Start the School Year Strong with Summit Learning’s Mentoring Feature

This August, Summit Learning introduced the new Mentoring feature on the Summit Learning Platform. The feature allows teachers to schedule 1:1 check-ins with students and supports teachers and students in reflecting on and setting weekly and yearly goals. Just as with Projects and Self-Directed Learning, the Platform serves as a tool that supports the Mentoring component of the Summit Learning approach.

The idea for the Mentoring feature started with a purposeful question — “What are the best mentors doing?” — and was followed by time spent learning from and listening to teachers who use the Summit Learning approach in classrooms across the U.S.

Raising the Bar for All Mentors

Last year, the Summit Learning Research & Development (R&D) team spearheaded a collaborative research effort with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and other experts in the field of education, including Angela Duckworth, to determine what the best mentors at Summit Schools were doing.

It became evident that the quality of a mentor check-in followed a relatively simple formula:



The Summit Learning and CZI teams worked to understand how they could leverage the Platform to help support teachers’ and students’ development of trust, rigor, and personalized support as they establish and build their mentor relationship throughout the year. The result is the new Mentoring feature.

Getting to the finished product, though, would not have been possible without the help of committed volunteer teachers and students at Summit Schools and Summit Learning schools. Their early experiences using the Mentoring feature last spring helped shape the tool that thousands of Summit Learning educators and students are now using to kickstart the 2018-19 school year.

Teachers and Students Rise to the Occasion

For Erin Merwin, a high school English and special education teacher at New Egypt High School, finding ways to increase student autonomy and releasing control had been her biggest challenge with the Summit learning approach in her first year. When she started using the Mentoring feature with her 9th grade students, she found that by guiding them through the “check-in prep” — customized questions that are automatically sent to students prior to check-in to help them prepare — her students were better able to make self-directed academic choices and understand the why behind setting goals.

“Even if they hadn’t written a response in every case, I could tell students had read them because they prepared verbal responses… the tool allowed them to expect and form a routine.” By the end of the year and in part due to the new tool, the students were better able to drive their own learning and prioritize their school work.

And for Erin, the Mentoring feature helped provide order to the previous challenge of scattered notes and Google docs from multiple student check-ins; it also calmed the chaos of students wanting her attention simultaneously. “With the Mentoring feature, it wasn’t a million people running up to my desk at once; students [received] a notification when it was their day… and their ability to leave comments and prepare [ahead of time] helped drive the conversation,” said Erin.

Summit Rainier Teacher Hassaan Ebrahim mentors one of his students

Bridging Students’ Academic and Social-Emotional Needs

The Mentoring feature provides a safe place where all students can “raise a hand” if they want to be heard, especially students who may be more hesitant in speaking up about their academic and social-emotional needs.

“It gave the kids a chance to check in with me and let me know what they were thinking, what they were feeling,” explained Teacher Rebekah West Keur, who last year taught a looped 5th and 6th grade self-contained class at Desert Trails Elementary.

“[The Mentoring feature] gave them a chance to reflect on themselves as learners and individuals, which is very important… I was better able to understand how students perceived their sense of self versus my own perception of them.”

Rebekah found the tool helpful for prioritizing student check-ins, based on how “urgent” a student marked their check-in for the week and the information included in their check-in prep work. 

With one student in particular, Rebekah recalled how the tool helped build a new sense of trust. Academically, this student was on point. She was a largely self-directed learner but quite shy; their mentoring sessions were friendly but sometimes brief. After Rebekah had introduced the Mentoring feature, this student used the tool to reach out about a more personal issue, at which point Rebekah was able to prioritize her check-in.

“I realized by meeting with her [this day] that she’d had a large emotional event that had happened over the weekend, and she really needed someone to listen.” Rather than feel as if her personal emotions were not as important as other students’ academic needs, the Mentoring feature helped provide this student with a sense of confidence and comfort in connecting with her teacher in a way that she hadn’t before.

Starting Strong in the New School Year

The start of a new school year presents the opportunity to build strong mentoring routines. Hassaan Ebrahim, a high school math teacher at Summit Rainier and 12th grade mentor who used the Mentoring feature last spring, gave advice to teachers who are starting to use the tool this year:

“Kids will take after what the teacher sees as important. If you as a teacher feel the pre-work is important… they will see it as important, and the opposite is also true.”

Start strong with these tools and routinely reflect with your students on whether they’re helpful and why.

Jackie O’Connor, who last year taught math at Summit Shasta and was also a 12th grade mentor, suggested prepping students when the tool is still new to help students see the value. “Set aside time, maybe the day before check-ins, for them to intentionally pause and reflect on why they’re using this feature. Help them understand that the feature is not an “extra” step, but a way for them to share their thoughts beforehand so that they can have a proactive conversation toward reaching their goal(s),” she advised.

Mentors can choose a different agenda for the check-in through a drop-down menu

Asking students to reflect is an essential part of the Self-Directed Learning Cycle. Hassaan admitted that before the Mentoring feature, he may not have asked students to intentionally reflect every week on their goals before a mentoring session. But after introducing the Mentoring feature to students, he noticed that they had an increased sense of ownership of their accomplishments and a more positive outlook on future goals. He’s excited to continue building the habit of growth mindset this school year.

While the Mentoring feature provides helpful Agendas for how conversations can be structured throughout the year, Hassaan emphasized the importance of also paying attention to what’s needed in the moment.

“Use the tools in the Platform, like the [Mentoring feature], as a scaffold and guide to conversations, but ultimately trust your human instincts and engage in a natural conversation that fits what your student needs,” said Hassaan. “I should feel empowerment as a teacher to pivot the conversation and just close the computer if need be.”


Continuous improvement is a Summit Learning staple, and we look forward to hearing feedback from teachers as they start using the new tool this year. If you missed our recent webinar on how to use the new Mentoring feature, you can find a link to download the webinar video on our Learning Resources page.

Read more about how one Summit Learning high school teacher strengthened his mentoring relationships, with a bonus mentoring checklist.



About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.