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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: How to Be a Great Mentor

How to Be a Great Mentor

How many times have you read a set of instructions and thought, “Piece of cake!” only to discover half-way through that accomplishing the task wasn’t as easy as you thought? Now, imagine having an expert at your side who has done this task hundreds of times, someone who can guide you, help you interpret the instructions, and give you valuable hints along the way. Chances are you’ll be less frustrated and more successful--this is the power of a great mentor.

Being a teacher can be incredibly rewarding; it can also be so frustrating that you want to change professions, especially in the early years. At Ukiah Unified, we know this, so we’ve implemented a mentorship program for new teachers staffed by retired teachers we’ve hand-picked for their experience, compassion, and ability to balance between being someone’s biggest cheerleader and their most honest critic.

I have mentored many teachers and administrators and found it to be among my very favorite things to do. I follow the blended coaching model that incorporates a mix of direct instruction and engaging a mentee in supportive reflection. I work hard to let people find their way, but provide enough guidance so they can achieve their goals.

Here are some of the elements of mentorship I find most helpful:

1. Listen carefully and thoughtfully. To truly help people, you must know what they want to accomplish—not just the task at hand but long-term goals and aspirations, too. Success can be defined many ways, and your job as a mentor is to help the person you are mentoring reach their goals, whatever they may be.

Careful listening also allows you to discover a person’s opinions, judgements, and interpretations of a situation or work environment. As a coach, you may be able to help the person you are mentoring interpret things differently, more objectively. A clear, accurate understanding of a situation allows people to respond more appropriately.

2. Be encouraging. Most people have fears and insecurities that slow them down and/or prevent them from achieving their potential. As a mentor, your support and encouragement can give people the confidence and courage to stretch past their comfort zones and accomplish things they never thought possible.

3. Give constructive criticism and honest feedback. Often, the most important job of a mentor is to give constructive criticism. When people don’t know what they’re doing wrong, they can’t change it. Even though this is true, very few of us like to hear criticism. When you help people understand their mistakes and point out ways for them to improve, you allow the person you are mentoring to grow, personally and professionally.

Mentoring children and teens is also a rewarding experience. All the tips above apply to mentoring kids, but there are a few more I would add.

1. Spend time to develop a trusting relationship. Children deserve to have adults in their lives they can depend on. Sadly, this is not always the case. If you decide to coach or mentor a child, commit to it. Go all in. Do what you say you will do. This builds trust and it sets the right example.

2. Differentiate between making a bad choice and being a bad person. Everyone makes mistakes. Be clear about consequences, but also about the power and possibility of learning from our mistakes.

3. Encourage kids to follow their passion. Figure out what they love to do and see if you can help them do it! Provide the tools; figure out how they can engage and facilitate the process.

Sharing your knowledge and experience not only helps the person you’re working with, it gives you a wonderful sense of accomplishment. If you feel like you need a new challenge, a fresh perspective, a new connection, consider becoming a mentor.