The Importance of: A curriculum

Youth mentoring programmes are popular around the world as prevention and intervention programmes. However, evaluation of such programmes has repeatedly found that positive effects are often small in magnitude (DuBois et al., 2011).

Why such small effects?

It’s time to move towards more supervised, structured and targeted mentoring programmes.

Lyons, McQullin and Henderson (2018) recently analysed data from over 1300 mentor-mentee pairs to assess the reasons behind such small effects. They particularly looked at how both instrumental (focusing on goal directed activity) and relational/developmental (focusing on emotional bond between mentor and mentee) models of mentoring influence sought for positive outcomes.

They found that unlike relational activities alone, instrumental activities which are goal- and feedback- oriented were associated with moderate-to-large effects on such outcomes. When they combined these with stronger relationship quality, effects were even larger, suggesting what the researchers call a “sweet spot” of mentoring.

Therefore, Lyons et al. (2018) conclude that many programmes do not achieve the level of instrumental activity necessary to produce large effects and suggest that programmes should focus on such structured goal-oriented activities.

Similarly, in an article published in The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring in July 2018, Jean Rhodes suggests that it is time for researchers and practitioners to consider the data and stop holding on to the idea that healing emotional attachments are the only important ingredient in mentoring. “Despite data to the contrary,” she says, “this misplaced emphasis on the friendship model alone is reinforced in most mentoring organisations.” Citing evidence from across over 40 years, she explains the need to move away from unspecified mentoring towards more supervised, structured and targeted mentoring.

The Citywise curriculum

Our sessions are structured around a set curriculum which guides mentees across seven key areas.

As a result of calls such as these, echoed in the literature, we at Citywise subscribe to a model of mentoring with a targeted character-focused curriculum. We train our mentors in developing high quality relationships with their mentees and believe in the importance of such personal connections. However, our sessions are structured around a set curriculum. This guides mentees across seven key areas: self-knowledge, a growth mindset, goal-setting, resilience, self-control, good judgement and fairness. These are all goal-focused and help mentees develop specific skills. For example, activities focus on identifying strengths, reframing failure, setting and fulfilling goals, identifying emotional triggers, creating support networks, developing techniques to manage anger and stress and support willpower, and take perspectives in difficult decisions. Combined with our focus on 1:1 relationships, this instrumental mentoring is vital for our programme to be successful.


DuBois, D. L., Portillo, N., Rhodes, J. E., Silverthorn, N., & Valentine, J. C. (2011). How Effective Are Mentoring Programs for Youth? A Systematic Assessment of the Evidence. Public Interest12(2), 57-91. 

Lyons, M. D., McQullin, S. D., & Henderson, L. J. (2018). Finding the Sweet Spot: Investigating the Effects of Relationship Closeness and Instrumental Activities in School-based Mentoring. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1–11.

Rhodes, J. (2018). Shoulda. coulda. woulda: What listening to Joe Durlak might have done. The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring.

Making the case for paraprofessional mentoring …40 years ago