Mentor tools and Tips

March Mentor Tip (2021)

The Magic Ratio, 5 to 1

During the 1970s Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson conducted a longitudinal study on happy and unhappy marriages. They ultimately found what they called the “magic ratio” based on the number of positive interactions vs. negative interactions. The couples who had a 5:1 positive to negative ratio maintained a happier healthy marriage. Those with a of 1:1 or worse ratio generally had an unhappy relationship and teetered on the edge of divorce.

Okay, so how does this relate to mentorship?

Simply put, this is a relational best practice that goes far beyond the scope of marriage. It is a practice that can encourage and empower anyone. Check out this testimony from a mother who had attended a conference in which the keynote speaker explained the Gottman magic ratio.

“All I could think about was my ‘team’ at home: my family. I had tears in my eyes as she spoke because I realized in a flash that I was at about 1:1 with my oldest [18 year old] son. We had settled into a dynamic that was all about my focusing on what he hadn’t done right instead of what he had done right… I wanted to grab my books and drive home right away… I envisioned starting conversation with genuine praise and something lighthearted, followed [by my constructive encouragement]. He’s about twenty now, and the relationship is better than ever. The positivity ratio turned it around.” (“Flourish” by Dr. Seligman, pg 67)

How does this practically translate to Mentorship?

Now more than ever, our teens need the magic ratio from their mentors! We are coming up on the one year anniversary of our country shutting down due to the pandemic. It has been a roller coaster ride on the adolescent identity. They have faced political tension, racial strife, isolation, and more. This is a time when mentors need to sow the seeds of positive reinforcement that bring about hope.

As a blueprint for creating the magic ratio, go back to the blog and figure out how to translate some of the suggested approaches to mentorship: be interested, demonstrate they matter, show intentional appreciation, find opportunities for agreement, empathize & apologize, make jokes. Then ground your approach in the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22).

My prayers go your way as you bring hope, belief and encouragement,


February Mentor Tip (2021)

Changing the Narrative
Since the beginning of the pandemic, our world has been hit with one negative punch after the other. These blows have been extremely heavy on our younger generations, but there is good news. Research tells us that we can make a difference. As a 1:5 mentor, you have the ability to listen and discuss the bad experiences. This action actually helps move the needle from negative to positive.

“While a negative experience triggers a stronger immediate emotional reaction than a positive experience, negative emotions actually fade faster than positive ones do in most people. Repeated experiments with people who’ve undergone negative experiences prove this. They come into the lab and describe how they feel about recent events, and later return to recall those same events. By then, their feelings have diminished, but the negative ones fade faster than the positive ones, especially among those who’ve repeatedly discussed the bad experience with others. Since the initial threat is over, they’re prone to recognize the positive recovery has taken place. In short, the more you talk about your problems, the more perspective you can gain to ease your anxieties.” (by John Tierney)

Five Ingredients to Helping a Student Recover and Build a Positive Narrative (by Tim Elmore)

1. Empathize with their experience.
When we begin by acknowledging students’ circumstances, empathizing with their unique hardships, we position them to look ahead. They don’t feel they’re alone or need to play the victim card. You become an understanding advocate, enabling them to pursue their goals.

2. Expect them to rise above it.
Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson’s study showed that student performance reflects the expectations of their adult leaders. When we demonstrate higher expectations, students improve academically. In this way, leaders can positively influence student response to the pandemic.

3. Believe they can thrive afterward.
Expectations alone are incomplete in empowering students to rise above survival mode. I know kids who spiral downward when expectations come across too harsh. We must add the element of belief—demonstrating we not only expect a lot, we believe they can actually pull it off.

4. Encourage an intentional narrative.
Students will emerge from 2020 with a story they tell themselves about who they are: loser, penalized, victim, or a person who can take a disadvantage and transform it into an advantage. We must enable them to find the silver lining in the dark clouds and tell a story of grit.

5. Provide them with a metaphor to frame it.
Finally, most students need a metaphor or image to frame their identity. We think in images, and pictures are worth a thousand words. For example, when winds blow, we can either be a candle that’s extinguished or a brushfire that’s extended. One goes out, one gets bigger.

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-13)


December Mentor Tips (2020)

As mentors, we need to remind our students of their worth! Take a moment to read about a major problem facing our youth and how we can help make a positive change.

The Problem of Anxiety, Stress and Depression:
“Research shows that adolescents depend on their friendships to maintain a sense of self-worth and to manage anxiety and depression.” (Without the social connections provided through school, many of our teens are suffering dearly from anxiety and depression that often goes unseen. Mentors need to be those people who ask, “How are you?”)

