During this time of year, I start to think back to my winter holidays growing up. I remember the anticipation I felt as soon as December started as I looked forward to the end of the semester. Back then, it felt like we had at least a month away from school and my days were spent playing with my cousins and visiting family who lived far away. My parents always got me that perfect gift and we ate far too much food.
At a training a few weeks ago though, I was reminded that some of the students we mentor may not have the same experience I did. Some students celebrate Hanukkah. Other students don’t celebrate any religious holidays. Some students may have never traveled outside of Austin while others may only get a full meal at school.
While this could turn into a sensitive or uncomfortable conversation with your student, it is more likely that this can be another way to get to know your student better. As in all conversations, it is very important not to make assumptions about your student. For many students, mentors provide the only opportunity to express themselves openly and honestly without fear of criticism so it is important that we ask questions when we don’t know the answer.
Try starting your conversations by talking about things you know to be true. You know that your student will not be at school for two weeks. Instead of asking your student “What are you doing for Christmas?” you can say “How will you be spending your time away from school?”
You can also take a minute to consider what you already know about your student.
Has your student talked to you about going to church? What kind of church?
It is okay to talk with your students about your own religious beliefs, but make sure you allow them to discuss their beliefs as well. This should be a time to share new information in order to get to know each other better.
Also, remember that many people celebrate Christmas without necessarily adhering to a particular religious belief. If your student talks about Christmas, you can ask what they do to celebrate to understand the association they have with the holiday.
What do you know about your student’s family? How many brothers and sisters does your student have? Who is their primary guardian? Has there been any significant event that has recently affected their family life – death, deployment, incarceration, etc?
For some people, the holidays are all about big family events and socializing with friends. For others, it is a time to spend quietly at home with your immediate family.
If you know that your student has a significant financial need in their family, take this into consideration before asking them what they asked from Santa Clause.
The goal of mentoring is to be able to develop a friendship with your students. No matter what your age, it takes awhile to really get to know someone and each time you visit your student you are probably learning something new. Take this opportunity over the holidays to ask questions about what your student does outside of school and find out what other interests they may have.
I hope you all have a safe and relaxing holiday!