Common themes in a successful mentoring environment

The key aspects of a successful mentoring environment identified through the programme included facilitating a safe space, lack of hierarchy, lack of focus on a specific genre and ensuring opportunity for reflection. 

In the penultimate of this series of posts to accompany AYM’s new Talent to Talent film resources, we explore the key aspects of a successful mentoring environment. 

Characteristics of a good mentoring environment 

The mentoring environment that worked so successfully in Talent to Talent is not that different from any other environment conducive to fostering confidence and collaboration. The key aspects of a successful mentoring environment identified through the programme included facilitating a safe space, lack of hierarchy, lack of focus on a specific genre and ensuring opportunity for reflection. 

Facilitating a truly safe space helped participants to leave their comfort zones and in turn learn new skills – a big part of this was the idea that there was no right or wrong at any level and this was hugely valued by those taking part. 

And one thing that nearly all of them say, at the end of the projects is that they were perhaps a little bit worried about being put outside their comfort zone. And by the end of it, they have all experienced some aspect of being outside their comfort zone […] they all have embraced that and actually been very grateful for the opportunity to just try something new, be a little bit outside their normal box.

Paul, film transcript 

Feedback from the musicians

[I will always remember] how comfortable and safe the space was. Everybody’s ideas were respected and accepted. 

Shenara, Award Winner (Sheffield project) 

 I felt encouraged and supported to take a more proactive stance in the work, helping me to develop my skills as a mentor in an encouraging environment. Just as we told the participants, ’there are no mistakes here’, I felt this applied to us as well! It was as much an opportunity for us to learn and grow as it was for the young people taking part.  

Oliver, Alumna (Leicestershire project) 

Photograph by Ben Sandbrook (World Pencil)

Lack of hierarchy was apparent throughout Talent to Talent and was achieved through activities where all participants had an equal say in how the music being created evolves.  

I think one of the really beautiful things that emerges from this work is a very genuine, horizontal, non-hierarchical interaction between musicians of very different ages and experiences of you know, playing their instruments or whatever. It is an environment where you can have very co-designed, co-created, co-explored musical interactions of a nature that perhaps aren’t so common in other areas of musical life.  

Ben, film transcript 

Feedback from the musicians

[…] we musicians had many different levels of music but we could play music altogether and be creative. 

Diego, Award Winner (Hull project) 

As one of the older participants I felt like I learned a lot from those who were younger around me, in addition to being able to offer my own perspective and experience – it felt like a real dialogue. 

Oliver, Alumna (Nottinghamshire project) 

One of the most telling factors for me was how well the groups had obviously bonded, both as people and musicians. It was evident that the mentor-mentee interactions had been hugely successful as there was no obvious delineation between the ‘professional’ alumni and the young students with regard to what they played or how they took part. The performances belonged to each group and everyone had an equal and valid part to play.  

Rachel, Leicestershire Music  

The Talent to Talent participants weren’t recruited from any one specific genre: we had folk musicians working with classically trained violinists and a drum-kit percussionist; a jazz clarinettist working with a classically trained pianist and a sitar player making music with a singer songwriter and classical violinist.  

As the mutual respect builds up between the participants, one of the really incredible things that develops is that everybody’s learning from everybody else […] you can learn from anybody and that comes across very, very strongly.” Paul, film transcript 

The opportunity for reflection was an important aspect of the mentoring environment. As the project developed, the days were structured around time to plan and reflect: each day started with a short planning session for the older musicians where they were able to reflect on the previous day and think about the structure of the coming one. Each day ended with a short reflection session as a whole group and each project was wrapped up with a reflection session led by Ben and Paul. Participants valued this time to reflect on what they learnt, what they would take with them and what challenged them, giving them the opportunity to highlight certain moments, see their challenges in context and acknowledge the journey of the project. 

Talent to Talent films

To find out more about common themes in a successful mentoring environment, watch the fourth in our series of Talent to Talent films. 

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