are you ensuring that your mentees have access to supportive and affirming learning environments?


Key Takeaway: Modeling constructive, just, and ethical behavior can support mentees’ personal and professional development. Mentees may look to their mentors to model behaviors they can replicate in their own careers.

  • In what ways do you model collaborative research skills?
  • In what ways do you model socially just approaches to your professional activities?
  • In what ways do you model self-care and work-life balance?

Personal and Psychosocial Support

Key Takeaway: Mentees may value not only professional support but also personal and psychosocial support in mentoring relationships. These types of supports can facilitate strong, positive relationships that empower mentees.

  • How are you expressing empathy, care, and warmth to your mentees? Do you express these supports differently among mentees, and if so, how?
  • How do you take a personal interest in their lives?
  • How do you ensure that you are conveying encouragement instead of discouragement?

Career Exploration and Decision-Making

Key Takeaway: Mentoring relationships can be powerful facilitators of career exploration and decision-making. Ask your mentees about the types of career supports that would be most helpful to them.

  • How are you supporting your mentees in experimenting with a wide variety of career roles?
  • How are you increasing transparency within areas of career advancement that may be difficult to navigate (e.g., tenure and promotion)?

Collaborative and Reciprocal Partnerships

Key Takeaway: Involve mentees in research and other professional activities in meaningful ways. Providing opportunities for mentees to incorporate or pursue their professional interests through this work may promote engagement.

  • Are you providing meaningful opportunities for collaboration with your mentees?
  • Are these experiences allowing your mentees to substantively engage with the research process and understand it holistically?

Socialization and Networking

Key Takeaway: Mentoring can be a valuable outlet for socializing and orienting mentees to the field as well as building professional networks. Provide support for mentees in building their professional networks and connecting with others who share their interests and career goals.

  • How are you encouraging the creation of collaborative partnerships among your own mentees within their graduate programs and across various professional networks?
  • Are you supporting your mentees in developing and applying networking skills?

What ideas do you have for advancing mentoring relationships? What advice might you give others to improve their own mentorship skills?


Cobb, C., Zamboanga, B., Xie, D., Schwartz, S., Meca, A., & Sanders, G. (2018). From advising to mentoring: Toward proactive mentoring in health service psychology doctoral training programs. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 12(1), 38–45. https://doi.org/10.1037/tep0000187

Grapin, S. L., Collier-Meek, M. A., January, S. A. A., Yang, C., & Portillo, N. L. (2021). Reconceptualizing Mentorship for the 21st Century: A Systematic Mapping of Research in School Psychology. School Psychology Review, 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/2372966X.2021.1910861

Johnson, W. (2014). Mentoring in psychology education and training: A mentoring relationship continuum model. In W. Johnson & N. Kaslow (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of education and training in clinical psychology (pp. 272–290). Oxford University Press.



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