“Teenagers said the opportunity to confide in their teachers and school counselors has been essential, particularly because their parents might be more likely to dismiss mental health symptoms as standard adolescent mood swings.” (Thank God for loving teachers and counselors who work as a safety net beneath the tightrope of a pandemic. Mentors need to be a part of the safety net. Not only do teens, and their parents, need this added support, but teens benefit from the diverse support.)

“Teens in Covid Isolation: ‘I Felt Like I Was Suffocating’”, NY Times article (Oct 23, 2020)

Learning from Past Traumatic Experiences:
Developmental psychologist, Emmy Werner, conducted research on childhood resilience in post World War II Europe. Her research revealed four major takeaways for the positive development of these children.

  1. Loving Caregivers: Caring adults who offered their support were game changers for adolescent development. Whether it was a teacher, aunt, coach, neighbor, etc., these trusted adults were a source of needed guidance and strength.

  2. Calm Leadership: If primary adults in a child’s life remained calm, they felt reassured. In contrast, when the primary adults were constantly upset, the child developed feelings of instability.

  3. Higher Calling: Adult leaders who embraced the faith of a “higher calling” were able to better guide kids into a more resilient response after calamity.

  4. Limited Amount of Exposure: Children exposed to more hours of calamity fared worse. In the modern era, this means helping students balance their exposure to the negativity of the media.

“The Pandemic Population: 8 strategies to help Gen Z rediscover hope after Coronavirus”, by Tim Elmore (copyright 2020, pg 29-30)

Now, more than ever, mentors need to be actively engaged. Whether or not your 1:5 student wishes to engage in deep conversations, it is essential that they are reminded of their value. Having a trusted adult check in and ask how they are doing, can mean the world. Take the time to reach out.

Don’t delay, send a message right now.
Or at least set a reminder to reach out this week!

“the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.” (Luke 2:40)

George Ratchford
Spiritual Life Director
(818) 767-8382 ext. 203


April Mentor Training & Tips

What are mentors to do During COVID-19?

During this unprecedented and difficult times, while facing our own questions and struggles, mentors can have a hugely positive impact on those who look to you. Here are a few ways:

Reach Out

For starters, send a message/call just to let your student know you are thinking about them.
Ask how they are doing?

Then... continue the conversation

Ask if they like or dislike online classes?
What has been the best and most difficult part of being at home?
What shows or movies have been watching?
How can you be praying for them?

GREAT resource article, "Naming Loss and Gratitude with Young People"

Daily Devotion

As a mentor, would you like to receive the same Daily Devotion going to your student during this Safer at Home time? If so, email and requested to be added to the list. This could be a great way to connect


Past Tips:

March Mentor Training & Tips

If you’re new to 1:5 Circles of Care, we want to welcome you and thank you for being a mentor to the younger generations. Not only does research show the effectiveness of positive adult influence on adolescent’s development, but it is a God-deposited goodness within us all. Having people who are there for us, believe in us and speak into our lives is irreplaceable. It is an age old relationship of wisdom being passed down to youth. It is Jesus to the disciples, Maya Angelou to Oprah Winfrey, or Dumbledore to Harry Potter.

What is 1:5 Circles of Care? It is a VCS program intended to develop quality mentorship as we educate our students and train our mentors. Once per month, you will receive a notification “Mentor Training & Tips”. This notification serves as a reminder and encouragement to connect with your mentee, as well as, giving you practical tips on how to connect.

Since many of you are new this month, we want to share some of the “basics” to get you started.

  • Text Message – set a calendar reminder for once a week or month and send an encouraging note, quote or scripture verse.

  • Eating Together – food is a good medium to hang out. Set up a breakfast, lunch or dinner outing. Rotate places to visit. Make it an adventure to explore new locations.

  • Play – mentoring is not all about talking, one great way to bond is through play. Play frisbee golf, throw the football, go to the batting cage, bring a deck of cards, etc.

  • Do a project or task – invite them along for a quick shopping trip to pick something up. Or have them help with a project you’re working on around the house.

  • Go to a movie – look for a fun, upcoming movie and find time to watch it together. Use the car ride, or post-movie ice cream to discuss the major themes of the movie.

  • Dessert outing – go out for a quick ice cream or cupcake.

  • Write a Letter – go old school and write them a letter. This can give a different medium for discussion that has a natural time break due to postal delivery.

  • Hiking adventure – get out into nature and go for a hike.

  • Teach them a Life Skill – what might you be able to teach the student? Consider the life skills you might be able to impart: checking the oil, doing laundry, hammering a nail, playing golf, dealing with conflict, grocery shopping, etc.

Make sure to make it regular. Plan out your calendar and set reminders.

