Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Good Mentor?

By Christine Mason
June 2013, Volume 36, Issue 10

Every principal possesses a base level of mentoring skills—it’s part of the job of being a school’s lead learner. But have you ever considered what it takes to be a good mentor to a principal protégé?

Many districts have their own mentoring programs, but not every program is created equal. Some run like clockwork. These programs facilitate the need to match personalities, needs, and skill sets. They encourage mentors and protégés to find time for collaboration, and they include a system to train and support mentors as they are learning to mentor. Further, these programs usually have avenues for assuring commitment from both the mentor and protégé, as well as methods for measuring and monitoring progress.

Consider the following components of successful mentoring programs as you gauge whether you should delve into this new role.

The Best Mentor Programs
Successful mentor programs provide training in how to assess and respond to protégé needs. Mentors need to have good general communication skills. They need to be good listeners who can provide the right dose of feedback. Skilled mentors know that if new principals can discover their own truths, then they will often gain greater insight and take more ownership in the adjustments that they are making. The fine-tuning that new principals do can make a big difference in their effectiveness as school leaders. Mentors know this and find ways to coach their protégés so that they come to their own understandings about their own leadership styles. In this sense, mentors are guides and not directors or spectators.

The most effective mentors know how to read between the lines. They know their protégés well enough that they can discern when there is an urgent situation. They understand the urgency that principals sometimes face in their highly visible positions. Skilled mentors also understand that sometimes protégés are reluctant to either bring up serious issues with which they could use help, or, in other cases, to change their behavior or action. In these cases, working to increase trust and confidence can be an effective strategy to provide valuable support.

Mentoring Best Practices
Mentors trained through NAESP’s National Mentor Training and Certification Program are trained in the best practices of mentoring—learning how to provide effective feedback to new principals, understanding generational differences, and discovering and honing their own strengths. In addition, the program addresses the following mentor competencies:

  1. Setting high expectations for self-development in high-quality professional growth opportunities;
  2. Using mentoring and coaching best practices;
  3. Being active in instructional leadership;
  4. Respecting confidentiality and the code of ethics in the mentor/protégé relationship;
  5. Using reflection portfolios, assessments, and action research in collaboration with protégés; and
  6. Fostering formal and informal mentoring relationships.

To be most effective, mentors should be trained and certified according to national standards that are based on best practices and research.

To find out more about NAESP’s National Mentor Training and Certification Program, visit

Christine Mason is Associate Executive Director of Research and Development at the NAESP Foundation.

Copyright © 2013 National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.

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