Supporting community action through reflective practice

Learning to bring about change doesn’t need to be lonely or tough. Sometimes it helps to have a fellow traveler to debrief with, to share stories and insights, and to talk through challenges and opportunities. Mentoring is one way this can happen.

Since 1995, the Change Agency team has supported social movements through education and training, facilitation, action research and mentoring. We are committed to creating opportunities for people engaged in social change work to undertake deep reflection about their work. Mentoring can be a powerful aid to learning and development.

Members of our collective are experienced strategists and adult educators with a deep commitment to skill sharing and empowerment. We each bring different strengths and insights to our work as mentors. We’ve each learnt about bringing about social and environmental change the hard way – through ‘having a go’, teaming up with others to attempting the impossible, trying, failing and sometimes succeeding!

Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé).

Bozeman & Feeney, 2007

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Mentoring provides an opportunity to think and reflect in a confidential and supportive environment. It may make sense to review the preceding period, identify challenges, and workshop ways to respond to challenges in the future. If needed, sessions can include skills practice, campaign analysis, interpersonal skills development, role-plays and other activities.

We believe less is more. The most powerful social movement learning tends to be ‘slow’ rather than ‘fast’ and involves reflection, patience, probing and action learning (trial and error). Rather than discussing many topics during a mentoring session, we encourage people to identify just one or two key challenges or opportunities they’re facing.

The mentoring relationship can take many forms. Generally, we negotiate what people would like to discuss, for how long and in what way. Some people prefer a structured and quite formal approach whereas others opt for a casual and free-flowing discussion. Our approach is guided by people’s preferences and instinct.

Mentors can also play the role of a critical friend.

A critical friend can be defined as a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.

Costa & Kallick, 1993

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How does it work?

Mentoring involves an initial session to clarify expectations and how the mentoring relationship will proceed. It works best if a regular time can be established, or dates set in advance so both people can ensure they’re available and focused. Mentoring sessions are for one hour and often occur via Skype, although face-to-face sessions will be scheduled where possible.

The structure of a mentoring session is unique, negotiated between you and your mentor. But there are some elements that make for a successful mentoring session:

  • Initial check-in. How are you going?
  • What’s been happening? A review of activities and developments since the last session.
  • Focus on a current or past difficulty, or upcoming challenge. Talk through the issue. Explore options for how to approach it.
  • Share ideas and resources.
  • What else is of concern or interest? What’s coming up?
  • Summarise key points from the discussion. Check time and date for next session. Check-out and next steps.

The mentor may follow up the session by emailing relevant resources, ideas or feedback.

Preparation often makes the difference between a mediocre and highly successful mentoring session. If both the mentor and the person receiving mentoring are clear about issues that upcoming discussions will focus on, we can reflect deeply, prepare ideas and share useful resources.


To read more about mentoring…

  • Bozeman, B. & Feeney, M. K. (2007). ‘Toward a useful theory of mentoring: A conceptual analysis and critique’ Administrative and Society, 39 (6), pp. 719-739.
  • Aubrey, B. & Cohen, P. (1995) Working Wisdom: Timeless Skills and Vanguard Strategies for Learning Organizations, Jossey Bass.
  • Costa, A. & Kallick, B. (1993), ‘Through the Lens of a Critical Friend’, Educational Leadership, 51( 2), pp. 49-51.