Will you meet once a month? Will it be the same activity or mix it up?

If you text them, will it be once a month, week, or day?


December Mentor Training & Tips

"REMINDERS & the power of Joy"

One of my most beloved mentors takes the time every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter to send me a text message. The content of his message may vary slightly, but the central message is that he loves and appreciates me. I can not overemphasize how much of an impact that message can be on my life and well-being. It reminds me that I am known, loved and believed in. It is also a clear reminder that this mentor is always there for me irregardless of when we last spoke. Might I suggest that we, as mentors, adopt this action for Christmas and/or New Years. Set a reminder on your phone right now. Yes, at this very moment. If not, and you’re like me, you will inevitably forget. (I’m actually pausing my typing to set a reminder on my phone… Okay, I’m finished!)

"Nurturing Joy in Youth During the Holidays"
By clicking the title above, you will be directed to a short, practical and very thought provoking article on bringing joy to youth during the holidays. The adolescent journey is a time of unprecedented change (mentally, emotionally, hormonally, and relationally); however, research shows that Joy can positively affect an adolescent’s emotional and physical well-being. This article gives three “Joy Activators” that we, as mentors, can use to help ground our students. And the author believes that the holiday season is a perfect time to do so as it is a break in the regular rhythms of life.

My prayer is that these “Joy Activators” might be coupled with the hopeful joy of Jesus shining as a light in the darkness, and that it may bring about a pure sense of joy. Amen

October/November Mentor Training & Tips

"How to hang out & start a conversation"

How to hang out?
There is no “one size fits all” activity that works for all situations. Whether you decide to grab a meal together, attend a sporting event, go hiking, grocery shopping, work on the car, etc., the point is to be with your student in an active setting that allows the sharing of insights, observations, or in certain cases, not saying anything at all, just being.

“Most of the time what’s done together is an activity that would be done anyway, yet with the students there.” Try to make this statement true as you realize that mentoring does not have to be a lot of added work, but rather, including students into the normal. If you have a project around the house, ask for their help. If you’re a runner, ask them to join. If you’re running errands, bring them along. Attempt to merge your life and passions with the life and passions of the student whom you are mentoring.

How to start a conversation?
Here are some situational tips to help you get started with conversations. Try some of them out as you discovers what works best for you. Get in the habit of preparing several questions prior to each hangout.

  • As you’re driving together, ask their opinion: “Why do you think people are in such a hurry? Why do you think people get road rage? What kind of driver are you, or will you be?”

  • When you’re in the store: “Do you think people buy too much stuff? What kind of store would you open? What product would you invest in?

  • When you hear a song on the radio: “What does this song mean to you? Should songs be more about fun or truth? Is that really how relationships work?”

  • When you go to a movie together: “What values were promoted in the movie? Or, what was the main point? Was the hero really a good person? What was the most evil moment?”

  • When you’re eating together: “What do you think makes a person healthy? If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

  • Try asking general questions such as: “What do you like/dislike about school this year? Anything new in the relationship world? Tell me a fun story about your childhood, i.e. what you were into? Do you think it matters what a person believes? Can belief affect a person’s career, family, friends, hobbies, etc.?”

Our prayer is that Christ is able to work in and through these mentor relationships. May real change happen; changes that positively affect the course each student’s life for the better. Amen

September Mentor Training & Tips

“The Power of Love”

(No, not the Huey Lewis song from Back to the Future; though it should be listened to right now) Recent cognitive research has revealed a close connection between emotions and reasoning. In other words, if a person wishes to convey the logic of right reasoning vs. wrong reasoning to another, i.e. a mentor relationship, it is better for that person to use emotional connection rather than going straight to cold-hard-logic. A powerful launching point for building positive, emotional trust is vulnerability.
“Children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person… Extreme negative emotions, like fear, can have a devastating effect on a student’s ability to learn. Fear amps up threat perception and aggression. It can also subsequently make it hard for children to understand causal relationships, or to change their mind as context changes.”

Practical Application:

Be reasonable when it comes to vulnerability. Remember that this is not peer-to-peer sharing. It is an adult to adolescent relationship. Having said that, it is good for mentors to practice openness which leads to trust. Pick a struggle, doubt, fear, or anxiety you have in your life and share that as a prayer request with your 1:5 student. This action invites them to minister to and care for you. It shows that their voice matters in your life, and in so doing, will lead to trust and the opportunity to speak wisdom into their life.


“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Training: “The Power of an Empathetic Mentor”:

As mentors, we must be careful that we do not become fixers. All to often it is in our nature to paint silver linings around the struggles of others. Brene Brown does a great job of describing the difference between empathy & sympathy, and warns against becoming “at least” people in this short VIDEO.

