4 Keys To A Successful Mentor-Mentee Relationship

Serving as a mentor is reaps big benefits for the both the principal mentor and the aspiring principal protégé.

By Lynne Ajifu

Do I have what it takes to mentor a person entering education administration? That’s what I wondered as I was firmly in my sixth year as a principal and had a desire to give back to the profession of educational administration. But I also felt like I still had so much more to learn. Then life brought to me the NAESP National Mentor Training and Recertification Program, through which I selected a protégé to work with as I earned my mentor certification, and the answer to that question was clear: Mentoring an aspiring principal allowed me to impart my knowledge while also fine-tuning my own skills as a principal.

Making The Most Of A Mentorship

Through the program, I learned a great deal about not only helping others but also my own leadership. The following are keys to having a successful mentoring experience.

  1. Cultivate a relationship that fosters trust. Mentoring is a process that allows for growth through discussions, personal reflections, and the willingness to make changes to one’s actions. I surveyed my protégé—took the surveys myself—to discover each of our strengths and weaknesses and similarities and differences, which allowed us to work together more efficiently and effectively. As we discussed a range of occurrences at school, we found it critical to have an open and trusting relationship.
  2. Develop a mentoring plan that clearly states the desired outcomes. The NAESP publication Leading Learning Communities: Pillars, Practices, and Priorities for Effective Principals served as a guide book during our mentorship. From it, my protégé developed a plan of what pillar and practices he wanted to improve upon, and we focused our conversations around those topics during the mentoring sessions. With a specific plan in place, we were able to make the situations less personal and emotional. We could focus on the purpose of what a particular desired outcome would be and discuss necessary strategies, people, and actions. It was an efficient strategy.
  3. Create a consistent form of communication. The more frequent our mentoring sessions were, the deeper our conversations became. We spent time talking through the details of plans and considering actions, desirable outcomes, and unintended consequences. Our conversations took place in-person, on the phone, through virtual video conferencing, and collaboration on Google docs. Depending on the topic and what was happening in each of our days, we would select the method of communication. As a principal, my daily schedule would fill up and time would inevitable get away from me. Remembering to check in on my protégé was a challenge—but I made it a priority. It was important to set a dedicated schedule for mentoring meetings.
  4. Find success and make times to celebrate them. Mentoring was a way to connect to a fellow colleague and provide guidance for growth and development. The time spent was rewarding to facilitate discussions to problem solve the nuances of a principalship. My protégé continually took care of others and was engrossed in seeking continuous improvement. Celebrating successes was important. Rallying behind my protégé and pointing out his success motivated and validated his efforts and accomplishments. Remember to take a moment to look up and see the progress you’ve made individually and as a team.

Through the program, my protégé developed his leadership style and fine-tuned his decision-making process. Understanding his own values and having actions aligned to them assisted in maintaining a balanced emotional state. Which was important in planning actions through identifying viewpoints and analyzing facts that might not have been considered while making the decisions.

Benefits To Being A Mentor

NAESP prioritizes a reciprocal learning environment through its Mentor Training and Recertification Program in which the mentors are given the opportunity to learn just as much as those they’re mentoring. These are some benefits I reaped from the program.

  • Mentors also need coaching—and NAESP made sure we got it. We didn’t go it alone during the program. We had our own coaches to guide us through the process. Coach Shanna Spickard, principal of Milan Middle School, past president of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, and an NAESP state representative served as an informational resource courier, a cheerleader, and a confidant.
  • NAESP mentorships are anchored in research-based resources. The program offers a closer look into Leading Learning Communities: Pillars, Practices, and Priorities for Effective Principals. This was the foundation for my mentoring experience. It was a quick read with many valuable insights to leading a school, and it guided a lot of discussions between my protégé and me.
  • We built up our own networks of support. We were given time to collaborate with the other mentors who were administrators from different schools. Hearing the similarities of challenges and how different leaders have varying angles to facilitate discussions was a learning experience.
  • I received the gift of self-reflection. I learned a lot about my beliefs and practices. I became more aware of my actions when I needed to guide someone to complete a task instead of doing it myself. My questioning techniques and wait time improved. This improvement affected how I facilitate meetings and conversations with my staff and parents. In joining the mentor certification program, I thought I would develop my skills to foster the growth of others, but what I realized is that I also improved my conversation techniques and have positively impacted my school.

The lasting impression of the mentorship program were things I gained from this experience. My initial desire to gain a mentor certification was to learn how to professionally develop the growth of future administrators. I thought I would be learning a process to give back to the educational system. The NAESP mentor certification program instead became personally rewarding and offered networking opportunities with fellow principal mentors.

Lynne Ajifu is principal of Miliani Ike Elementary School in Hawaii.