Throughout your personal and professional life, you will find yourself mentoring others. Mentorship can be an incredibly rewarding experience, though fine-tuning these skills can be challenging. In the spirit of National Mentoring Month, here are some of the “ABCs” of Mentorship in ABA for your consideration as you step into this paramount role!
A: Active Listening, Available, Analysis (Loretto, 2022)
Active listening is a communication skill that encourages being attentive to and engaged with a speaker to increase mutual understanding (Loretto, 2022). When an ABA mentee shares their thoughts with you, listen without planning your response. Ask clarifying questions. Repeat back to them what you understood from their concerns and ask if you understood correctly. This can help defuse difficult situations, improve rapport, and demonstrate respect (Chastain, 2013).
Providing availability to your ABA mentees communicates when and how they will receive support from you. Identify clear times and means by which they can contact you. Availability also refers to being present with them. When meeting with your mentee, keep distractions to a minimum and engage (Loretto, 2022).
It should be no surprise that analysis is key to effective mentorship! Provide analysis of your mentee’s behavior and communicate regular feedback. Feedback should be timely, specific, and behavior-focused (BACB, 2022).
B: Boundaries, BST, Be Humble
Just because you need to be available to your mentees does not mean that you shouldn’t have boundaries surrounding your time and mental capacity. As stated before, give clear times and means to get ahold of you. Outside of those times, attend to your other professional duties and allow yourself a break. Remember, an empty glass cannot fill another. Boundaries are not selfish. They are healthy, helpful, and ethical (BACB, 2022).
A common skill acquisition strategy is Behavioral Skills Training (BST). This treatment package includes components such as verbal instruction, modeling, role-play, and feedback (Tarbox & Granpeesheh, 2014). Use BST in your meetings by clearly explaining to your mentee what behavior you are looking for, demonstrating examples of that behavior, giving the opportunity to practice, and providing feedback as they engage.
Humility is a mentoring strength. In describing what it means to be a humble behaviorist, Kirby et al. (2022) discuss the importance of self-reflection and being candid and honest about your limitations. Create means for your mentees to provide you feedback and be humble in receiving it. If you disagree with a piece of feedback provided to you, sleep on it, seek out input from a trusted colleague, and go from there.
C: Consultant, Counselor, and Cheerleading (Loretto, 2022)
As an ABA mentor, you are also a consultant. A consultant is one that provides expertise within their scope of practice and competence. When an ABA mentee approaches you with questions, assist them in finding an answer. If the situation is one that is outside of your scope of practice and competence, set a good example to your mentee and reach out to a colleague who can consult on this situation (BACB, 2022).
Being a counselor to your mentee means assisting in their personal and professional development (Loretto, 2022). Do you know what your mentee’s professional goals are? When was the last time you discussed them? Be invested in your mentee’s growth and dedicate some of your mentorship time to goal planning.
Cheerleading should not be patronizing or insincere. Genuinely celebrate with your mentee when they reach a goal, improve behavior, or share a victory with you! Research shows that demonstrations of support can assist in mitigating workplace stresses such as burnout and emotional exhaustion (Novack & Dixon, 2019). Be sure to provide feedback on a job well done, not just a job that needs improving.
As you can see, mentorship is a culmination of skills. Though this is not an exhaustive list, it is a good place to start if you are determining how to improve your mentoring abilities. Seeing as we only covered the first three letters of the alphabet, what other ABCs would you suggest adding to the list? Comment below!
Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2022, March). Ethics code for behavior analysts. [PDF]. https://www.bacb.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Ethics-Code-for-Behavior-Analysts-220316-2.pdf
Chastain, A. (2013, December 02). Use active listening skills to effectively deal with conflict. Michigan State University. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/use_active_listening_skills_to_effectively_deal_with_conflict
Kirby, M. S., Spencer, T. D., & Spiker, S. T. (2022). Humble behaviorism redux. Behavior and Social Issues. 31, 133-158.
Loretto, P. (2022, September 19). Qualities of a good mentor. The balance. https://www.thebalancemoney.com/qualities-of-a-good-mentor-1986663#:~:text=What%20are%20the%203%20A's,encouragement%2C%20feedback%2C%20and%20advice.
Novack, M. N., & Dixon, D. R. (2019). Predictors of burnout, job satisfaction, and turnover in behavior technicians working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 6(4), 413-421.
Tarbox, J., & Granpeesheh,D. (2014). Principles and procedures of acquisition. In D. Granpeesheh, J. Tarbox, A. Najdowski, & Julie Kornack (Eds.), Evidence-based treatment for children with autism. (pp.31-74). Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-411603-0.00004-5.