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The Developmental Mentoring Continuum
© 2003, Barry Sweeny 


A Framework That Illustrates the Sequence of Mentoring Applications Across Age and Career Levels

There are so many applications for mentoring! We use mentoring strategies to guide and assist at-risk youth, newly hired employees, managers, higher education students, all kinds of people in every imaginable walk of life, position, and kind of organization. There are so many applications that we may not see the consistant, simple, sequential flow of mentoring through life and careers.

The Developmental Mentoring Continuum is a framework which was developed to illustrate that sequence of mentoring applications across age and career levels.

The Basic "Unit" within the Developmental Mentoring Continuum is one person who is both:
  • A Protege, learning from a mentor, and...
  • A Mentor, sharing what they know with others.

The adjacent figure illustrates this basic "unit" as the oval labelled "Me".

The M stands for the role the person plays as a Mentor, and the P represents this same person's role as a Protege, when the person works with his/her own mentor. The arrows show how the mentoring relationships of this one person link to other persons.

The Basic Concept

Next, each of those persons' relationships extend to working as a protege and as a mentor with still other persons, repeating the basic unit over and over again. The essential concept behind this is, "Everyone IS a mentor, and is BEING mentored." We are all continually learning and supporting others' learning.  For example, a second year teacher may be working with a mentor a a protege and, at the same time, working informally or as part of a team to support a first year teacher. That first year teacher may see ways to also serve as an informal mentor in supporting a student teacher in the same school.

The Developmental Mentoring Continuum

The Continuum illustrates how each persons' relationships extend to working as a protege and as a mentor with still other persons, repeating the basic unit over and over again. Across this Continuum the content of the dialogue changes depending of the goals, but the mentoring strategies remain the same.

The Continuum shows skill, career and leadership development at an adult level, such as occurs in one’s career, but these goals also are part of earlier youth and student mentoring levels as well.

As one person grows and moves through the Continuum, they may benefit from many separate, unrelated, informal mentoring experiences and formal mentoring programs. Even within one program, the goals of mentoring change, there is overlap in each relationship, and so the same activities are used to serve more than one goal.

How Mentoring Starts & How It Grows

Often, when a new mentoring program starts, it is within one organization and the program focus is on just one or two of these developmental levels, depending on their perception of unmet needs. Eventually, as the organization comes to value what mentoring contributes at those levels, other unmet developmental needs and additional goals may be adopted. Then mentoring is used across the levels of experience in staff and the hierarchy of roles, eventually expanded to build the capacity of all.

Sometimes the mentoring even extends beyond the limits of the organization:

  • Because the PEOPLE want to “give back” the mentoring “gift” that they feel they have received as proteges. An example is an employee who is mentored at work and who decides to tutor a student outside of work time.
  • Because the ORGANIZATION wants to develop those on whom the organization’s future success depends. An example of this is a university education program that assigns Junior Block teacher education students to tutor at-risk students in local area high schools, and to help those seniors see themselves as having the potential to succeed at the university level.

The essential concept behind it all is, "Each person IS a mentor, and is BEING mentored." All are continually learning and supporting others' learning.