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Leveraging CliftonStrengths for Student Mentoring Impact

Leveraging CliftonStrengths for Student Mentoring Impact

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 5, Episode 30
  • Learn how TeamMates, a school-based mentoring program, has been helping students discover their strengths, and the impact this is having on these young lives.

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?

  • (Former University of Nebraska-Lincoln football) 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- to 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


  • % 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 (
  • 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 website
  • Also look at 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

Allyson Horne's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Input, Communication, Strategic, Woo and Empathy.

Tess Starman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Context, Adaptability, Strategic, Learner and Individualization.

Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach Cheryl S. Pace contributed to this post.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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