by Francis Perez

Last August 12, the Universitas Mentoring Program (UMP) was launched through talks and workshops given by Mr. James Lactao, MA, RGC. The speaker, who is currently the Vice Director of the Center for Student Affairs of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), gave the participants an introduction to mentoring, which covered topics such as the etymology and concept of mentoring, as well as the relevant perspectives in mentoring. He also gave a skills development workshop on paraphrasing, summarizing and reflecting, which the mentors of Universitas would need to acquire in learning how to listen to, strike up conversations and build chemistry with their mentees.

Mr. Lactao, currently a Ph.D. candidate major in Educational Psychology at the University of the Philippines, earned both his Bachelor of Science, major in Chemistry, in 1999, and his Master of Arts in Education, major in Guidance, in 2011, from UP. He has been a teacher and mentor for almost two decades, and has been conducting mentor training programs for teachers, NGO personnel and medical doctors since 2015. Mr. Lactao used to head the Office of Student Mentoring, Guidance and Counseling in UA&P and was the first Head of the Student Mentoring Desk in the same school.

The whole-day program was divided into four parts: Introduction to Mentoring, Universitas Mentoring Framework, Mentoring Skills: A Workshop, and Mentees’ Orientation. The introduction and workshop were given by Mr. Lactao, while Atty. Angela Butalid, Project Manager of the UMP, discussed the framework of the program and gave a short orientation to the mentees. The mentees are composed of people who participate regularly in the activities of the Foundation and are under the Universitas Fellows Program (UFP).

The Core Elements

After he was introduced to the participants by Atty. Butalid, Mr. Lactao began his introductory talk by reflecting on the etymological definition of the word “mentor”, which comes from the name of Telemachus’ adviser in Homer’s Odyssey. Afterwards, he discussed how mentoring takes shape in the context of a mentoring program; thus, he drew the distinction between formal mentoring and informal mentoring. 

He then talked about the elements of what it means to be a mentor. Mr. Lactao stated that the mentor is “someone with greater experience or wisdom than the mentee.” He further mentioned that in the mentor-mentee relationship, the mentor learns from the mentee as well, and this by no means lessens the greater experience or wisdom that the mentor has. 

Mr. Lactao then continued saying that the “mentor offers guidance or instruction that is intended to facilitate the growth and development of the mentee.” On this point, he mentioned that there are instances in which mentors end up “ordering” the mentee. This, according to Mr. Lactao, is not how mentoring should be done.

In offering guidance to the mentee, the mentor needs to re-visit the real motive behind his or her desire to become a mentor – that is, to offer help. Coaching, counseling and mentoring must aim to give guidance to the mentee. Sooner or later, this process of offering guidance will hopefully develop into a helping relationship. The growth of the mentee becomes a concern both of the mentee and the mentor. Thus, the mentor, without being too demanding, will try his best to make the mentee understand the good that lies in giving what is asked of him.

The participants gather in groups of three during one of the workshops

The speaker, then, mentioned that “there is an emotional bond between the mentor and the mentee, a hallmark of which is a sense of trust.” Hence, the relationship between the two becomes one of friendship. Mr. Lactao, however, noted that the mentor-mentee friendship is special in the sense that it is different from one’s friendship with one’s peers, and from relationships which are professional by nature.

In relation to this, the mentor cannot expect the full trust of the mentee instantaneously. Rather, the mentor must have patience and wait until the mentee is ready to open up about matters that are personal to him or her. For this reason, the role of the mentor is to earn the trust of the mentee, which is most easily gained if their relationship is marked by sincerity and confidence. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that the goal of the mentor is to make his mentee a “carbon copy” of himself but, as Mr. Lactao explained, the “mentor should allow the mentee to grow as his own individual.”

Relating this mentor-mentee relationship to the concept of youth mentoring, Mr. Lactao quoted the following statement by Rhodes (2002): “Over the course of their time together, the mentor and protégé often develop a special bond of mutual commitment, respect, identification and loyalty which facilitates the youth’s transition to adulthood.” 

