Strengths Coaching Blog

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Using CliftonStrengths for Positive Student Mentoring - Called to Coach S5E30

On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with TeamMates Mentoring Program leaders, Allyson Horne and Tess Starman.






Please describe TeamMates
  • Teammates is a school-based mentoring program
  • Started back in about 1991 with a group of about 20 mentors willing to give an hour a week in the school district
  • They were screened and trained
  • Now have close to 8,000 across Nebraska and Iowa, expanding into Wyoming, South Dakota and Kansas
  • We’re not just school-based, we’re strengths-based
  • Focused on the good; do a lot of strengths spotting
  • Grades 3-12
  • Mentors and mentees stayed matched over the years

How did it start?

  • Coach Tom Osborne founded Teammates
  • Had a vision to help students get to the post-secondary education opportunity
  • Tom was a student of Don Clifton at UNL
  • Strengths-based focus gives us the opportunity to build trust between mentors and mentees
  • There are no at risk factors that students have to have in place to be matched with a mentor
  • We believe all students deserve to have an additional, positive, caring adult in their life
  • A strengths-based mentor who will journey with them throughout their lifetime who sees what’s right with them from the very beginning 
How would you describe strengths spotting?

  • Grades 3 – 8 grade take StrengthsExplorer
  • High school students take CliftonStrengths
  • Print 3 copies of their results - 1 for the student, 1 for parents, 1 for mentor
  • We equip the mentors with the language to spot strengths in action
  • Mentees can turn into strengths spotters as well
  • If I can look at and notice something that is right and then say this is great about you, it builds on your sense of self
What training do mentors get?

  • The mentors we’re equipping don’t need to be coaches
  • When mentors sign up they go through a 2 ½-3 hour new mentor training
  • Right from the beginning we don’t just focus on policy and procedure
  • We focus on relationship building; showing up and being a good listener
  • Listen to whatever your mentee wants to talk about; be present in that moment and listen
  • Meet once a week during the school year, for usually about 40 minutes, over many years
  • I’m there for you unconditionally, I’m still going to show up and affirm what is right about you
  • This focuses on hope and research shows that highly hopeful kids do amazing things
  • If they’re looking forward to seeing you, they’ll be more hopeful and more engaged
  • Mentors show higher engagement, too
  • Doesn’t require massive training or education
  • If you want to build hope in another person, just show up and focus on what is right about them
  • Reciprocal strengths spotting happens


How have you seen the impact in your own kids?

  • Received my strengths-based education certificate in 2010
  • Learning my Top 5 was mind-blowing-I felt like someone had been following me around my whole life taking notes about the way that I uniquely see the world
  • Understanding our kids’ strengths helped us realize more about them and changed the way we parented
  • I know where they shine and it’s very different from me
How are you using strengths inside Teammates?

  • All of us know our strengths
  • Tess and I offer strengths coaching to all of our staff
  • Every one of our staff meetings or development days start with a strength activity
  • We take the activities that our mentors use and practice them
  • This gives us insight into what works or what needs to be tweaked
  • I think about strengths all the time, even when I’m sending email to staff
  • Everyone looks at support differently and needs different things
  • Look at how you can honor other people’s strengths
  • Encourage staff to do strengths spotting with each other
  • We have 20 FTE in central office staff
  • How do you know they are engaged?  We do Q12 measurement
  • We have 140 chapters of Teammates each with a coordinator
  • We bring them together for Gallup Strengths day to learn and take learning back to their community 
  • The ripple effect continues 
Q&A

  • % success rate?  We have not yet begun to measure that
  • How do we measure the impact of equipping people to know what’s right about one another?
  • It’s a challenge to define success…what does that mean?
  • We track grades, attendance, and behavior
  • Also Gallup’s measurement of hope
  • Our mentees are more likely to graduate from high school for the state of Nebraska
  • We utilize Gallup Student Poll with students matched to a mentor – it measures engagement, hope and strengths  (gallupstudentpoll.com)
  • How did you forge relationships with school districts?
  • We’ve had very positive school district engagement
  • Knowing there is a safe, adult friend willing to meet with a student is very positive
  • How do you choose your strengths-based mentors?
  • It’s the willingness to show up, they go through a screening, interview and training process
  • We don’t match based on strengths, best match based on common interests
  • Our coordinators know the kids
  • No certain skill set is required of the mentors, just showing up is most important
  • Can you help other chapters get going?  Check out the Teammates web site
  • Also look at Mentoring.org for establishing a mentor program

How do you get parents engaged?

  • Parents have to give permission for the child to participate
  • They get a parent handbook and learn more about the role of the mentor
  • If the mentee does strengths, the parents get a copy of their results
  • We equip parents with the login and code for StrengthsExplorer so they can use all of the activities there
  • We use an activity from StrengthsExplorer
  • Find someone you don’t normally interact with; share something you recently did that you’re proud of; when did it happen and what strengths/talents brought that to the table
  • We encourage mentors to be the recipients of brags
  • Parents are very excited about strengths
  • They love hearing good news come home from school
  • Have you leveraged the strengths-based parenting resources?  Yes for those that express interest
  • We provide codes for matched mentors and mentees 
Have you worked with the Gallup Purdue index?
  • Mentoring is mentioned as the second piece in that
  • We don’t use it at Teammates
  • Our former mentees are becoming mentors themselves
Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Cheryl S. Pace, contributed to this post. 

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Allyson Horne is a Training and Support Specialist for TeamMates Mentoring Program and has worked in the field of mentoring as a mentor, program coordinator and regional director for over 10 years.  Allyson earned her certificate in Strength-Based Education from the Clifton division of Gallup University in 2010 and coordinates program-wide training and strength-based education for the TeamMates Mentoring Program. She has presented at Gallup’s Strength in Education Conference for institutes of higher learning, the National Mentoring Summit on Strengths Mentoring, and consecutive years at the Midlands and Iowa Mentoring Partnership’s annual conferences.

Allyson’s top five strengths are: Input, Communication, Strategic, Woo, Empathy.



Tess Starman is the Data & Match Support Specialist for the TeamMates Mentoring Program. She is the database administrator and responsible for collecting all company data, providing metrics and measuring outcomes to ensure the effectiveness of TeamMates. She also assists in the implementation of CliftonStrengths within the mentoring program.

Tess's top five strengths are: Context, Adaptability, Strategic, Learner, Individualization.

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