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Asking, Adapting, Achieving: The New Shape of Mentoring at Kairos

For the baseball fans among us, spring training is here. As I eagerly await opening day, I’ve been thinking about the work that goes into building a winning team and culture. Baseball legend Nolan Ryan is quoted as saying “enjoying success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.”

At Kairos Academies, we are constantly asking, adapting, and achieving in response to feedback from our community. This routine reflection and change has been core to our DNA since Kairos’ inception, living in our values of Excellence and Agency–and is among our families’ favorite things about Kairos.

“It’s been refreshing to see a school that’s willing and able to change and evolve to fit the needs of its students…” -The Schipkowski’s

Likewise, our community is deeply invested in our one-on-one mentoring program. While the shape of mentoring adapts each year, teachers like Li Mellon and students like Grace, a sophomore, are quick to point out: mentoring makes the Kairos experience special. It’s through their stories that I’d like to share an update on mentoring and how we’ve adapted and achieved better results this school year.

Li stands above a smiling student and look at her computer screen together

“Mentoring is something that really makes Kairos unique from any other school because it gives every student an individual, dedicated person who is there for them,” said Li. “In my four years working at Kairos, it’s the one thing that has brought me back every year because it’s the best part of my job. I have these kids that I met as sixth graders–now they’re in ninth grade–and I’ve literally gotten to watch them grow up before my eyes.”

Grace agrees, “My coach is Nilesh, and he’s always been a steady rock for me at Kairos. The check-ins help me stay grounded and it really helps to know that there’s someone in a teaching staff position that knows me and will be on my side. As a school, we have one of the best, most stable and welcoming student/teacher communities–and I think that’s definitely due to the mentors.”

Nilesh and Grace sit side-by-side to compare work

Of course as students grow and mature, as they get to know their mentors better, the relationship changes and so does the feedback. Li explains when his students were in middle school, mentoring was about “‘here are the assignments we need to do, here’s how we do the work. Let’s break the work down, let’s do it together’–a lot more hand over hand, more intense coaching.” Grace continues, “as a high schooler now, I have less check-ins and there’s more trust between me and my coach. We talk about more important strategies overall instead of just, like, a weekly surface plan–looking at the overall problem and breaking it down into small pieces.”

As our school has grown, we’ve asked families–and they’ve been very candid–the experience has been inconsistent. So we looked at our data, we looked at the pieces of the puzzle we could control, and we launched mentoring advisories this school year. 

For teachers like Li, the benefits of the switch have been obvious. “Every morning we get to start off with our kids. They get to see their mentor, we get to do a check-in and set the tone for the day. For me it’s been really nice to have that touchpoint that’s guaranteed everyday. It gives us time to ensure we’re very aligned on what the priorities are for each day, for each week, for each cycle–so that everyone is connected: students, their parents, and me as their coach.”

When students aren’t meeting one-on-one, they’re using advisory periods as a self-directed time to ask for and receive extra help, plan their priorities, and make progress on their assignments. Grace finds the time helpful and productive: “It’s nice to have access to a teacher right there, first thing in the morning before we start classes–so there’s no chance that any of my work could be late.”

Li sits down with a Kairos family in the school cafeteria

Mentoring at Kairos isn’t just about building strong relationships with students though, it’s about connecting with our families and empowering them to advocate for their kids’ futures. “The best thing that I love to see most as a mentor,” Li says, “is when I hear back from parents. So I tell them: if you have a question, you have a concern, something I can help you with–text me, call me, email me. It’s been a really cool way for all of the most important stakeholders in each student’s life to come together and really understand what’s going on and what’s important–so we can all own that together.”

Since we’ve introduced our new advisory format to Kairos mentoring, we’re excited to see real improvements in the consistency of our results. That guaranteed daily facetime is driving the number of students who are setting their own weekly academic goals up from 30% to over 60%. And the number of students receiving one or more check-ins per week has exploded from 60% to nearly 90%.

The importance of our mentoring program and the relationships it fosters, can’t be overstated. Li describes it best: “It seems kind of crazy that a student is randomly assigned to you, but over the course of time, those kids become my kids. When they were in seventh grade, they had their school pictures taken–I actually keep their pictures in my wallet because it’s a reminder of where they’ve been. I love seeing them–they’re the most important thing to me.”


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