Mr. Lactao continued by sharing insights he has gathered from different resources over the past several years, such as a description of the mentoring program which he encountered at the University of Washington, which says that “a mentor is more than an adviser. A mentor provides you with wisdom, technical knowledge, assistance, support, empathy, and respect throughout, and often beyond, your graduate career. Mentoring helps students understand how their ambitions fit into graduate education, department life, and career choices.”

The speaker then highlighted the qualities of a good mentor which include, among others, having knowledge of himself, and being able to exude warmth when he is dealing with other people. It is interesting to note that the latter was based on a finding by Mr. Lactao in the course of his research on the Filipino concept of shared identity in a mentoring relationship.

UMP participants share a moment of laughter during one of the activities

Mr. Lactao named some of the known formal mentoring programs in Metro Manila which are school-based, such as the ones found in PAREF Schools, UP College of Medicine, Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, and the University of Santo Tomas. 

Finally, Mr. Lactao noted that mentoring also involves giving support for the psychological needs of the mentee, especially for those who are in schools. He finished his introductory session by showing a video called “The Marshmallow Test”, which points out the need to help students (who are under mentoring) to learn how to have self-dominion.

Universitas Mentoring Framework

After Mr. Lactao’s talk, Atty. Butalid explained that the goal of the UMP was to get the applicant-mentee well-acquainted with the Foundation’s values, and to lead them to live out such values in their personal lives with the guidance of a mentor.

She continued by explaining the value of mentoring in society, stating that “mentoring is not simply prescribing behavior, but experiencing the mentor’s personality, which then facilitates the improvement.” Atty. Butalid also explained that the mentoring program is a gender-specific, one-on-one session of a male mentor with a male mentee, and a female mentor with a female mentee.

Atty. Angela Butalid explains the goal and framework of UMP

“The expected result of this mentoring program is for the mentees to think and to reflect more on their experiences,” she continued, saying that these results will lead the mentees to use what they’ve learned in order to become better citizens.

After explaining the framework, which consists of providing a “map for the journey, for both mentee and mentor,” Atty. Butalid proceeded to explain the area of topics to be covered by the mentor – virtues in general, sanctification of work, character, plan of life, culture and competence, friendship, and love and intimacy. She finished by briefly explaining that the mentoring program falls under the Universitas Fellows Program, where she likewise discussed the process of application and the requirements.

The Art of Listening

After the participants of the UMP had their lunch, Mr. Lactao began his second talk on “The Art of Listening” which included a game, workshop and video presentation. He emphasized over and over again the importance of listening more than hearing, quoting that “most people can hear words, but not everyone takes time to listen.”

The speaker, then, proceeded with a game where the participants were asked to answer a body language quiz – pictures of persons conveying different emotions were shown, while the participants had to choose the correct emotion being conveyed among the options provided. Although the game was cut short due to technical difficulties, the participants played with enthusiasm.

The speaker used this game to highlight that “in listening, we make sense of what we hear, … [which] includes reflecting, assessing and responding to what we hear. It is an active process.”

Some of the participants pose for a photo during their lunch break

Mr. Lactao, then, showed the participants a recording of a TED talk by Julian Treasure called “5 ways to Listen Better.” Treasure explained that we are losing our capacity to listen because of recording (writing, audio, and video), and also because the world is now so noisy that it is just “hard to listen; it’s tiring to listen … We’re becoming impatient.”

After this, the speaker talked about the things to keep in mind while listening, such as to avoid interrupting the speaker while talking, to pay attention to what is not said, to suspend one’s judgment, to listen to one’s guts and to watch out for contradicting statements.

He also mentioned some micro-skills that we have to develop as mentors: to have an attentive disposition, to learn how to paraphrase and summarize, and to learn how to ask questions properly. He proceeded by giving certain examples of how mentors should paraphrase and summarize; and, he also drew the distinction between closed and open-ended questions.

At the end of the session, Mr. Lactao conducted an activity where, in groups of three, each group had to do a role-play with each of its members playing the roles of mentor, mentee and observer.

The launch of the UMP was successfully concluded leaving the participants and the organizing staff with much hope and excitement about the journey that lies ahead of them through the foundation’s mentoring program.

The participants of UMP and officers of Universitas pose with Mr. James Lactao.

NOTA BENE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and the speakers mentioned in the article, and not necessarily to the Foundation.


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