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Creating an inclusive environment is an important first step in helping students with disabilities to feel welcome within the activity of speech and debate; however, it is not the only step that coaches can take. The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition notes that mentoring can help individuals with disabilities to succeed academically, learn how to accept support while taking responsibility, communicate effectively, and develop social skills (Sword, et al., 2002). Mentoring can increase the sense of community within a team. Research has also shown that it can benefit both the mentees and the mentors (Rhodes, et al., 2000). This module will outline strategies and practices that coaches can consider to shape an environment that fosters mentoring. 

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Sword, C. & Hill, K. (December 2002). Creating mentoring opportunities for youth with disabilities: Issues and suggested strategies. National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.  

Rhodes, J. E., Grossman, J. B., & Resch, N. L. (2000). “Agents of change: Pathways through which mentoring relationships influence adolescents’ academic adjustment.” Child Development, 71, 1662-1671.

From a Coach Perspective 

Having a trusted adult can have an immense impact on a student’s engagement and sense of belonging. Coaches have a unique opportunity to act as a mentor within the activity of speech and debate. These relationships are important for all students but can especially benefit those who are facing social or structural barriers. In her speech The Anatomy of Trust, Brene Brown explains that trust is built in small, consistent acts that add up, like adding marbles to a jar. In a similar way, coaches and educators can develop a mentorship with students through thoughtful, consistent acts. While there is no set template for developing relationships, the following are some steps that coaches and educators can take when building a healthy mentorship with students: 

Reach out

What may seem like the most obvious step to mentoring can be easily overlooked. To build a mentoring relationship, coaches should reach out to students on a consistent basis. As the season picks up, it can become easy to overlook students or to forget to reach out. One strategy to try is to build a schedule for checking in. Coaches can add a reminder to their calendars or write down a list of students that they are making a point to check in with and to mark up the list each time they reach out. These visual reminders can help coaches to make reaching out a consistent practice. Taking the time to check in helps to establish a line of communication and can help coaches to see where the student may need additional support. 

You can find out more about the benefits of connecting with students in this Rostrum article from Dave Stuart Jr.

Exhibit interest

Coaches can build trust by demonstrating a genuine interest in how a student is doing. For some programs, this may come naturally as coaches interact with students on a regular basis and have lots of opportunities to learn about their students. In situations where teams are larger or meet less frequently, coaches may find it helpful to create a running list of items they want to follow up on. Checking in about how a round went after a student expressed that they were nervous or taking the time to ask a student how their day is going and then listening to the answer can go a long way in establishing a positive relationship. 

Include and empower

Coaches can play an important role in helping a student feel included on the team. Small gestures that show a student their voice matters can make a monumental difference in the sense of belonging that a student feels. Coaches can help to empower their students by trying to make sure the voices of all of their students are represented during team discussions and helping to amplify voices that may be left out. 

Demonstrate respect

Respect is the core foundation to any healthy relationship and treating students of all ability levels with dignity and respect should be one of the highest priorities for any coach. Coaches and educators should be aware that the level of respect they demonstrate will often have a direct impact on how students feel but will also set the tone for the level of respect that is expected in other interactions between teammates.

Set boundaries

Having and enforcing clear boundaries is important to establishing a positive and healthy relationship and can help stop coaches from experiencing burnout. Because consistency is such an important pillar of building trust, it is critical that coaches set up a dynamic with students that they will be able to continue for the duration that student is on the team. 

Brown, B. (2015). The Anatomy of Trust. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA’s Royce Hall. 

The developmental relationships framework. (2019, September 6). Search Institute.