The Connected Mentoring Framework describes three primary roles that adults carry out in out-of-school learning spaces.

In the figure below, you can identify the types of interactions present in your programs. On the bar to the right, we have listed Four Principles that map to each type of adult-youth interaction.

The roles below vary by learning context and time.

  • With regard to learning contexts, there are predominantly two types: structured time and/or space, which occurs when a specific activity is taking place and content is presented and unstructured time and/or space, which might include informal conversations, drop-in space, free time, and connecting with young people. Unstructured time/space can occur in structured programs.
  • With regard to time, there are short-term interactions or programs that take place versus long-term interactions or programs where youth and adults get to know each other over a longer period of time. The duration for short- versus long-term is relative to organizations and programs and should be defined within these settings.
Four Principles of Effective Adult-Youth Interactions


Adults across settings must establish a connection with the youth they are serving. In a short-term setting or initially, this connection will take the form of building rapport, and then over time, will develop into a close bond in a long-term setting.


In order to engage youth in the learning and/or developmental context, they must play an active role in the developmental relationship. In this principle learning and developing is not done TO the youth, but instead with the youth. In certain cases, programmatic elements may be prescriptive and must take place given the parameters of the setting. When that occurs, it is essential to build or create space for reciprocal learning whereby youth can drive their own learning. Individual or group interactions provide a space to build in opportunities for young people to demonstrate expertise and/or behavior and acquire feedback, and support peers through social connections. The mentor uses this information to build complexity, which leads to youth empowerment.

Progressive Complexity

In order for development to occur, scaffolding must be present. Progressive complexity can manifest itself in scaffolding content within an interaction or scaffolding learning opportunities in unstructured settings. In order for Progressive Complexity to occur in an adult-youth interaction, adults must have some knowledge of the youth and be able to gauge prior knowledge and skills, in programmatic and/or relational settings.


As youth progress through these experiences, they will gain skills and knowledge and/or develop behaviors and attributes. However, if interactions simply end or come to a close without further guidance, youth have not been set up to apply what they have gained. In all relational interactions and programmatic settings it is important to help youth develop the confidence and leadership skills to apply what they learn.


In the structured space, there are often two different roles: a) the Program Mentor who is constantly in the structured space, building knowledge about youth and able to drive the programmatic element, and b) the Content Mentor that has brief content-based interactions with youth. The difference between the Content Mentor and Program Mentor is the intensity and time spent with the youth.

Program Mentor

The Program Mentor develops long-term relationships with youth and gets to know the youth over a longer period of time. This involves frequent interactions with youth through relationship building, teaching, implementing activities and/or providing rich learning experiences for young people. The Program Mentor supports and develops young people’s knowledge and skills and can connect youth to outside opportunities. The Program Mentor serves as a guide, a teacher, and a resource for young people to pursue their interests and passions within the learning context over time.

Content Mentor

The Content Mentor also exists in the structured space. The Content Mentor develops rapport with young people via ‘mentoring moments.’ Mentoring moments are short interactions that naturally happen over a specific period of time, which is based on the duration of the program the Content Mentor brings to the space. The Content Mentor can also serve as a guide, teacher, and a resource for youth to pursue their interests and passions within the learning context.

Natural Mentor

In the unstructured space, the development of Natural Mentoring relationships may occur. These are relationships that naturally develop over time, which might occur over multiple mentoring moments. Trust develops and bonds are formed between young people and a Natural Mentor and the Natural Mentor can serve as a guide and a resource for young people as well.

Within youth interventions, research has demonstrated that developmental relationships are the key active ingredient for ensuring effectiveness and impact (Li & Julian, 2012). This active ingredient is present in a variety of different roles and programming. In order to build a set of best practices, we seek to define the four Principles of Effective Adult-Youth Interactions that are necessary to establish positive relational development in out-of-school learning spaces.