Practical Application:

Being empathetic begins with discovery. It is about understanding the person and their current state of emotion.

  • If they are in a truly joyous place, celebrate with them.
  • If they are in a place of confusion or struggle, ask more questions and listen.

Sharing advice from our past experiences and giving hope by showing the “light at the end of the tunnel” is a good thing; however, we must never forget to share the reality of the struggle, difficulty, depression, etc. that exists in the darkness of the tunnel. Being empathetic means not assuming a person can magically skip to the light at the end of the tunnel. Being empathetic recognizes that the journey is fraught with thorns, while saying to that person, “I am with you”.

(For a personal story of empathy from a parent perspective, check out this Blog/Article.)

Lord, grant that I may seek rather
to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand, than to be understood;
to love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

  • St. Francis of Assisi

The Power in a Note of Gratitude

Click Here to read more about the research behind the power of an encouraging note. Then, before moving on to your next task, write a note to your student and send it via text, letter or email. Don’t let the moment pass as it may be exactly what he/she needs.

Involvement, Sharing-Faith & Openness

In the Spring of 2016 we partnered with Fuller Thrive Center to conduct a survey of over 350 VCS high school students. Using the Positive Youth Development (PYD) score we were able to determine to key findings that are essential for mentors:

  1. Students scored higher on the PYD Confidence scale when they had a mentor regularly involved in their life.

  2. Students scored higher on the PYD Connection scale when their mentors where highly involved, shared their faith, and approached the mentoring relationship with openness.

In other words, our research has shown that being regularly involved in a student’s life, taking time to share your faith, and having an openness to what they are dealing with increases a student’s ability to be socially Connected and live with Confidence.

Practical Application:

  • Involvement (small ways and Big Ways): As mentioned earlier, sending notes of encouragement and love can be a powerful gesture. It reminds a person that they are know and someone believes in them. A bigger step is to show up at his/her game, performance, or show. Maybe set up a time to take them to a movie or grab some ice cream.

  • Share-Faith. Adolescents do not like to be “preached” at, but they want to talk about faith and real life. Make sure to ask good questions, share about Jesus, and talk through ways to live a better life.

  • Openness: Students consistently reported an aversion to mentors who were not open to their questions and real life challenges. Be a mentor that listens carefully. Try to look at what they are saying from their perspective, and then, with empathy, responds in love.

Bonus: (Try this during a car ride to break the ice.)

20 Questions is a classic game that has been played for ages. To play 20 Questions, one person thinks of an object and the others playing can ask 20 questions (typically with only a Yes or No response) in an effort to guess what it is.

Our prayer is that Christ is able to work in and through these mentor relationships. May real change happen; change that positively affects the course of each student’s life for the better.


"Mentoring Youth Matters"

Check out this excerpt from the above article: “A five year study sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada shows that children with mentors were more confident and had fewer behavioral problems. Girls in the study were four times less likely to become bullies than those without a mentor and boys were two times less likely. In general, young people showed increased belief in their abilities to succeed in school and felt less anxiety related to peer pressure.”

From a biblical perspective, this study exemplifies the wisdom found in Proverbs 22:6, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

For a practical response, and with Spring Break is right around the corner, use this opportunity to hang out with your 1:5 student. Here are some ideas:

  1. Go to a movie, baseball game, or to the mall,
  2. Bring your student along on an errand run to maximize your time,
  3. Invite them to Sunday Easter Service,
  4. If you’re far away, FaceTime them or send them an encouraging Easter Card.

If you have a student on the Mexicali Mission Trip, Click Here to sign up as a Mexicali Prayer Partner.

Video Tip: “Don’t be a Helicopter” Click Here for a quick video.

  • Mentorship is not meant to be mistake-free as life can not be mistake-free. As mentors, our job is to help students try, fail, learn and try again. Watch the above video and soak it up.

Bonus: The Zombie Apocalypse Game

DISCLAIMER: Know your audience! Some people will dive into an odd game like this while others could care less.

How to play this game?
Here is an example, but know that the scenario can be easily modified. Let’s say I’m hanging out with one of my 1:5 mentees. I simply bring up a scenario by saying something like, “Okay, we’re in Old Town Pasadena and a Zombie Apocalypse breaks out in Downtown L.A. These are the slow, “Walking Dead” type of zombies. So, where do we go? What do we grab to take with us? Who do we bring along?” And then let the conversation be free flowing.

Why play this game? - Let me give you three reasons: (1) Playing fun, and sometimes silly games can be a great way to bond. (2) A game such as this allows you to work together as a team, which helps to build trust. (3) It can be very insightful in discovering what and who matters most to a person.

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